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From freelancer to running a video agency: an honest view on what I’ve learned in my first year by Director James Arnold

After a year of freelancing, I joined forces with another freelancer to create a video production company: Peak Reach.

As of this Wednesday, the company is now one year old. There’s 4 of us in the team in our office in Salford and we're continuing to grow.

The last two years have been a roller coaster of a journey. If you’ve been tempted by the thought of being your own boss, thinking of going freelance or starting a company, then I hope the following lessons I’ve learned will be helpful and of some insight for you.

1. Ape’s alone, weak. Apes together, strong – I always remember this quote & analogy from Planet of The Apes. When I was freelancing, I felt that I was at a limit to what I could achieve alone – there was only so much time, budget, equipment and my own skills/expertise of what I could achieve. Making videos is a team sport and to make it happen, you need a solid team. Freelancing is very tough, it was no surprise to me that nine out of 10 UK film, TV workers experienced mental health problems. While most of my work is for online/socials, I can’t tell you how great it is to be supported by the team. My advice would be to freelancers who love the freedom is to not work from home and get to a co-working space and form a collective. It doesn’t have to be anything trendy and expensive like a WeWork, there are other options out there. It’s great for business anyway with the networking aspect but furthermore it will do you wonders for your health.

2. The people you surround yourself with will make or break you - The obvious thought is having great co-workers that you get along with, but it also means clients. Some clients will respect your work, contract you and see you as a partner and expert in your field. Others will see you as someone who should take orders, won’t respect your process, will demand the world and demand it now. Be a good person and only accept those who are good back. It can be tough to say no, especially to potential work, but toxic people will cost you way more. If in doubt, I normally ask myself the following question: in general, does this person give or take a lot my energy?

3. Make sure you have a written agreement in place for jobs - It's tempting to jump right in and get started on the work. Drawing up a contract and getting the client to sign it may seem like extra hassle for them which may put them off, but it's actually the opposite, as otherwise you both will probably have different ideas on what you're agreeing on. Even if it's just listing what you're doing, the scope of what this includes, the deliverables and the deadlines in an email and getting them to reply saying that it sounds good, then that's a legal contract. Both parties will be grateful for doing this step up front in the long run!

4. Self-employment is overrated - People paint a sexy picture of self-employment. Being your own boss, complete freedom, only answering to yourself. The thing is, you answer to more people. You still have clients that you have to service and keep happy. It’s certainly not a 9-5 because you have to wear so many hats. Back in employment, I could just turn up, shoot and leave all my worries at the door, knowing I was going to get a paycheck at the end of the month, every month.

5. Save up and have a solid cash buffer - Build enough cash in the bank specifically for your business (separate from your personal savings) to sustain up to 6 months of no work. This isn’t just to bail you out if the business goes wrong, but it benefits you so much. If you don’t have it, you may act from a point of desperation, taking on clients that don’t pay you what your worth and be trapped in the feast to famine cycle.  

6. Remember why - This probably sounds a bit bleak! But it’s been tough. Social media can be full of people posting their best lives online which makes us all compare and despair, so I wanted to try and shine some truth on subject. That said, I love what I do. I love building something and I love being part of a solid team. Filming for me is a passion and I wanted to make a career out of it, so it’s important not to lose sight of that and really take time to enjoy and appreciate that I’m paid to do it.

Do you agree or disagree? Do you have anything to add or advice you would share? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks! 

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