Emma Gannon On How To Make It Work When Preparing To Go Freelance

Emma Gannon x NatWest

When it comes to being creative with your career, author, speaker, and podcast host Emma Gannon literally wrote the book on it. As well as publishing The Multi-Hyphen Method, a guide to drawing on your passions and forging a career you actually care about, she also quizzes well-known names and faces done just that in their own unique working lives on her podcast Ctrl, Alt, Delete.

Most recently, Gannon has been working in partnership with NatWest to launch a new guide for freelancers or those starting out in the liquid workforce (a term referring to an adaptable workforce which can often include flexible, freelance, or non-permanent workers) to help them to manage their personal finances.

I spoke to Gannon about how going freelance can help make it easier to talk about money, how to prepare yourself for making the leap to self-employed life, and why a good relationship with money is "a lifelong lesson."

Aimée Grant Cumberbatch: We know that money is still a very taboo subject, how do you think we can get more people talking about it?

Emma Gannon: I think it trickles down when something becomes very much normal and not a big deal. I think it's happening more and more but I don't think we're quite there with money yet. It's still considered slightly rude for a stranger to come up to you and demand to know how much money you make. It's a funny one because it's like treading those lines where you want to be helpful but you also want to keep something back for yourself because it's such an emotional topic.

Being self employed has been a wonderful thing for me [in terms of] being able to speak openly about money. I found that having an annual salary is shrouded in mystery. Your employers [often] tell you not to tell anyone else because it's never that fair and once you open that can of worms, you can start really upsetting people on the team. But I believe that you should tell people anyway because it can help expose pay gaps.

For me and my fellow freelancer friends, being self-employed has allowed us to speak about it in a much more open way because it's not "this is my annual income," you're more talking about "I got paid £500 for that, or £2,000 for that." And that's really useful when you're helping your friends, peers and colleagues get paid their worth. You're clubbing together and it feels much more freeing.

AGC: The freelance and liquid workforce is expanding and a lot of women are a part of that. Do you think that this type of work could help people, particularly women, talk more about finances?

EG: Yeah I do. The liquid workforce is a big term for a huge number for a different things, it's an umbrella [term] for starting your own business vs gig work, which I think is less secure and also has many, many problems. But what's really great [is] when it does work and you realise that multiple income streams and being freelance can help you make more money. It turns into this secret that you want to pass on to other women.

I interviewed Elaine Welteroth recently, who was the editor of Teen Vogue. She left her job to become freelance. She basically said that she made more money in the first quarter since becoming self-employed than she did in a whole entire year of working in a full time job. This isn't to say that it works for everyone all the time and, obviously, everyone's set up is different. But I think the minute you start realising how much money you can make outside of the corporate structures —because you can essentially give yourself a pay rise, you can raise your own fees, rather than going into a meeting room and like having to beg for a pay rise — it's very very empowering, especially for women. And especially for people who might have children, who really need flexibility, and they just feel constantly up against a brick wall with their bosses.

[I remember] a bit of advice that I've got from someone, she's a career coach called Liz Ward. She was saying that, basically, when you're self-employed, you need to price yourself and your fees based on how long you've doing it but also where you are in the industry in terms of where your skills are.

AGC: So you think it's worth taking stock every year and thinking about what new skills you've developed, what extra experience you've gained, and whether that needs to be reflected in how much you're asking for?

EG: Exactly.

AGC: Going freelance can be a financial risk. How do you think people who have a full time job can prepare for that or support themselves through that transition financially?

EG: The first thing is [to think is] that all of the contacts you build over the lifetime of your career, those are your relationships. Obviously there are certain no-goes when it comes to taking clients or something like that, but it's good to stay in touch with the people you work with and let them know that you're going freelance.

[Then] either [during] weekends or evenings, make that transition mentally and start making a bit of a plan of action about how you're going to use what you already have to cross over. Because you're not starting completely from scratch — you've already had a job, you've already built a portfolio. Do things like update your website, update your social media. Make sure when people Google you, everything looks welcoming.

