Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Lily Canter (freelance journalist)

From monetising hobbies, to podcasting and pensions – we discuss managing your money as a freelancer

Lily Canter is a freelance personal finance journalist and lecturer (among other things) who writes for this likes of the Metro, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and South China Morning Post.

I first heard of Lily via her excellent Freelancing For Journalists podcasts, which she launched earlier this year with fellow freelancer Emma Wilkinson. As someone who spends much of their days pitching and writing about personal finances, I figured she would have some great insights on the trickier issues facing freelance creatives (hello again irregular cashflow and lack of pension/holiday infrastructure!) I was not disappointed.

We spoke about Lily’s portfolio career, the challenges and merits of her Freelancing For Journalists side hustle and the methods she’s using to funnel a significant slice of her earnings into savings.

Lily Canter on how she manages money as a freelance journalist
Lily Canter… Freelance journalist, lecturer, author, trainer and so on!
How would you describe your role? It’s definitely in the multi-hyphenate territory, right?

“I say I have a ‘portfolio career’! Fundamentally, I’m a journalist, but I’m also a lecturer, a podcaster, trainer, I’m also a running coach and I’m starting to write books as well, but I suppose it comes under the journalism. Then Freelancing For Journalists is part of what I do. I think it’s probably about 10% but that changes depending on what is happening, like when we’re running a training course. Then my teaching is about 30% and my journalism work is about 60%.

“I’m very old fashioned, so I keep track with a diary and when I’m doing something with a person, I highlight it and I tend to work about a month in advance. “

“How do I split my personal and professional finances? I don’t really!”

Creative Money icon
The Freelancing For Journalists podcast has found a loyal audience pretty quickly. What was the impetus for that?

“We wrote the book first and then got some funding from the university to do the podcast series. It was initially meant to be a learning tool for students and it spun off from that. We had an initial budget for six episodes and we based them on chapters of our book. We had a good three months of planning, we did it in the radio studio, with students helping us to record it and the idea was that it was also work experience for students.

“Then lockdown happened and we still had a few episodes to record, so we ended up shifting to Zoom and doing nine episodes. People liked that first series, so we convinced the university to give us money to buy mics and then we did a second series.”

I like that you found a way to fund it without sinking your own time and money into it. How is it going to in terms of sponsorship or monetising it?

“OK. We’ve had a lot of people who have been positive and we’ve got one sponsor lined-up [for the next series] and we need to decide if we wait for more, or go ahead and see if we pick them up on the way. I’d been warned that would be the case, though, and I’m always thinking of other ways of monetising it. We’ve not gone down the Patreon route as a lot of our listeners are new or starting out and I’m not sure if they can afford it. We have Ko-Fi but it’s just the occasional cup of tea, really! It’s fiddly to use though, you have to go on the site, but we thought we’d try it out. But at the moment it’s more about building the audience and then the training work we’re doing is a by-product of the podcast.”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
These projects often lead to things, don’t they? Even if the pay-off isn’t immediately obvious.

“Yeah. We’ve certainly got commissions to write stuff for other platforms about freelancing off the back of it, we can promote the book and it’s certainly a good marketing tool for the Freelancing For Journalists brand. I think it’s what we’re most known for. We’ve been doing guest lectures on freelancing as well. We’ve also run some of our own webinars and that’s been the nice thing about lockdown, people have found their own ways of making money. We did a couple in the summer and they both did well. It was a good way to test the market.”

How do you split your personal and professional finances as a freelancer?

“I don’t really! I still have my personal account. My salary from the university goes into there and my freelance stuff goes into there and then I have a savings account attached. So I have a target of what I want to earn every month and then anything over that is a bonus, then a proportion of that – nearly 50% – I save and that’s in there for tax and pension and anything else. We do have a joint account, too, and my husband and I put money in there as a holiday pot.”

“Previously, I had a full-time job as an academic with a massive pension, so I’m trying to match that and save like eight grand a year.”

