Some students on creative courses know from the outset that they wish to work on a freelance basis. For others, the decision to work on a freelance or self-employed basis is made because freelancing is the industry norm or it is essential to have a track record built up through freelance work to be considered for advertised jobs.
Those interested in developing their practice in the community may well need to become ‘social entrepreneurs’ to secure essential funding.
Working in any of these ways means you will be setting up in business. You have to consider:
- What is motivating you to do it?
- What are you intending to do?
- What is your USP or ‘Unique Selling Pitch’?
- Is there a market for your work?
- What is the best way of advertising to that market?
- What business structure would be best to trade under?
- Can you produce your work on time and in volume if necessary?
- Who are your main competitors? What are they charging?
- How much should you charge for your work in order to cover your costs and give you a living wage?
- Where will you work?
- Will you work on your own or in collaboration with others?
- How much tax will you have to pay and when?
- Are there business expenses that you can claim back and how?
- How much money can you invest in starting up?
There are also some specific arts-related aspects that creatives need to explore, including:
- Do you need to exhibit or enter competitions to get your name known? If so, which ones should you invest your time, effort and money in?
- Are you a member of the networks that will help you develop more links and provide useful feedback on the way you are developing your practice?
- Do you have all the expertise and equipment that you will need?
- How do you protect your work from being copied?
- Are you aware of all the possible sources of funding that you could tap into, including scholarships and residencies?
- Will you need a sponsor or referee to secure funding? If so, how do you get one?
- Do you need to sign up to an agent or online gallery to get your work to market? Or could you rely on developing your own website and selling through sites such as Etsy or Not on the High Street?
- Will you need to undertake other paid work alongside your artistic or design practice? How do you ensure the right balance between these different activities?
The Design Trust provides an excellent summary of the key issues faced by creatives when setting up on their own.
Support at Manchester Metropolitan University:
There are a number of excellent web based resources that can help you think through the issues of going freelance and begin to plan ahead. These are listed in this handout but before exploring them, it is useful to know about the range of advisory services available within Manchester Met. These will help to reassure you that you are making informed decisions and help you to identify the experts who can advise on key aspects of your plans and mentor you in those early days of starting out:
- The Careers Guide 'Working for yourself.’ this is a good starting point, outlining everything you need to be aware of when starting up your own business venture.
- ‘Going Freelance’ workshops and master classes are organised through the Unit X Enrichment Programme and individual course programmes in The School of Art every year. These will help you understand better the world of the freelancer or creative business owner. More can be learned through visiting speakers, private views, involvement in local exhibitions and competitions, opportunities to display your work in pop ups etc. For details, ensure you check messages on Moodle and join the Manchester Met Creative Manchester Facebook group.
- Manchester School of Art’s Design Lab: Further develops professional practice in design and contemporary crafts through live projects with the region's major public organisations, companies, small design studios, agencies and individual practitioners.
- Market Place Studios: The studios offer two floors of incubation studio space for Manchester School of Art graduates together with business support tailored towards succeeding in the Creative Industries.
- Innospace: Manchester Met’s first graduate business start-up incubator offering office space, a range of business services plus extensive start up support and mentoring. There are different affordable rent packages depending upon residency type. Creatives working as freelancers or seeking to establish a social enterprise are welcome tenants. If you are beginning to develop your work and selling it whilst you are a student at Manchester Met, you can join as an associate and participate in the programme of activities. Innospace also run free two day Start-Up Bootcamps. Highly interactive and delivered by external facilitators who are all experts in their field of business start-up, Bootcamps enable students and graduates to explore the initial building blocks of starting their creative freelance practice or new business providing support, resources, guidance and mentoring.
- Digital Innovation Initiative: The Shed is the new home of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Digital Innovation initiative. It is a venue aimed at technology events and the building is a converted engineering shed.
- Manchester Met’s Student Enterprise Society: Lists events, competitions, business simulations and funding streams for students and graduates interested in starting their own businesses. The Society is linked to Innospace and Manchester Entrepreneurs (for student entrepreneurs in Manchester). Manchester Entrepreneurs are part of the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (NACUE).
Online Resources and Creative Start-up Toolkits:
The following organisations specifically support students and graduates setting up a creative business or intending to freelance in the creative sector:
- The Design Trust: The online business school for designers and crafts people. It offers a wealth of services, many of which are free, including: Business guidance through blogs, reviews, podcasts and videos. Business events, webinars and group coaching. Specialist business advice, training and support for small design and craft businesses details of funding streams together with marketing opportunities such as consumer and trade shows, commissions, competitions and residencies.
- ScreenSkills: Provides extensive advice for new graduates seeking to establish themselves in film, television, radio, fashion and textiles, animation, games, visual effects, publishing, advertising and marketing communications. They offer a Freelance Toolkit, and an online freelance community: The Hiive.
