Assignment 2: Personal Development Plan
As we near the end of college education, we cast an eye on imminent pathways that will hopefully lead us to our destined careers within the creative industry. This path reflects each and every one of us; that no two are the same and the multitude of careers and opportunities within the sector will result in different life experiences.
Whether it be success stories like Sir Richard Branson, who began by setting up his own magazine and then a mail-order record business that would grow to become an international organisation employing 50,000 people and creating a global turnover in the region of £15 billion as of 2012, to everyday entrepreneurs and freelancers listed on the National Union of Freelancers directory like Hugh O’ Connell and Jeanette Smith, all have one thing in common; professionalism within their chosen field and the desire and determination to hone and develop their particular skill set.
Professional development, in the context of freelancing and the creative media as a whole, consists of an onus placed on someone with aspirations to enter that domain; utilizing all available resources at one’s disposal to enhance their knowledge, abilities and understanding which will, in turn, translate into making them more successful and attractive to potential clients or employers.
It is not just the notion of concerning yourself with work ethic, but young freelancers in particular have to be able to acclimatize themselves with the financial implications, and often pitfalls surrounding working for yourself.
This professional development begins in education where the fundamentals are taught and the theory is instilled in young, aspiring journalists. West Cheshire College has given me the best possible start to my future career which will be advanced further at university level. Not only are courses like De Montfort’s accredited by the NCTJ (National Council for the Training Of Journalists), but ‘It is designed for students who want to study a fascinating subject and graduate with the industry-recognised qualifications to give them the best chance of getting a job within the industry straight away.’ Other than educationally, university presents a fantastic opportunity to enhance cultural understandings with the people that those will meet along the way; which is key to good journalism in order to give a full, fair account on matters of varying subjects. These people may also prove to be valuable contacts; someone may be a young professional photographer and could outsource one another’s services for various contract roles.
Depending on your chosen area, there are institutions at hand to provide aspiring professionals the help they need to make it within the industry. Some of these include the following;
- British Interactive Media Association (BIMA)
- British Film Institute (BFI)
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA)
- National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)
- Independent Publishers Guild (IPG)
- Association of Online Publishers (AOP)
- Producers Alliance for Cinema & Television (PACT)
- News Producers Alliance (NPA)
- National Union for Journalists (NUJ)
- Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph & Theatre Union (BECTU)
- British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP)
In terms of relating one of these to my own professional development as a writer, we can examine in more detail the role the National Union Of Journalists can play for people like myself and the guidance they can offer.
Founded in 1907, the NUJ is one of the largest unions in the world who represent journalists and even those who may not consider themselves to fall into that bracket; including bloggers, podcasters and those with affiliations with social media.
They are an active union with the aim to ‘…improve pay conditions of members and protect and promote media freedom, professionalism and ethical standards.’ For those working casually for more than one employer on a casual basis or working self-employed, can apply for freelance membership.
The price is based on the sector in which you find yourself working in (Freelancers find themselves in Grade 2). Below, as well as the grade descriptions, are the prices associated to them;
Grade 1: provincial newspapers, books, magazines outside London, independent local radio and those employed outside the UK and the Irish Republic.
Grade 2: press and public relations, magazines and advertising copywriters.
Grade 3: national newspapers, news agencies and broadcasting.
Beneficial also is the ability to apply for a student membership costing £30 lasting the length of the course that relates to journalism or areas covered by the NUJ.
As well as this, they offer a range of training seminars for members including advice and guidance to excel within the media sector. Reasons to take part in these training schemes include the fact ‘real journalist teach real journalist’ skills relevant in todays working environment and the ability to meet and learn from fellow colleagues.
Your skill set, and tailoring them to an individuals intended career pathway, are crucial to embedding yourself in that area. For myself wanting to go into writing and journalism the skills I bestow now will help form the foundations of my freelancing career. In general, I feel I possess a relatively strong writing style that is constantly being developed through college education and will continue to evolve through university. Writing requires a fair amount of creative flair which again I feel I showcase; thanks in part to the wide variety of cultural media I consume. It is a competitive market in the creative media sector, therefore the knowledge of industry-standard technologies and software thanks to my time at West Cheshire College will hopefully set me apart from others vying for contracts. Aside from these hard skills, soft skills I have developed include punctuality, a good work ethic in group situations or individual work and strong communication skills.
To allow us to obtain a broader picture in regard to my own personal skill set, two separate SWOT analysis charts (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats), one generic and one personalised, were formulated to see areas I can rest upon and others that need addressing or improving. As you can see, with an emphasis on freelancers obtaining their own work, pressure can mount in terms of the consistency of contracts and the balance of managing cashflow across times where jobs are few and far between. As David Parrish, Creative Industries Management Consultant, told us last summer when we as a class saw him in Liverpool to discuss this very subject, he told us the old immortal words of, ”It’s not what you know, its who you know.” are true in relation to freelancing, and the opportunities listed below, although conventional could spark business relationships and potential contacts through these avenues of university or apprenticeships.
From the two charts we can deduce that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on my own income and being able to initially start off in the freelancing industry; as explored earlier, financing is important in order to cover items such as equipment and other resources. Although the ‘contacts’ tab is marked as ‘average’, this will improve once I have set myself within media circles and established links through university and initial contracts of employment.
Unlike full-time positions, fixed term or freelance work is a contract lasting for one single period of time. Because of this, to help how I would maintain workflow as a freelancer, a written strategy can be complied to set a course of action on complexities and pressures that could arise and how to combat them.
Reputation and contacts are two of the most important things young freelancers can obtain when beginning their careers in the creative sector. That is why promotional material is paramount to be noticed by potential employers. Classic formats like a CV and business cards can all be handed to clients or those in positions relevant to where you envision yourself career-wise.
