An Illustration Student at National Freelancer’s Day

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© Nisha Haq Photography

On the 29th of June, my classmates and I graduated from university. A day full of smiles, however, also prompted a fair few grimaces, nervous laughs and utterances of ‘what now?’ from those wearing caps and gowns. Completing a creative degree is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. But when you’re a young person embarking on a career in the creative industries after three years within the relative safety of university, it’s easy to feel like you’ve hit the wall before you’ve even started running.

However, just one day before graduating, I attended IPSE’s flagship annual event: National Freelancers’ Day (NFD). If there was anything to ease my nerves about embarking into the unknown, this was it. Bringing together freelancers and the self-employed from multiple industries, NFD provided a space to learn, network and showcase freelance talent.

To start, I was a little apprehensive. I’d never attended an event of this type and as a student, I worried that my potential contributions to the day were limited at best. But my fears were quickly soothed. Everyone I met was enthusiastic, asking about my interests as a soon-to-be graduate and my plans for the future. One interaction even ended with the request for a business card, which was a firm reminder to be prepared, even if you don’t feel confident!

I spoke to mortgage advisors and accountants, bakers and working mums, and while their interests and pursuits were wildly different, it was fantastic to gain different points of view. It’s very easy to work in a bubble, so branching out and meeting people from all walks of life was a breath of fresh air.

The ‘Freelancer Showcase’ was a fantastic example of how it’s possible to forge a successful career doing what you love. Talking to two of IPSE former Freelancer of the year finalists, Charlotte Beevor – a surface pattern designer – and Emmeline Pidgen – an Illustrator, was both insightful and heartening. Hearing first hand their advice and stories about setting up their businesses made the idea of a lucrative career in art and design more accessible, less of a myth and more of a possibility.

It’s not often you get to talk shop so candidly with people who are successful in your chosen field, but NFD not only allowed but actively encouraged all guests to get stuck in and make connections.

The programme of events also seemed to be a winner with the attendees. There were 13 sessions throughout the day, ranging from advice on cyber security and winning work, to policy discussions and health and wellbeing. Even as people filed in and out of workshops and panels, introductions were being made and conversations happening throughout three floors at King’s Place in central London. My one foray into a session saw me mistakenly sit through a talk about pensions; a subject I know approximately nothing about, yet even that was helpful – maybe financial planning can be made less daunting after all!

However, the real highlight for me was the keynote speech from Nick Dwyer, creative director of Beaverton Brewery. Nick has managed to find a niche in a company where he creates work that is authentic and unapologetically his own, something that I’m sure every creative person dreams of. From doodling ideas in a sketchbook, his designs are now printed on hundreds of thousands of cans sold nationwide and are arguably one of the main contributors to Beavertown’s success. IPSE could’ve chosen any number of keynote speakers, but the decision to have a young illustrator working for a craft brewery was a testament, for me at least, of their recognition of the value of creative work.

I have no doubt that most people who attended National Freelance Day went home with a goody bag of new connections and heads brimming with ideas for their next business venture. For me, going to NFD not only provided many meaningful insights into the world of freelancing and the self-employed, but also a positive look into a community of people who were keen to help each other flourish.

Madeline Stuart is a freelance illustrator