The Freelance Fast Lane

Ande Schurr describes five steps that can help turn a struggling freelancer into a profitable one.

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Ande Schurr describes five steps that can help turn a struggling freelancer into a profitable one.

He says this practical approach can reduce stress and increase enthusiasm when living life in the freelance fast lane.

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How do you gain traction and make a profitable freelance business?

There is a great deal of activity in the film, TV and internal communications world; a plethora of people, ideas, opportunities and distractions. Everything is in excess except for funding!

As a technician, I don't think we have to look very far. In fact we are very fortunate that all the hard work has been done by the director or producer in securing the job that we can just walk into. They, conversely have the demanding, if not tedious, job of seeing through many rewrites of scripts, auditioning actors, liaising with the agency or their client, visiting locations. The list goes on and demonstrates that it takes more effort to succeed as a producer or director than as a technician. That being said, we need both in our industry thank goodness!

Although our industry is notorious for swings and cycles of work, in its entirety it's profitable to be in. The daily rates are reasonable, the projects can be incredibly stimulating creatively and also very satisfying on a human level, and the crew are often masters of their craft and fun to be with.

People have believed for so long the scaremongering that the industry is quiet. It's the first question we ask, "have you been busy?", waiting on the other's answer with baited breath. There is plenty happening. There always has been, and probably always will be. Although there is no strict research done on the subject, the oft-quoted saying that ‘movies do well in hard times’ (because people need the entertainment to take them away from their worries) is a silver lining that not many industries can boast of. It would be interesting hearing about the patterns of other industries. Obviously construction has never been better thanks to some serious silver-lining shuffling by mother nature in Christchurch.

Here are five steps to navigate your business to profitability:

1. Don't worry yourself over social media

Sure, have a Facebook profile and a blog, if you have the time, but don't be concerned that you're not doing enough. We are never doing enough, so you can't win that argument. Besides, there are more important things like talking to real people. I feel that social media is such a buzz word; we've become so dazzled by the wondrous ability of being able to contact anyone at anytime, that it's lost its purpose of bringing us closer, which I assert is the goal of communication. However with the schizophrenic nature of social media - multiple conversations all delivered with 'bite-size' thoughts and emotions - real communication has become difficult because there are not many examples of it any more. Is anyone still giving presentations on the art of talking to real people?

2. Fire up

Feel the frustration of the current state of affairs in the industry or, equally as valid, of not being where you want to be in your life or business. Then carefully and deliberately set a path towards your idea of the goal. That sounds easier said than done but it is possible when you are so fed up about something that you have no option, you have to take some action. There's an old wise saying, “Not through reforming others, but through reforming oneself, can one make any practical improvement.” So the onus is on us, if we do see something frustrating that needs changing, to ensure that we have adjusted ourselves first. The beauty of frustration is that it can reveal what we really want and what will set us alight. I've subscribed to the blog of filmmaker Sumner Burstyn. She speaks her mind which is delightful to read because it stimulates thinking. This morning she sent out a post lamenting the wrong distribution of money in New Zealand on the side of sports excellence but to the detriment of everything else:

"But what about other forms of high achievement? What about the university student who wins the gold medal for Academic Excellence at say Victoria University. It’s the highest award the university can bestow. After years of hard slog and a huge student debt do they get a cash bonus? Not a penny."

All that was hypercritical about society and, truthfully, ourselves, I was able to see contained in her paragraph; that we do not truly value the things that we say are of most value. Despite sports being a great source of activity, pride, entertainment, and work (yes, I finish a contract at Sky TV this week helping out with the Olympic audio commentary mixing!) there has to be thought given to our vastly unbalanced adoration of sport. Why do we reward sport and not the intellectual, beautiful and artistic in the same way?

3. Use natural pressure

The solution to becoming profitable is not, as the Germans have prescribed for certain debt-ridden countries, strict austerity measures. Although if you're in debt that wouldn't be a bad place to start! No. I believe the solution is determination to achieve the goal you set for yourself. Determination comes naturally when the pressure is natural too. For example, when you get a mortgage then the pressure is naturally present to pay that mortgage and that necessitates a stricter work ethic, and to be sure, more effort to find work. I don't have kids but I imagine that it would exponentially add to this 'natural' pressure! In saying that, I haven't met anyone who regretted having their own house, or their own kids. Any life-expanding experience is usually costly, but well worth the demands that it places on us. I assert that something of no value doesn't cost us a penny.

4. Don't listen to scaremongers

There is always work. It may not come to you immediately but eventually it has to when enough people know of your services. When you have the gear and skills in sufficient quantities, it rests entirely on your marketing and networking. I enjoy attending events such as new camera releases or film commission networking meetings, although I have to admit I do this purely for being among my peers and enjoying the atmosphere rather than it being part of a strict networking agenda! I don't make a list of people I need to talk to or actively try to catch someones eye. I just go along and enjoy the moment and if I get a chance to say 'hello' then I do. So for me, my job is over when I arrive at the doorstep of a networking event. The fact that I'm there is enough for me. We are much to small an industry to be pushing ourselves onto other people. I prefer the quiet, ever-present approach although there is plenty of room for variation here.

5. Clean the inbox each day

Every day, try to get rid of all emails. This small task has the immensely useful benefit of removing that feeling that there is always something left to do; something undone to weigh you down. Sure, some things need to sit until we find the answer before we can reply. That's where I use my computer's calendar. I put small reminders the next day to check that I have spoken with that person, or checked the details of that job. This is only if I can't answer the email that very moment. As for the many emails that come from Google and Facebook etc, try to unsubscribe to as many as possible so that the only ones that come through are personal messages from contacts.

Navigation is a fitting metaphor for bringing ones business to profitability. It implies careful handling, steering, movement in a certain direction. We can’t count on winning the lotto but we can count on our efforts.

Written by

Ande Schurr

13 Aug 2012

Ande Schurr is a professional and experienced sound recordist with a passion for the film and TV industry. His columns on The Big Idea focus on 'How Freelancers Succeed'.

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