Unlike other jobs, technology is an integral part of the industry; constantly evolving as more and more emphasis is placed on computer software and social media platforms. So having an online presence is pivotal to not only be noticed, but to appear credible and up-to-date with common standards of practice associated with writing and journalism. One of these (which will be discussed in more detail) is about.me which is a social media site for professionals to make contacts with- useful in terms of finding clients or creating connections with those of similar ambitions to form strong networking bounds.
These networks can also be established through Twitter, enabling writers to link pieces of work not only to those who follow them, but to others with a particular interest in the material published.
After joining the NUJ, I would list myself in their freelance directory- another source of clients who could easily get in contact looking for my services. As this is not definitive and work may be sparse or sporadic, direct routes into organisations or companies would be implemented when contracts became available. These would consist of newspaper companies, online sites and magazine publications such as The Daily Mirror, IGN or Empire magazine.
As we’ve touched upon, hardships can be many when being a freelancer when it comes to income. Consistency of work would mean that managing finances during those times needs to be regulated. It would prove beneficial to acquire a bank loan when starting your freelancing career to pay for equipment, but to also leave a remainder aside between prolonged contracts.
Finally, once in a position within the journalistic world, contacts can be made to make it easier to go from job-to-job. And, as one freelance writer discussed on myjobsearch.com a lot rests on the importance of making new connections.
”I was always told that the key to a career in journalism is contacts and its kind of true- all the things I’ve ended up doing and the opportunities I’ve had have come from contacts…every time you go anywhere or do anything get people’s names and contact numbers- that’s where the next opportunity comes from.”
Putting this in practice, a scenario could be that I find myself working for a motorsport publication which resulted in my Formula One blog ‘Hulse Corner‘. If covering a race or event, I’d take a conscious effort to speak to those around me and try to establish myself within more circles connected to the industry.
Along with my professional CV and business card (attached separately in physical form), a strong online presence in the form of a blog website that builds up a body of work I am passionate about and about.me page to form part of my online promotional material was created.
My intention for both the CV and the business card was to have them as a pair; matching in both design and colour scheme. To stand out from other freelancers- (which could become a daunting proposition for unprepared young freelancers if not mentally ready for the levels of competition for jobs on a physical and digital format), I opted for a less traditional layout for my CV; with distinct sections and links at the bottom with social media contacts to add another dimension.
For my online portfolio, I used the social media site ‘about.me‘ to give a professional overview of my qualities and skills, as well as links to Instagram, Twitter, WordPress and my Formula One website ‘Hulse Corner‘ which demonstrates my ability to write and Photoshop skills that produced all of the graphics shown on the site.
To obtain some feedback on these items, certain members of my peer group were asked to comment on some of the positives and possible areas to improve on. Below is some of the comments made;
- Top banner is useful
- Opening paragraph is unique and a good idea.
- Slightly too cramped lists, maybe use bullet points?
- Matches CV design
- Symbols used to distinguish icons
- Good links to social media
- Use of 3rd person
- Lacks detail
- Good navigation bar
- Nice background
- Clearly laid out
- Could try to appeal to a broader range of people.
Taking all these comments on board, we can not only apply them to the promotional material, but also to the development of myself within the freelance sector. What I gathered from this is that a distinct visual style is important and aids the content of whatever work you are producing- and in terms of journalism becoming a multi-format profession, the need to embrace page layout in print or digital form is crucial to attract readers. The comment made about my website only being based on F1 and therefore potentially not appealing to a wider demographic was a justified one; and I can relate this to my website by trying to include other types of motorsport like MotoGP and the WRC. For freelancers too, appealing to a wide demographic is pivotal; and the more areas of expertise you have, the more job opportunities you can obtain.
Finding freelance jobs within the creative industry is predominantly done online these days, with a multitude of third-party agencies as well as companies advertising directly. Sites such as holdthefrontpage.co.uk and journalism.co.uk advertise vacancies for writing positions. If we take the two examples of job roles we can see that even though the Daily Mail position is full-time, it is a junior position with an emphasis on developing raw talent and improving journalistic knowledge through additional courses. The qualities that they want to see in the successful applicant is someone who is, ”bright, sharp and intelligent”. Realistically, due to my inexperience and the fact it is a position at the highest level of journalism, I wouldn’t get the position- but it is something I can strive towards in the near future by working hard and taking every opportunity that presents itself.
On the other hand, this vacancy published by The Gametrium is on a voluntary basis, but to add to a resume, would bolster my back catalogue of work and increase experience. Taking the previous comments on board about diversifying in other areas of journalism, this staff writer position based around the video gaming would serve to enrich my writing style by focusing on another topic apart from motorsport which my blog page is centered around. And from this role, other possible paid offers may present themselves.
Word of mouth is just as reliant an option for employment as going through companies or websites. Putting into practice my abilities to make contacts and then gather their assistance, I got in touch with David Parrish; a successful creative industries consultant who started out in humble beginnings in Bury as a freelance bookstore owner that would develop into publishing and international marketing. Asked whether or not it would have been easier to accomplish what he did as a freelancer he said that it would have been much harder today due to factors like online book sales undermining physical book sales as well as large bookshop chains like Waterstones and WHSmiths now taking away a lot of custom from independent retailers.
Finally, I asked him what are the secrets to becoming a successful freelancer;
”Having a particular niche in relation to rivals. (If you are a generalist, competing with everyone, you end up competing on price, which can only go down.) This applies whether you are a designer, photographer, musician or any other sector. Be a specialist, not a generalist. Find a market niche and make it your own! Embrace the business side of things as well as the creative side. Be creative in the office as well as in the studio. Don’t be afraid or sceptical about being a businessperson as well as a creative.”