This is an age of true entrepreneurship, with recent analysis revealing more than 320,500 self-employed people in Britain are working two or more jobs. Whether you call it a multi-hyphen or portfolio career, or think of yourself as self-employed rather than a slashie, there’s no denying that answering the once-simple question of “what do you do?” can now result in a more complicated response — especially if you’re a Millennial. Research shows that young people are driving the freelance economy, with the number of self-employed workers aged 16 to 24 nearly doubling since 2001.
The reasons for this are numerous; we’re living in a more precarious economy, where zero hours contracts and a high cost of living means that many of us are forced to take on this extra work. But there’s also a strong desire amongst young people to be their own bosses, and technological advances and the rise of remote roles means that it’s easier than ever to do so.
However, there’s still gender bias at play in the freelancing world. Research from the Office of National Statistics in 2016 showed that self-employed men still earned more than women in the UK. This, despite the fact that the number of highly skilled self-employed women continues to rise - it’s up 63% since 2008, meaning that 42% of all freelancers are now female.
I sat down with three talented freelancing women to ask about their experiences negotiating for pay, promoting themselves and overcoming gender bias in working world.
1. Kyomi Wade, digital marketing professional
Kyomi Wade has worked as in the digital marketing world for over six years, focusing mainly in the travel, publishing and fintech sectors while sometimes also working abroad from her laptop. One year ago Wade launched her own marketing agency working on that alongside other lucrative freelance projects such as Facebook ads and article-writing. She says that being overwhelmed with work during that period has taught her to be more selective with her time, and to focus more on her mental health.
"I suffer with superwoman syndrome: trying to always take everything on and thinking it would be okay," she explains. "I launched my business, moved to Spain from London, and lived and worked part-time (for free accommodation) in a hostel. Later, I also decided to pick up a part-time job to get me out of the house, and things became tricky. I probably wasn’t as good at looking after myself before, but it soon became a priority as poor mental health at one point meant I couldn’t do anything at all."
When it comes to negotiating pay, Kyomi is strategic. "Nowadays, I can offer rate reductions when a high quantity of something is desired, but mostly I don’t negotiate, I just maintain my rate and lose the business if that is the case." And she maintains that freelancing women need to prioritise their health and be strict with switching-off. "Don’t put off going to the doctors, try meditation, try to separate workspace and time with normal life. Remember we have peaks and troughs so when you really don't have the capacity to do a certain task, don't do it. Learn to understand when you can actually push yourself, and when it’s best to just go to bed or clean your home instead. It’s pretty hard to articulate but it's about really listening to yourself, you are the product!"
2. Kat Molesworth, digital entrepreneur
Kat Molesworth is a public speaker, online content creator, brand consultant, DJ, and the director of Blogtacular, a leading conference for bloggers and online creatives. She's been freelance for over ten years and believes that for self-employed women, your network really is your net worth. She says "the people you know and who know you, what you can do and why you’re brilliant are one of your biggest assets. Value the people in your network, suggest them for opportunities you hear about, support their work and be of help to them. You never know who you might end up working with — I’ve collaborated with people I went to primary school with and people I’ve met online."
With so much freelance experience under her belt, Kat knows a thing or two about setting her rates. "Get signed agreements or contracts which stipulate your payment terms and late payment penalties on all jobs before you start work" she advises. "All freelancers should be paid either a deposit or the full fee up front and rush jobs attract a rush fee — always."
Kat notes that there is a trend in women where they talk their rates down or undersell themselves. She explains: "Women have a lifetime of limitations heaped upon our confidence and worth to unpick so it’s no wonder it can feel uncomfortable asking for what you want. We need to have the courage to pitch fees which seem a little scary, to factor in negotiating room and to stick to our guns when we’re being asked to drop our prices. If you’re not sure what the industry rates are, tap into people you know in similar positions and ask what they would charge so you have a better idea. There’s a trend of large companies wanting creative work done for free or low pay and this has to end. We need to stop undermining our own industries and future work by accepting this and say NO more often."
3. The Sunday Girl, Blogger
The Sunday Girl (real name Adrienne) is a beauty blogger and social media manager for various health and aesthetics companies. Self-employed for eight years, she initially thought that she'd have more freedom but has found her work-load to be overwhelming at times. "The lack of time off in the past has resulted in some shifts in my mood, I did notice that there was a period in which I was quite down and had to really cut back on the hours for the sake of my then waning mental health" she says.
For other freelancers finding time management tough, Adrienne suggests "implementing a more structured work day". She also believes that other self-employed women need to speak up and constantly reach out to others in order to secure work. "The biggest lesson I've learned is that a closed mouth doesn't get fed," she says. "Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and pitch to potential customers. Sure you'll experience some knock backs but if you don't ask, the answer will always be no."
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