Financially, there's two ways of doing it: You either start really scrimping like six months before you know you're going to leave. It takes a lot of planning. It's not something where you just quit your job and leave. You can know a year in advance, I need to leave this job, I am miserable, but I can't just leave. No one can just leave. Especially if you live somewhere like London, it's impossible to just quit your job. So it's all about the planning. How much do you want to [quit] versus how much do you want to spend money on what [you usually spend money on]? Over the course of the year, you can save probably one month's salary minimum, if you really really scrape. It's all about preparation and having that amount of money saved in your bank account.

The other thing is, and I know plenty of people that have done it, is [going] without preparation. And it is amazing what you do when you have to earn money.

AGC: Being in the liquid workforce, or any non-traditional way of working, can come with financial ups and downs, what advice would you give to somebody to help ride those out?

EG: With the liquid workforce, unfortunately, there are so many different things that go on under that term. You've got people who, like me, actively chose to be freelance, or the working mothers on Instagram who love being freelance. But then on the other side, unfortunately, you've got people [for whom] this isn't a lifestyle choice. They've been forced into having to have piece-work, which are bits here and there, really trying to make it work with multiple jobs that don't really make sense. That's where the problem lies, which is in the DEMOS research [a report that found ‘liquid’ workers face greater barriers to financial inclusion compared to those in more traditional jobs.] You've got a bunch of people who really don't want to be freelance. They want to have security and a salary because that makes sense for them.

When it comes to those sorts of issues, the IPSE [The Association Of Independent Professionals & The Self-Employed] are there basically to help you get paid on time, to help with any contracts that are really kind of dodgy — the Zero Hour contracts stuff. They're there to make sure that companies treat freelancers well, because unfortunately sometimes they don't. There's a difference between building a business and being part of the gig economy. Those are two entirely different things, and it's up to companies and to the government and policymakers to make it easier for us. I don't think it's up to freelancers to constantly find the answers.

AGC: What advice would you give to a friend who wants to improve their relationship with money?

EG: Basically, not being scared of it. I know that there are lots of people out there, myself included a few years ago, who just kind of ignore it. You maybe don't check your bank balance very often, you just somehow scrape by every month. You make the same mistakes of overspending when you get paid and then get to the end of the month and freak out. I think it's about looking at your bank statements more often, it's setting up notifications. This is all the stuff that we probably would love to avoid, but it's really important.

Since becoming self employed, I've become so so good with money, and it's something that I really struggled with for so long. I'm that person now with a spreadsheet, I know exactly when that client should be paying me, I have an accountant, and I have someone who chases my invoices. When you know what you're doing, it's pretty smooth and great. But I think getting to that point, you have to do the work and really dig deep. Like I said, money is super emotional. It's different for all of us, and it's private, and sometimes you can feel awful about yourself because you feel like you don't have enough money. Or you can lie awake at night worrying about money. It's one of the biggest anxiety drivers for a lot of people so I think having to really look at it in detail and look at what you spend is the first step.

AGC: What advice would you give to a friend who maybe feels that financial stability is out of reach?

EG: I can only speak from my personal experience, but it's a lifelong lesson. I'm 30 now and I feel like I'm only just in the place where I've got it together. You shouldn't beat yourself up if you're just trying to learn. [The reason] I care about the campaign [with NatWest] and the conversations around it is I think it's totally wild that we were never taught this stuff at school. That no one sat us down and said this is how you do taxes and this is what VAT is, this is how you save, and this is what an overdraft is. It is a bit of a Wild Wild West that you have to kind of work out for yourself. I don't think it's very fair and that's why it's really important to sign up for newsletters, talk to your friends, join WhatsApp groups, join Facebook groups. The information is out there but it's a shame that we have to do the digging ourselves. There's a lot of very wishy washy stuff out there in terms of, like, spirituality and welcoming more money into your life. I don't really subscribe to that. I think it's about putting one foot in front of the other and learning as you go.

AGC: What does a good relationship with money look like to you?

EG: For me, it's feeling secure in the savings that I have. I never used to really care that much about savings because, I was like "let's live in the moment, you never know what's going to happen," especially with everything that's going on in the world right now. For me, it was finally setting up some sort of pension. Because during my 20s and I think most people might feel like this, you're just getting through it. You're just living from one month to the next. It used to really annoy me when people would say, "Why aren't you saving for your future?" I used to completely ignore them. For me, my relationship with money now is actually being in a place where I can look ahead a bit more. But it's different for everyone.