5 things I’ve learnt about freelancing in my first 5 years as a freelancer

I’ve recently spent some time reflecting back on my first five years of freelancing. It’s been quite a ride and I’ve learnt A LOT. About business. About the cultural sector. About myself.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learnt and tips I would give to newbie freelancers:

  1. Be assertive and proactive

Don’t spend hours desperately scrolling on social media hoping that opportunities will come to you. Hunt down tenders and briefs out there, make speculative approaches, get out and about, get involved in online and ‘real’ communities (e.g. #museumfreelance and #museumhour on Twitter), comment and have opinions, write a blog.

Make sure people know who you are, what you can do and how you can help them. Don’t be afraid to hustle and don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials and shout about your achievements – if you don’t, no one will and people aren’t mindreaders!

Learn how to say ‘no’, question things that don’t sound right or you think could be improved and don’t take rejection too personally. These are still a work in progress for me but I’ve found they get easier over time with experience. Learning to say ‘no’ was a theme from one of our 2017 Museum Freelance event speakers, business coach Anna Lundberg, and she has a guide on this that is worth checking out.

  1. Plan, evaluate and reflect

Treat your business as a client or project like any other. Schedule some time to look at your finances, do some marketing, identify your training needs, review how things are going and so on.

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Non-user consultation project

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the South East Museum Development Programme (SEMDP) to run a project about non-user consultation, involving:

  • Planning an affordable, realistic, and yet meaningful consultation process for four museums in Hampshire wishing to undertake consultation with non-users for the first time;
  • Coaching and training the museums’ teams during the delivery phase;
  • Producing a practical online guide on non-user consultation and case studies of the museums’ experiences;
  • Delivering a shared training session to showcase the project to a group of museum staff or volunteers from the area.

The projects included:

  • Jane Austen’s House Museum, which ran a focus group with a cross-cultural social group;
  • St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, which undertook on-street surveys with tourists and local people;
  • Bursledon Brickworks Museum which undertook a community event, focus group and online survey to explore views of local families who don’t currently visit the museum;
  • Fordingbridge Museum which ran a focus group and stakeholder interviews to explore improved access to the museum.

The museums all did very well, fitting in the project on top of already big workloads and ploughing on over the summer when staff and volunteer numbers were depleted due to holidays.

Insights gained ranged from smaller things that can be implemented in the short-term at little or no cost e.g. putting access information on a museum’s website and providing chairs for people to rest on, to longer term improvements such as better signage and wayfinding.

Museums also reported additional benefits of the project, including staff and volunteers gaining new skills and experience, valuable themes for staff and volunteer training being highlighted, and engagement with new audiences.

I wrote a guide on non-user consultation as part of the project for SEMDP, which includes more details about the four museums’ projects and experiences. It was designed by Nina Brown.

“Christina did a great job delivering our museum development funded non-user consultation project for museums in Hampshire. With her help, four local museums tried new ways of reaching out to their target audience groups, and then shared that experience with a wider group of local museums. Her expertise, patience and project management skills meant that over a period of nearly a year, museums received the coaching and encouragement they needed to make a significant improvement to their consultation efforts. A job well done, thank you.”

Jaane Rowehl, Museum Development Officer, Hampshire Solent.

Resilient Freelancing – my second MF event

Following the success of the first ever Museum Freelance event back in March about Proactive, Empowered and Confident Freelancing, I’m really excited to be organising the follow-up. This time the theme is Resilient Freelancing – ‘resilient’ is a word banded about so frequently in the culture sector, but we wanted to explore what it means for a freelancer. What makes a freelancer resilient? What makes there business resilient?

In what promises to be an inspiring and thought-provoking session, speakers and the topics they will explore include:

  • Christopher Barnatt, Futurist, ExplainingTheFuture.comkey future challenges and opportunities that no museum freelancer will be able to ignore;
  • Mike Ellis, Director, Thirty 8the tools and techniques that are useful in helping freelancers to balance their working lives and ultimately find time to do things other than work;
  • Elizabeth Power, Head of Learning, London Transport Museum: a client’s point of view about what clients look for in freelancers;
  • Bridget McKenzie, Director, Flow Associateshow freelancers can be more effective in relating to others;
  • Ben Matthews, Director, Montfort: ideas and inspiration to break the cycle of trading time for services delivered, create regular recurring work, and increase your value to your clients.

Marge Ainsley will also facilitate a series of bitesize talks from freelancers as they share what tools, tips and lessons have made them resilient, and an optional social session at the end of the day.

For the full programme and to book please visit: www.buytickets.at/museumfreelance. The early bird rate until 15 December: £70, after which tickets are £90.

We are funding 4 free places for the participants on the Young Freelancers programme. Thanks to support from Montfort and Laura Crossley, there are also 3 free spaces with travel expenses paid for available, with the aim of increasing the diversity of participants and museum freelancers generally. For more information and to apply please visit: https://goo.gl/forms/DMoyXpNKmLrsKYvZ2.

Hope to see you there!

Visitor survey links for Hampshire Military Museums Network event

Here’s a list of information resources to support a presentation I delivered to the Hampshire Military Museums Network at the National Museum of the Royal Navy on 9 November entitled ‘Making the most of visitor surveys’. Guidelines, tools, templates and examples to help you plan your visitor surveys:

For accreditation and funding body guidelines:

For audience research programmes:

 For tools

For codes of conduct

For data protection information

For statistics

For inspiration

“See research as the start of something”

Takeaways from the Museum Association’s MP seminar on Getting to Know You: Using Visitor Data Intelligently at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 20 September 2017.

Yesterday I spoke at this one-day conference which aimed to explore the different ways data can be used, from diversifying audiences and supporting fundraising to planning exhibitions and events.

My  topic was ‘Demystifying non-user consultation’, talking about how museums can undertake their own research with people and organisations who aren’t currently engaging with them or their services. My aim was to share practical tips and methods that cost very little and could be carried out by museum staff or volunteers. You can find links to links that I referred to in my presentation here.

Here are a few takeaways from some of the other presentations of the day, linked to Twitter accounts: Continue reading