Freelance FAQ

Desk, teapot, too many bits of paper

A few people asked me about working freelance as a museum education consultant, so I wrote a post answering some frequently asked questions. This is the updated version, written in spring 2013.

I’m new to this museum education malarkey. Where can I find a wealth of information and advice?

The Group for Education in Museums! Come back when you have read their entire website, and joined their email list.

What’s being a freelancer/consultant like?

  • I find it tremendously varied, good fun, very interesting indeed and phenomenally rewarding. I am learning all the time, as well as facilitating other people’s learning. Museums, galleries, heritage sites and gardens are fantastic places, and spreading the joy of these resources is a great thing to do for a living.
  • It’s not, alas, all chatting with children, finding creative ways to engage audiences and researching fascinating web content. There are spreadsheets, invoices, a diary to manage, and lots of filing to do. (And you don’t get paid for all that time-consuming admin and planning).
  • I was lucky enough to start freelancing before the recession bit. Anecdotally, it seems to me that it is particularly hard work starting out as a freelancer at the moment. I find myself being asked about freelancing quite often, by Museum Studies students, by teachers, by volunteers, and by people who have full-time jobs in the sector and need or want a change. At the same time, museums’ funding has been cut. There is a lot of competition for freelance work – and I regularly bump into a lot of well established freelancers who are really very good.
  • Being self-employed can make dull but important things like getting a mortgage a bit complicated, and in some cases tricky, as this Guardian article about a freelance journalist shows.
  • Self employed people do not get the same benefits as employees. If you don’t work – because of illness or holidays, or a conference, or a bit of a lull – you don’t get paid. There are no employer pension contributions, time off for the dentist, season ticket loans or cycle schemes.

How do you find work with these wonderful places?

Three ways:

  1. Speculative CVs (especially when I was starting out).
  2. Mailing lists. Especially the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) mailing list. I realise it is pretty pointless saying this because there surely can’t be anyone who works in museum/gallery/heritage education who is not on the GEM mailing list. If you haven’t already, set up an email filter  so all the hundreds of emails (often from me) don’t fill up your inbox. Study them all carefully, though, because lots of work comes this way. I also keep an eye on Arts Jobs, Environment Job and BAJR.
  3. Word of mouth. The world of museum education is a small one. Everyone knows everyone else, more or less. If they know you too, this is good.

What about tax?

Being a freelancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to fill in a self assessment tax return, but for me it does and it is tedious beyond belief. The HMRC website (and the people on the phone) are very helpful. But they are not fun.

How did you get into freelancing?

All is explained in the About Rosie Fuller section. There’s some Vikings over there too, and a merman.

How do you organise yourself?

With colours! I wrote a geeky post about it here. I have now ditched paper planners and embraced Google Calendar in all its multicoloured glory. After a painful trial separation, I have also ditched my filofax. I back my Google Calendar up weekly.

I use todoist for to do lists and have a lot of folders and filters set up to manage my emails in Thunderbird.

If you have an office at home, I highly recommend painting the walls near the desk with magnetic paint.

This blog post is not as informative as I’d hoped. Where can I get some decent advice?

GEM freelance network’s advice sheet Starting Out was written a few years ago, but much of the advice is excellent.

A good place to start for those thinking of embarking on a career in museum education is the Museums Association website.

Artist and all round good egg Howard Hardiman has written some blog posts aimed at illustrators, but with wise advice that many museum freelancers will find useful too.

I am a part-time comic fair agony aunt contains Howard’s advice for artists who are starting out, much of which is pretty much universal. Especially the part about being nice.

New tax year starts tomorrow! This post has useful tax advice, much of which Howard learnt from a sex worker he interviewed for an amazing Arts Council funded project.

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