Working the Freelance Game

June 29, 2017—Editor’s note: Afi Yellow-Duke (NV ‘16) is joining the ranks of New Voices Captains as this year’s guardian angel for the 2017 New Voices. This November, she will support and guide the cohort through a weekend of inspiring panels and networking at the Third Coast Conference. She’s a New Voice alum who’s embarked on a freelancing adventure, and she’s here to share six tips and tricks that have helped her navigate this lifestyle.

Yellow-Duke is based in Brooklyn, New York. She has worked on projects for Panoply Media and BRIC Radio, and currently produces episodes of and coaches storytellers for the podcast “You Had Me at Black.” She was also a producer for “Pitch,” a narrative music journalism podcast, and she got her start in radio as an intern at StoryCorps and WNYC’s Studio 360. She holds a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology and Dance from Middlebury College.

Applications for AIR’s 2019 New Voices Scholarship will open SOON! Keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks.

It often seems like some freelancers have it all figured out. They’re balancing multiple projects successfully and aren’t working themselves to the bone? How do they do it?! As someone who’s relatively new to the world of freelancing, I’m definitely still figuring it out, but here are six lessons that have kept me grounded.

1. Get organized.
It’s crucial to find a way to stay on top of your deadlines, meetings, and other obligations. If you have a system that works for you, whether it’s bullet journaling or putting Post-It notes on everything, stick to it. You’ll need it! For me, I make to-do lists by hand and keep them somewhere visible. I also color code everything and use iCal to keep track of all my meetings.

2. Find a good workspace and/or a work buddy.
If you can consistently work at home in PJs, I salute you. I’ve found that I work best when I switch up my locations from time-to-time. When I work from home, I’m most productive at my dining room table, but I also like going to one of my favorite coffee shops or my local public library. I also like having work dates with fellow freelancing friends. Depending on your project, you might not be in an office regularly, which can feel isolating. Working with friends allows you to be social, and it helps when someone else is there to hold you accountable!

3. Be realistic about how much you can take on.
It can be easy to overwhelm yourself with work as a freelancer. But here’s where playing to your strengths is key! For example, if you know that transcribing isn’t a strong suit of yours,maybe don’t take on multiple transcriptions at once. Which leads me to:

4. Don’t be afraid to say no.
There could be multiple reasons behind why an offer doesn’t seem like a good fit—from low compensation to other expectations about the job. While it can be especially tempting to accept every offer that comes your way, pay close attention to what’s being asked of you. While I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid this problem so far, it’s important to read contracts carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know your worth, and don’t settle. On a related note, know your rights! I live in New York City, which recently passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, granting more protections to freelance workers.

5. Try to do a variety of projects!
Freelancing can be a great time to improve skills you might not have the time to build elsewhere. That can be field recording, researching, interviewing, or just getting faster at cutting tape. There are plenty of outlets and editors willing to work with beginner producers. Additionally, try to find projects that vary in terms of content. One of my favorite parts of being a freelancer is that the work can vary from day-to-day, or even within the same day! On a recent afternoon, I went from interviewing people at a rally to editing tape from an interview with a celebrity chef.

6. Take care of yourself.
Essentially, being your own boss isn’t easy—especially when juggling multiple projects at once. But, just like with any other job, make sure to take time for yourself! I make a point of going on walks as much as possible when it’s nice out. If you have a little more down time, use it to pick up that hobby you’ve been meaning to do forever, or make sure to engage in some self-care that you might have been neglecting.