Creative Money icon
That’s interesting – I think a lot of freelancers and self-employed don’t think about regularly setting money aside for holidays and time off like that.

“It was sort of an accident. It was originally a pot to pay off a car, so we were each putting a certain amount away ready to pay it off, then once we did, we didn’t cancel the standing orders. We just carried on on and that became our holiday fund. I used to be really rigid with that stuff when I had a salary. I’m much more flexible now, because my income is much more flexible, but I do check my balance pretty much every day. It’s a bit like my diary, in that I keep track of it all the time. I’m also trying to save quite a lot into my pension. I had a full-time job as an academic with a massive pension [a perk that I lost access to going freelance], so I’m trying to match that and save like eight grand a year.”

That’s a decent savings rate! A lot of freelancers don’t like locking money into a pension because they feel they may need it before pension age. How do you handle that?

“I tend to let it build up over time and then move it over once or twice a year in lump sums. So, for instance, I didn’t get any [SEISS] grants, because last year I earned more from employed work than self-employed. Fortunately, I had some money saved which was [intended to be paid into] my pension pot – so I did need it and I’ve got to build that up again now.

“I have a LISA, which I put four grand a year into [as retirement savings], so I build it up and stick it in there, then I’m still sorting my personal pension with my financial advisor. We’ve got a rainy day fund elsewhere, for the joint account, and I always make sure we have at least £1,000 there as a float, so we overpay into that essentially. Then we’ve got other stuff, like we’ve never touched our child benefit, it just goes straight into savings. The idea is it’s there for when the kids turn 18, but if we suddenly need money to buy a new car, we’ve got it!”

Freelancing For Journalists
The Freelancing For Journalists podcast covers everything from finances to lifestyle and imposter syndrome.
What else helps you stay on track with savings?

“I look at my bank balance and try to keep a minimum amount in there and then anything over that goes into savings. But I’ve always saved. I’ve barely used credit cards. I’ve never got a car on finance. I just don’t believe in spending if you haven’t got it. Every six months I’ll do a kind of audit just to track if I’m on target with my savings, or earning enough and, if I need to, I look at my spending, or if I can pitch and deliver more work. Even the high street banking apps now tell you what you spend your money on and basically I spend all my money on running: gear, races and a personal trainer. That’s like 90% of my money and the last 10% is probably wine!”

If you’re trying to keep your spending low to build savings, then it’s important to direct the money you do have left in the way that makes you happiest. This seems like a good example of that.

“Well, I also coach a group of runners and I charge them now. I did it for nine months for free and it took up more and more of my time and I’d built up this relationship with them. My view was that I’ll be out running anyway, so why not make an income from it? So I started charging a small amount and I make an income from it. I’ve signed up for some coaching training and warned them all that as soon as I’m qualified, my rates will be going up. There’s tax benefits, too, so quite a lot of the gear that I buy is now tax deductible.”

“My view was that I’ll be out running anyway, so why not make an income from it?”

Creative Money icon
Have you made any significant mistakes with money?

“I do splash out every now and then. We bought a painting right before lockdown, which we never do and that might not have been the best time to do it! We felt bad about it, which is daft because it’s been years since we’ve done something like that. Then once when I left a job and got a load of holiday money and I went and bought an £800 chair, which no-one ever sits in! So every now and then I do that kind of thing, but only if the money is there.

“There are a couple of things I’ve signed up for this year that I regret. There have been a lot of membership communities and one I signed up for after doing an interview with somebody who really enjoyed it and it was just a total waste of money. It was not what I thought it was going to be. But there are other things that have felt worthwhile.

What has given you good value, do you feel?

“I do subscribe to Journo Resources. We work a lot with Jem and I just really want to support what they’re doing. It’s useful and it’s good for keeping tabs on what’s happening on the freelance journalism world, but it’s more about just supporting what she’s doing. I also know that I can call on her for advice and I don’t feel guilty about it, if I’m subscribing! But I just think everything they do is really good and she’s nailed it, really.”

