Anouchka Burton: the expectations vs the realities of being a freelancer

“Being a freelancer can be lonely if you don’t prepare well enough and do your research. I imagined I’d be surrounded by people, sitting in a café with my MacBook tapping away for a few hours in my jeans,” says communications consultant Anouchka Burton. “I quickly realised that I had to make links with people who were also working flexibly. Even if you find a café that doesn’t ask you to move on after an hour, you often need like-minded people to vent to, run things past or bounce ideas off.”

Her advice is to seek out spaces for creatives and other freelancers. “It’s great sitting next to people who are working on a digital or a fashion project,” she says. She also highlights the importance of social networking and other digital spaces where you can ask questions about organising your finances or find new projects. “The freelance economy is growing and the tech industry has responded to this growth with lots of blogs, apps and tools that are often free to use. There’s a wealth of information out there.”

Doing your research is her number one tip for setting your rate. “Find out the average amount people charge in specific sectors and go upwards from there depending on your unique skillset. Leave room for negotiation. Don’t forget that you’re not earning holiday pay and that nobody is paying any contribution to your pension or providing childcare vouchers – you have to add these in,” she says. “The number you’re asking for might look like a crazy amount of money but it’s got to take these things into account.”

Anouchka, 38, started her career as a journalist and moved into to PR and Communications in 2007. She first went freelance in 2012. “I would really encourage going freelance at least once in your PR career,” she says. “Even if you end up going back and work for a company or agency, taking time out mid-career to reflect on what you’ve achieved so far and learning to work with different people is so important.”

This is exactly what she did. She took time out of her 9am to 5pm routine to train as a teacher of English as a foreign language (TEFL) and used her qualification to support young refugees in the UK. After a few months teaching and doing freelance projects, she accepted a senior role at a Media, Corporate Communications and PR agency.

During her four years there, she came to recognise the importance of strategic communications. Second time around, her decision to go freelance was motivated by a desire to help businesses to strategically communicate with clients and employees, especially around diversity and inclusion projects. “When you’re investing huge amounts of time, energy and money to make your organisation more equal and inclusive, it’s really important to get your communications right,” she says.

Part of her role includes auditing the language companies use. “Language is part of inclusion, for example not using ‘he’ or ‘she’ too much and alienating people who don’t  identify themselves in this way. BAME (short for Black Asian Minority Ethnic) is another label that a lot of people have discomfort around, but it’s a useful way to describe some groups. My role is to bridge the gap between organisations, their audience and their employees.”

A recurring issue she sees is a lack of internal communication. “Organisations are often so keen to tell their clients about something new that they forget to tell their employees or they don’t know how. It needs to be communicated to everybody.”

Anouchka has a collaborative and inclusive approach to the way she works as a consultant. “My particular areas of expertise are race and gender. I have contacts with expertise in other areas and I like to put clients in contact with them. When you’re a freelancer, you often want to say yes to everything but it’s really important for your reputation to be honest and say ‘I can do 80% of the work but I can’t do the last 20% and I think you should speak to this person about it.’”

Since her first stint as a freelancer, she’s learned a lot about how to manage her work. “I’ve learned to have a more professional operation – I’m regular with my invoices, I chase them up after a certain time and when I have a meeting, I follow up by email straight away. When I first started working for myself, I thought there would be less pressure but that’s not the case – I have high standards. Show that you deserve to be paid and treated as a professional.”

Back in 2012, she accepted rates suggested by clients. Today, she sets her own day rate and adjusts it according to the project or sector. She also has a minimum amount she charges for a friend or a passion project.

Another lesson learned is the value of keeping a paper trail of her time. “You never know when a client will ask you to demonstrate that you did those hours back in the Summer,” she says.

As a freelancer, there’s a lot to keep on top of. “You have to do all the things that other people do for you when you’re an employee – finance, diaries, HR, accounts. You can take the afternoon off but you might end up working from 6pm to 10pm instead and you’ll definitely be working over the weekend.” Alongside her freelance work, she is studying part-time for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London.

Flexibility may lead to strange working hours, but it’s part of why she loves being a freelancer, as well as the the freedom to choose what she works on. “The opportunities that you open yourself up to are enormous. I learn something new every single week.”

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To find out more about Anouchka, have a look at her LinkedIn. If you’re a sole trader or registered as a limited business, have a look at Starling for Business – our mobile-only business accounts can be opened in minutes and have no monthly fees.

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Charlotte Lorrimer

Charlotte Lorrimer

Charlotte Lorimer is Communications and Marketing Executive at Starling Bank - the UK’s leading mobile-only bank offering personal, joint and business accounts. Her role includes creating content for the Starling blog, managing partnerships and helping the team with PR and social media.