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Survey results #1: why did you become a heritage freelancer?

Wednesday 8th January, 2014

I had a call today from Jack Telford, who is setting up a new free site called totalfreelance.co.uk to connect UK-based freelancers and potential projects.

Jack had seen my article in Museums Journal about freelancers and had called because he was intrigued – heritage freelancers? What are they? What do they do?

From my recent survey, run just before the Museums Association conference in November, I could tell him with certainty that we are an incredibly diverse group, including people working in such roles as:

HLF mentor, exhibition development, writing trails, environmental education, arts marketing, employability consultant, collections management, community education, storytelling training, teachers’ resources, digital project management, workshop developer, creative producer, costumed interpreter, fashion history, mentoring, evaluation, oral history training, writer, hands-on interactive development, policy and strategy development, communications coordinator, landscape interpretation, project manager, community consultation, curator, charity and cultural consultant

…and there were many more!

As I told Jack, I was pretty amazed at the range of specialisms pursued by consultants and freelancers.

But in the survey I wanted to know why people had chosen to take the freelance plunge. Was it a positive choice or just a temporary stop-gap while waiting for a ‘proper’ in-house opportunity? The results showed strongly that freelancing was a matter of choice for the majority.

One person said their motivation to go freelance was to try new things without managing a large, complex team – and several times people mentioned wanting to be their own boss. On the negative side, one person said they couldn’t continue in senior management on a part-time basis. Another mentioned there were no promotion opportunities at their institution.

In some ways these results are positive and negative aspects of the same reasons, of course. If there are no opportunities for advancement (negative), you might seek to build your portfolio or career outside (positive). And wanting to work part-time is fantastic for flexibility (positive), but it doesn’t seem right that senior management positions can’t be fulfilled part-time (negative).

So, would the freelancers who took the survey consider going back to an in-house role? The answer is maybe – but only for the right opportunity. Most would be flexible depending on the circumstances and only a fifth say never again to a staff role. 17% are already combining in-house work with freelancing.

So the message seems to be – you can do any heritage role as a freelancer or consultant, bringing specialist skills to where they are needed. And freelancers are flexible, and committed to what they’re doing. We bring resilience to the workforce.

MORE SOON on further results of the freelancers’ survey.

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