Freelance Dreams

This is a continuation of last week’s column in which I address some of the questions I couldn’t fully answer during my workshop Interpretation and the Gig Economy at the National Association for Interpretation’s national workshop in Denver.

What advice would you give to a seasonal employee who is still developing their resume and to eventually be in a position to be freelance?

There are so many pieces of advice to give here. The biggest is, don’t quit your day job. Yet. I made that mistake once.

I was 28, didn’t see a future for myself at my employer at the time, had big dreams of being an interpretive writer and playwright, and I decided to just take the plunge. I quit my job and started to figure things out from there.

I was very, very poor for about five years. Like don’t know how I’ll pay the rent, guess I’ll eat Ichiban noodles again poor. It was stressful. What was I missing?


I have always been a chronic procrastinator; I still am, as are so many of my creative colleagues. But now, I have a stack of techniques for dealing with it. I had none then. I faffed around endlessly, causing myself and others tremendous stress.


I had a network of colleagues, supporters, and prospects in the day; I just didn’t have enough of them, nor the knowledge fo how to make the most of them. Fast forward to 2014 when I quit my day job at the age of 51: I had a nation-wide network of people who need the services I provide—or who provided complimentary services.

Work your networks. Barter services with your fellow creatives. Make yourself known. Write. Blog. Appear at conferences.

A unique brand

By brand, I’m talking about something only you can offer your profession. If you don’t know yet what you have to offer the world of interpretation, sit down and start to write a credo.

A credo is a series of “I believe” statements that help you articulate what you feel passionate about. They should be quite specific. Avoid (or edit out) writing motherhood statements: things that are so obviously true that nobody could disagree with them (“I believe people should have integrity in their work.”) Get into what makes you different from others: “I believe that interpretive panels should be site-specific exhibit labels for the outdoors, not generic Wiki pages stuck in the ground.” “I believe interpretation is most effective when the interpreter is nearly invisible.” And so on.

Stake your claim to your way of doing things. Make it known. Be bold. Our business is in serious need of iconoclasts right now.

Project management skills

Early in my freelance career I took an entry-level course in project management, using standards defined by the Project Management Institute. It has coloured everything I do and has made me far more efficient (and efficiency equals profit.)

Contracts under your belt

Don’t think about quitting your job until you have at least a half-dozen contracts completed. With each new gig, you learn things, you establish your reputation, and you build your portfolio. Get small contracts, do your best, get feedback, use the feedback, and move on.

A project-based resume

This is one anybody can start working on: take your resume and pull it apart. Instead of organizing by employer and period of time, organize it by project. That is to say, instead of saying “Sept 2013-March 2016, Project Coordinator at XX Aquarium” think about bullet-listing each project you did during that time.

“June 2015: Opened XX gallery”
“March 2016: Launched a new volunteer program”

Yes you should still be transparent about the fact that you were an employee, not a contractor, and you should still list who you were working for. But make it a resume about your discrete accomplishments, not the fact that you occupied a position during those years.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

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