Stand out from the crowd

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With thousands returning to freelancing, now’s the time to stand out from the crowd.

Apparently, there’s something about a deadly health crisis that paralyses the whole world, upends working practices, and forces billions into lengthy isolation that encourages people to have a little think about their priorities in life. At least, that’s what recent IPSE/YouGov research into the work plans of Britons suggests, with two in five Britons now considering giving up day job drudgery for the freedom of freelancing.

Of course, thinking about going freelance is the easy bit. Actually handing in your notice to your hated boss and getting your business off the ground is much harder. But the Office of National Statistics’ latest figures prove that some of those dreamers are turning ideas into actions. After two years when the freelancing population plummeted from 5 million to 4.2 million, the first quarter of 2022 saw the first significant rise since COVID.

It may be the trickle before the deluge. While the UK hasn’t yet experienced a “great resignation” on the scale of the US, we often follow the lead of our larger transatlantic cousins and yet another poll, by PwC in May, found 50% of British workers are likely to quit their jobs in the next 12 months. Lockdowns meant that millions got a taste of a life where you manage your own schedule/ workload and don’t have to surrender a quarter of your earnings to Pret A Manger and your local failing train franchise. Many have decided they want more.

So, if the signs are that freelancing is about to enjoy a resurgence, what does that mean for those of us who are already self-employed? It means competition is about to get even fiercer and it's going to be even more important that we learn how to promote ourselves well, showcase our effectiveness and build our reputations. The upcoming IPSE Freelancer Awards are one of the best possible opportunities to do this. I should know, having been fortunate enough to win one a year ago.

There are other ways to build your reputation as a freelancer of course, and I know a bit about those too. When I first decided to leave behind grisly office politics and go solo in early 2020, it felt as overwhelming as starting my career from scratch a quarter of a century before. As an extra challenge, I was an English communications expert living in Cambodia, about 4,000 miles from the nearest English-speaking commercial city. But, as so often during the pandemic, it was the much-maligned Internet that came to the rescue, finally proving it was good for more than binge-streaming Buffy and insulting people anonymously. First I hit YouTube and taught myself to build a rudimentary website for my agency alter ego, Box Clever Creative, showcasing my work in copywriting, campaigning and communications. Then I set up a profile on Upwork, one of many freelancing platforms allowing talents from anywhere in the world to compete for work from anywhere in the world.


Enter the IPSE Freelancer Awards


These freelancing platforms have their challenges but can be an incredible tool as long as you’re hard-working, have valuable skills, and can put your ego aside and start modestly. For the first few months, I scrapped like a starving puppy for every job to build up my job ratings and testimonials. A year before I'd been writing and directing short films starring famous sportsmen - now I found myself writing a CV for a nervous Vietnamese high schooler and proofreading a blog about dog training.

Fortunately, like millions of freelancers before me, I found that simple standards like delivering on time and keeping standards high even if the jobs seemed low quickly built up my reputation. Within six months I was Upwork’s top-ranked freelancer in Cambodia, and the platform was matching me with big marketing projects for the likes of Microsoft. My growing reputation meant that outside of Upwork, I won a long-term communications consultancy with UNICEF, helping with a creative communications strategy to protect children from COVID.

Most excitingly, the freedom provided by freelancing allowed me to work on passion projects I couldn't have when in full-time work. When the incredible Cambodian arts and education NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak was in financial trouble because of the pandemic, I was able to volunteer my time and come up with the idea of fundraising by performing a world-record-breaking 24 hour circus. When another small NGO called ISF Cambodia wanted to get creative in teach their sports-crazed students about COVID safety, we invented a new sport – social distance football.

It was the most dizzying, surreal period of my professional life, with the weirdness peaking on the night of the IPSE Awards when I was named Outstanding Freelancer. Given the time difference between the UK and Cambodia, it was around 3am when my friend Stacey Kehoe of the comms agency Brandlective collected the award in London on my behalf. I was watching via livestream and it's possible I did a little disbelieving dance and woke up my downstairs neighbours.

It was a humbling experience given how talented and varied the other award winners were, leaving me with a mild case of imposter syndrome. Like me, the New Freelancer winner, Claire Hutchings, and COVID-19 Success Story winner, Nadine Campbell, had bucked the trend and gone freelance during the pandemic, a big gamble that had paid off. But my biggest cheer of the night was when Liam O’Dell won Young Freelancer for his brilliant, tireless journalism and campaigning on disability issues. His work has been seen in even more national media since winning, and I’m sure that the award has helped him continue in his extraordinary achievements.

The award has certainly helped me. Not only did it help me add the World Food Programme and European Union to my client list, but it also helped me win a Stevie Award for Outstanding Communications Professional. The credibility of the IPSE award made a big impact on the judges of this global award.

So, my advice to all talented freelancers is to enter the awards. Don’t presume you don’t stand a chance. I didn’t think I did, yet I managed to win. But even if you don’t get shortlisted, the very act of writing your nomination will help you to think more clearly about your talents and what you're offering your clients. Self-promotion often doesn't come naturally to British freelancers (unless we count Love Island contestants as self-employed) but knowing your value and being able to communicate it are some of the most powerful tools freelancers can have, and they’re only going to get more important in the exciting, challenging times ahead.

Enter the IPSE Freelancer Awards

The search is now on for the best and brightest UK freelancers – as well as the people and businesses who do most to support the self-employed community. Do you have what it takes to be crowned at this year's #IPSEAwards? Enter today.

Enter now


Meet the author

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Jaime Gill
Jaime Gill is a writer, campaigner, creative thinker and communications expert who operates through Box Clever Creative.