November 2021 was my 10-year freelance anniversary. Thinking back to 2011, I remember knowing it was the right step for me but having no idea what it would be like.  

I recently shared my top ten high points from the ten years in this blog post.

More than anything, freelancing is a state of continuous learning. Here are the top ten freelance lessons I learned:

Lesson 1: Take time out for professional development

Reflection and working on your own practice and business really matters. We all want to do the best for our clients but I’ve learned it’s crucial to ring-fence some time away from client work.

When was the last time you worked on your business rather than in it?

Lesson 2: Celebrate your wins

My second freelance lesson is to remember to celebrate the big wins and milestones.

When we are often working behind the scenes to enable our clients’ successes, it can be easy to forget to mark our own successes and milestones.

Happy 10th Freelancing Birthday to me 😊 

Lesson 3: Breathe

Don’t forget to breathe. Or go for a walk, or do yoga, or stroke the dog.

Basically, whatever it is you do to find balance and get clarity of mind between all the demands and delivery and rushing and busyness of freelance life.

Lesson 4: Revisit

Make sure you go back to see your work come to fruition, even if it’s many years later.

I wrote an interpretation plan for Kew Gardens in 2012. The glasshouse it was for didn’t re-open to the public until 2018 and I finally saw the outcome on a visit in 2019.

Us freelancers are often engaged on project stages rather than the whole thing. But it is worth revisiting clients, and seeing our hard work pay off can give us a real boost.

Lesson 5: Meaningful engagement takes time

This relates to the previous point but is worth its own lesson. For me, a small community visitor centre in Catrine, East Ayrshire took five years. My current work at Preston Tower is the result of years of lobbying by the Community Council.

It  can be frustrating when things take longer than planned but meaningful engagement is worth the time it can take.  

Lesson 6: Let it go

After ten years freelance, 20 years in this business, I have had to come to terms with projects that never take off, and those that have reached the end of their natural life. Sometimes you need to let things go.

Not everything you create can be out there in the world forever, and that’s OK.

Lesson 7: Take a leap

Kew Temperate House

One of my earliest jobs was the one mentioned above at Kew Gardens.

It felt like a big risk, working from Edinburgh, back in 2012 before video conferencing was the norm. But it was a big success, securing their National Lottery funding for the Temperate House. It felt right at the time and I’m so glad I went for it.

Lesson 8: Pass it on

Teaching what you do to others is a great way of staying up to date and engaging in reflection. I get so much back from the module I teach about museums for the University of Edinburgh MSc in science communication and public engagement, and the session I lead for University of Glasgow MSc Museum Education students.

Lesson 9: Find meaning

They say the key to happiness is meaningful work.

Meaningful for me means focussing on the visitors. Working for the Visitor Studies Group for four years helped reinforce an audience-centred approach to everything I do.

Lesson 10: Find community

Working freelance doesn’t have to mean working alone.

It’s always worth reaching out to networks, both organised and informal, for peer support and friendship.

Huge thanks to all those out there without whom these last ten years would not have been so much fun.

I became freelance because I wanted to do interesting meaningful work for a diverse range of clients. I am pleased to report that HAS been my experience.

I was never sure then if it would be ‘forever’, and I still don’t know. The past two years have been different that’s for sure, but I, and my clients, are still here and still doing the good work.