- Creative Boom: Practical tips on every aspect of working as a freelancer.
- Arts Thread: Practical Guides for Business Start-Ups.
- ArtQuest: Comprehensive library of 'how to' guides covering every aspect of professional art practice.
- The Crafts Council: Offers business workshops, masterclasses, and a Hothouse programme.
- Freelance UK: Useful guides on setting out as a freelancer in design, photography, journalism, copy writing, marketing and public relations.
- Creative & Cultural Skills: Useful blogs about freelancing by area of practice together with their Business Survival Toolkit.
- Women in Rural Industries: Offers a package of practical business support that includes access to the 50 WiRE networks across the UK (Includes rural crafts).
- National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA): A step-by-step interactive resource to help plan, build, communicate and launch creative businesses.
Staff at Manchester Met’s Market Place Studios and Innospace offer advice on the appropriate funding streams available for creative business start-ups. These include:
- Creative Industry Finance: An Arts Council England initiative offering business development support and access to finance for creative industry enterprises.
- Arts Council.
- Creative England: Funding for Film.
- Creative England: Funding for Games.
- Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative Enterprise (DBACE).
- The Association of Independent Professionals and The Self-Employed (IPSE): Freelance Awards.
- Start Up Loans: A government-funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 who are creating a business.
- The Business Growth Hub: Based in the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
- Shell Livewire: Monthly £5,000 Smarter Future Awards. Winners are automatically considered for the annual £25,000 Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Upper age limit of 30 applies.
- Princes Trust: Supports people aged 16-30 who are working fewer than 16 hours a week or are unemployed.
- Crowdfunder: Still a relatively novel means of raising funds but many creatives including filmmakers and artists have successfully raised funds and fostered awareness of their work through crowdfunding. Essentially crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, often through internet mediated registries, but also through methods such as benefit events and mail-order subscriptions.
- It is also worth checking out two global American platforms that support creative start-ups: Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
- The Design Council: Reports on research into design innovation, current networks and possible sources of funding.
Competitions and Exhibitions
As a creative, you should also consider entering competitions and exhibitions. Many offer cash prizes as well as bringing your work to a wider audience. Opportunities are occasionally posted to the Creative Manchester students group on Facebook. Dedicated listings include:
Social enterprise is an alternative and increasingly significant means by which artists and designers work in their local communities using their practice to tackle social problems and improve communities, people's life chances or the environment. You still need to run such projects on a business footing, including making an operating surplus from selling goods and services in the open market. However, the surplus is reinvested back into the enterprise or the local community it serves.
For further information see:
Sources of funding include:
Finances, Tax and VAT
It is vital you track and manage your finances from the outset. This includes registering for tax and VAT.
Protecting Your Work
As a creative, it is vital that you protect your work whether it be a design, product, brand, logo, software, photograph, website, film or copy. This is termed Intellectual Property (IP), and you have a number of options including:
- Trade marks for brand identity.
- Registration of a design for product appearance.
- Copyright for literary and artistic material.
- Patents for inventions.
- Registration of company name.
The Innospace team can advise you about the best form of IP protection for you but you can also undertake research online at:
Online Support Networks
Freelancing can be a very lonely road. As a result, many freelancers join both online and offline networking groups to ensure they have access to supportive communities.
- Startacus: An online community for students and recent graduates who are interested in working for themselves. Works with Crowdfunder to offer members of the community a unique free package of crowdfunding campaign support.
- Arts Axis: An online space for artists, makers, creators and producers to showcase their ideas and talent, find opportunities, develop new audiences and build networks. Professional membership is from £2.50 per month, with those eligible for Early Career status receiving a 50% discount.
- UK Young Artists: Supports an online creative community with blogs, advice columns, interviews and a space for artists to connect, collaborate and create. Further develops the practice of artists from all art forms through cross art form opportunities (residencies, commissions, workshops and get-togethers) and showcasing at national and international festivals.
- The-Dots: Offers profile-hosting space plus a newsfeed to get instant updates on new work, projects, jobs, courses, workspaces and events. The-Dots occasionally run free workshops for School of Art students.
- The Hiive: A networking, collaboration and job-finding tool for UK creatives, powered by the industry skills body Creative Skillset, and inspired by the Creative Industries Council.
- The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed: IPSE offers tax and legal support, insurance advice, networking and events as well as a free Guide to Freelancing. They also run an annual freelance award competition.
More informal network groups can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Support Networks in Manchester and the North West
- Creative Industries Trafford (CIT): Regular free e-newsletters with updates of events both at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale and at other venues in the region. CIT offers a professional development programme of workshops, master classes, events and networking opportunities (usually costing no more than £15) to support artists and creatives i.e. ideal for those just starting their creative career and living on a tight budget.
