Grads of the UK is an Instagram project and series of articles run by graduates, for graduates. We are documenting what being a millennial in 2017 is really like, with honest stories about life after university.
Every week we hand over our Instagram account to a new grad and share their unique story here on GradTouch. This week Naomi is taking over. Naomi graduated with a Master's in Advertising and Marketing Communications; she now works as a freelancer.
You can read Naomi's article below, and see more daily insights into her life since uni by following @gradsoftheuk on Instagram.
I did my first ever bit of freelance work right after I finished my Documentary Film & TV BA degree.
I was hired by an auction house to catalogue their most high-end items to make them more easily identifiable for mega rich bidders; my research on their stock was made into a booklet for those clients.
There was definitely an irony to this being my first gig. Far from being super rich myself, I had just graduated and was heading back home to live with my mum and figure out what the hell was next for me. Meanwhile, I was paid very little for work that was done for the benefit of millionaires – but it was fun, and it was one of my first lessons as to the importance of a strong work ethic - something you absolutely need as a freelancer. It also gave me enough cash to get by and have some adventures, as I headed into the real world for the first time.
Since then, graduate life has been a massive learning process.
When I think about the changes I’ve gone through since finishing that first degree in 2011, looking back, it seems like I’ve been a different person every single year of my twenties so far.
My first two years of graduate life were spent in the south of France as my family had moved there when I was a teenager. I studied for a TEFL qualification and completed internships in a publishing house and as a graduate journalist. I also did some freelance work as a film journalist. Then, in 2013, I returned to the UK and undertook a Master’s in Advertising and Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University.
When I graduated that second time, I tried the traditional grad job path. I worked full-time in PR & Marketing for a little design agency for a while and then as a Marketing Executive for a travel start-up. I enjoyed both jobs, but eventually took the plunge and decided freelance was for me. Moving away from steady, full-time employment was exciting, terrifying and brilliant all at once.
Now, I can work anywhere, as long as I have Wi-Fi and a laptop – which has allowed me to continue travelling and exploring, as well as meaning I have the freedom to catch up with friends who are scattered all over the place. The freedom, flexibility and sheer variety of the work I do – whether I’m on-site or remote, doing PR for a start-up app or a massive, established company – is what I love about my job.
I think for a lot of grads, particularly if we’re ambitious, there’s this tendency to map life out in chunks of a few years: “I’ll do this, then I’ll do this, then this will happen”. Then, when that doesn’t come off as expected – even if it comes off well, but not as planned – we panic, because it’s still ‘off the chart’. But graduate life has taught me to get used to that feeling of uncertainty.
No one ever teaches you how to be a freelancer, it’s not even something they present as a viable option at school or university.
And so, the path taken to succeed at freelancing is different for everyone and it’s very much an independent journey to embark upon. I like to have a plan to work towards, to give me focus, but I have learnt not to be afraid of revising it. If the plan you had at 18 doesn’t make sense any more at 25, that’s not a failure.
For me, I made my start by sending out emails to companies I’d previously worked with, including former colleagues and my wider circle of professional acquaintances, making it known I was ‘available’ for work. My main source of freelance gigs has been through people who have already seen and liked my work – and that has a knock-on effect. From then, it’s been a steady process of finding what works for me.
You have to be incredibly careful with your finances when you’re not an employee. You have to learn what your work is worth and not devalue it – after all, you need to live. People are ultimately buying my knowledge and what I bring to the table. Working for peanuts at that auction house to get some experience and a bit of money for my travels was fine straight out of uni, but I couldn’t sustain a living charging those rates now.
Ultimately, I am responsible for the opportunities I score and take advantage of – as a freelancer, it’s all on you, you can’t just wait for someone else to give you a chance. You have to make it happen.
I think the main thing I’ve learnt as a graduate is the importance of continuing to learn.
Especially as someone who wants to live a creative life, the learning curve is never ending, and success in real terms is defined only by continuing to ‘do’ whatever you love.
You get a ‘feel’, through this learning process and trial and error, for the kind of life and work that really suits you – rather than pursuing an idealised version of graduate life you might have once pictured in your head. To that end, I’m actually looking for something more full-time at the moment. Freelancing has served its original purpose – giving me the chance to try a new way of working, take a bit of a leap into the unknown and have the freedom I wanted straight out of uni.
I’m looking forward to this new chapter, but I’ve only found my way to it because of what my freelance adventure gave me. I would certainly recommend graduates to give it a go if they get the chance. If it pays off – then, fantastic! If not, you’ll be far better placed to try something else than if you get into the mindset of never trying anything new for fear of failure. It just takes being brave and having faith you’ll work it out.