By Marge Ainsley & Lyndsey Clark

hands on laptop

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


Freelancers are the fastest growing group of workers in the creative industries. The chances are you’ll work with or engage the services of a freelancer at some point in your career. We are delighted that the Museums Association workforce Strategy acknowledges the contributions of both freelancers and volunteers to the sector.

With the aim of encouraging positive working relationships between organisations and freelancer, we shared the five freelance brief mistakes below (and how to avoid them) at the 2017 Museums Association Conference in Manchester. This blog is a summary of our top tips written originally for the MA Blog.

Mistake 1: The Impossible Brief

We often see too many deliverables within the time and budget available. But how can you know what’s realistic? One way is to be less prescriptive in terms of the tasks and provide a budget. Or, if you do want to be prescriptive about the tasks, let us tell you how long it’ll take and the cost.

On the topic of rates, if you really don’t know where to start some organisations have published minimum rates online for copywriters, visual artists and some others. You’ll also find various resources on the HLF Forum. There’s a useful article available from BIG, the STEM Communicators Network, which relates freelance day rates to equivalent employee salaries which should help you budget.

Mistake 2: The PAYE-in-disguise Brief

Sometimes we see a freelance contract advertised that looks suspiciously like a job. But how do you know the difference? First, think about why you want a freelancer. Three main reasons are; to access expertise for a specific task, to add capacity for a specific period, or to get an external point of view (for example evaluation).

Businesses must ensure all their employees get holidays and sick pay, have a pension and are paying tax. Therefore HMRC is strict about who can be declared freelance and publish guidance online. A freelance relationship should have benefits to both parties. If all the benefit is to the organisation, then you may be acting illegally or unethically.

Mistake 3: The Need it Now Brief

Most freelancers plan work at least three months ahead so get your brief on our radar as soon as possible. Think carefully about when to send it out (avoiding key holiday periods) and at what stage of your project you need someone. Sometimes organisations expect work to be completed at very short notice. Do allow enough time for the freelancer to complete the tasks and remember a good freelancer won’t be able to work on your project 24/7 because they will have other clients.

Mistake 4: The Vague Brief

To get the best from your freelance appointment, you need to know what you want them to do for you. Give context about your organisation and project. Think about the work you want done and be clear in your own mind about what success would look like. Don’t make a freelancer guess if you already have a specific methodology or output in mind but do be willing to accept input. Know and communicate who the freelancer will communicate with and who will manage them, and most importantly who makes the decisions.

Mistake 5: The Krypton Factor Brief

It’s important to create a simple and straightforward application process. Think carefully about what you need to know to find the best match person for your needs. Check your requests makes sense to external people. For example, is the level of public liability insurance requested really required for the job? Please don’t ask the freelancer to complete the first part of the actual work as part of the proposal. Instead, ask for evidence of previous work and references, or set budget aside to pay for creative responses.

Now you have your perfect freelance brief. How do you find a freelancer?

Most freelancers get work by word of mouth. If you don’t know who to ask, speak to colleagues and your local networks. Use email lists; GEM, VSG and MCG jiscmail lists are popular. There’s also a LinkedIn group for the Museum Freelance Network where contracts can be posted.

Best of luck with your project or role, and feel free to contact either of us or the freelance network with any questions.