- CuratorSpace: A new toolkit for curators, organisers, galleries, and artists managed by CIT. With a heavy emphasis on opportunities in the north of England, it provides details of events, exhibitions, residencies and competitions, together with details of how to submit applications.
- Castlefield Gallery: The network for NW-based artists providing information, skills, opportunities, resources, promotion and critical dialogue. Also provides The Associates Programme which offers mentoring support and master classes plus Members Exhibition - a test bed for emerging talent. Annual membership costs £60.
- New Art Spaces Scheme: Provides information on new art spaces and exhibitions.
- Blank Media Collective: A not-for-profit arts organisation that strives to support emerging creativity by providing platforms and opportunities to share it with the wider community.
- East Street Arts: Based in Leeds but near enough to be of interest.
- Community Arts North West (CAN): The CAN media arts programme offers enhanced training to artists who are already using digital technology for a wide range of artistic and cultural purposes.
- Creative Lancashire: Most authorities are no longer able to direct support to creative initiatives but may offer start-up units and studios for rent. Check the current situation in your local authority area by going to the arts and cultural services areas of their web sites.
Other creative networks include:
Meet Up Groups: A number of informal groups for creative practitioners, freelancers and new business start-ups are based in Manchester. They meet regularly to share ideas, develop practice and collaborate GLUG is part of a well-known group that has events taking place throughout the UK. As groups are set up on a frequent basis (or cease to meet), it is always worth googling for new ones, or set up a group of your own. Manchester School of Art graduates and students have, with ever-greater frequency, been forming groups or linking to already established groups through Creative Manchester on Facebook.
Selling Your Work:
Manchester boasts a number of studios and galleries that welcome enquiries from new graduates, although rent and commission will be levied.
Market Place Studios: As the School of Art’s own studio space in Stockport, Marketplace Studios provide creative start-up support to our graduates. The studios are based in a refurbished three storey building in Stockport’s Market Place and offer two floors of incubation space. The ground floor provides a shop/gallery and project spaces to run courses for the general public. Expressions of interest are currently being invited from graduates interested in delivering short courses, workshops and masterclasses in all aspects of creative practice. For further information about the Studios or to arrange a visit, contact email@example.com.
Other galleries include:
Occasionally, posts to Creative Manchester on Facebook advertise available studio spaces.
Once you are ready to start selling your work, you can utilise any of a number of online galleries and showcases. Most online galleries will charge you a membership fee and/or collect a percentage fee on point of sale.
The Guardian have a useful guide on how online galleries can help you to establish yourself in the industry.
A sample selection are listed in the careers guide “Getting Work in the Creative Industries.”
Arts Thread: Originally focussed upon textiles and fashion but now expanded to cover all aspects of design. Arts Thread offers a dedicated area for students and graduates to profile their work. Arts Thread also works in conjunction with New Designers.
Selling Artwork: Although created for fine art photographers, this site contains useful information for any creative wishing to sell work.
A number of established sites are now being used successfully by makers and designers. See the following articles: How To Set Up An Online Shop and Top Tips To Sell Your Crafts Online.
The most popular sites are:
Pop Up Shops
For Pop-Up spaces in Manchester.
Helpful articles on how to organise a pop up include ‘Tips on starting a pop-up shop,’ & ‘Why run a pop-up?’.
3Space: This charity works in partnership with property holders to make otherwise empty commercial space available free of charge for a limited period for community use. Sharing space to build local networks and to provide infrastructure for innovation by social entrepreneurs. The spaces can be used by charities and other non-profit organisations, social enterprises and early stage start-ups free of charge for a range of temporary projects.
Markets and Trade Shows
More options exist than ever before. For events in the North West, useful sites include:
The Manchester Youth Market and the Teenage Markets, which take place in Stockport and Bolton, are for anyone aged 12 to 25 who makes products and wishes to sell.
Sites Hosting Short-term Commissions
The number of sites that advertise short-term commissions, especially in design, have grown dramatically in recent years. They provide an online global market place that is often referred to as ‘The Gig Economy’. These can be useful for testing out whether freelance work really is for you as well as helping you earn some cash whilst you are completing your professional portfolio.
Most also provide guidance on pricing your work and making your pitch. The 10 sites listed below are a good starting point:
In addition, general sites that offer commissions for creative students and recent graduates are:
- Talent Cupboard: Links students and recent graduates to short commissions in digital marketing.
- Student Gems.
- Cargo Collective: Offers a personal publishing platform aimed at creating accessible tools and a networked context to enhance your exposure on the Internet.