We do a lot of moaning as freelancers about payments (and, quite rightly, because the system is broken, really). But how would you fix it?

“There’s various things. Transparency about rates is one and that is happening. The #FreelancePayGap list that Anna Codrea-Rado started is really useful. It puts you in a better position to negotiate and allows you to push back when an editor is offering you a certain rate. I guess it’s also educating companies and editors that it’s not just an admin thing. It’s not just ‘Sorry I forgot to pay your invoice’, it’s people’s livelihoods. I’ve never enforced late payments fees, but I do send stroppy emails. I think we just need to be more transparent and not be afraid to talk about money or ask for more money and to be paid. But also, just don’t work for people who don’t pay you properly or pay you on time, in the long run it’s just not worth it, so don’t do it!”

Hear more from Lily Canter via the Freelancing For Journalists podcast and website.

The FFJ team are also running a four-week long training course ‘How to become a successful freelance journalist’ via Journalism.co.uk (costing £150), beginning on 2 November, 2020.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

Creative Money site logo

Like this? Join the mailing list and never miss a post!

See previous creative Money Newsletters

Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Chris Frantz (Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club) – “Small is beautiful”

Post-punk icon Chris Frantz discusses the principles that have helped him to survive and thrive across his storied career

Chris Frantz is best known for his role as drummer, co-writer and founder of Talking Heads. Frantz formed the group in 1975 with fellow art school-type David Byrne, later recruiting his partner (now wife) Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison into the band.

While their punk touring buddies were on a mission of cultural ‘slash and burn’, Talking Heads built something new and enthralling in its place, melding funk rhythms and jarring melodies into a new form of art-pop.

The rest is rock history: seven gold albums, critical acclaim, bust-ups, world tours and an influential legacy that can still be found some 45 years on, resonating in the work of innovators like St Vincent.

Later, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would pull off a similar trick with their band Tom Tom Club, channeling an experimental blend of lilting tropical beats and electronica that would prove fertile ground for early hip-hop samples.

“When you’re paying fifteen people to travel around the world and hotels and airplane tickets and everything, it just gets out of control”

Creative Money icon

Now Frantz has published an autobiography, Remain In Love, in which he documents his experiences in both groups and beyond. Like all the best bios, it’s packed with star-studded anecdotes, poignant reflection and a little score-settling, for good measure.

I spoke to Frantz, initially on behalf of the excellent Electronic Sound. However, I also took the chance to ask him some questions about some of the money mistakes, close calls and savvier moves Frantz and co made across their career for Creative Money. He was kind enough to share some really helpful insights…

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
Creative Money is all about helping people in the creative industries – whether that’s art, music or writing – to figure out how to sustain what they do. What principles or decisions have helped you to sustain yourself as an artist?

“Well, Brian Eno, very early on, in 1978, when we were making More Songs About Buildings And Food – he didn’t tour behind his albums to promote them or anything. But he told us ‘You know, you can make a very good living if you keep your expenses down.’ It sounds like a no-brainer but a lot of people seem to forget that. If you keep your expenses down, you can actually survive. And you can also – he explained this to us – licence songs to the BBC. In his case, he was licencing instrumental tracks to the BBC for their various shows, and he was making not tonnes of money but he was making a good amount, a fair enough amount that he could survive.”

“We just paid the money and it wasn’t a terrible amount for just looking at a contract – and it saved our ass”

Creative Money icon
So how did you practically apply Eno’s advice? And did you ever make any major mistakes on the financial side?

“Well, we did very well for a long time because we were just a four-piece band. Then we threw that all out the window and had nine people on stage, and then the expenses got so high that, at the end of a very very successful world tour, Tina and I combined had $2,000 in the bank! That was right before we made the Tom Tom Club album and our accountant said ‘Chris and Tina, you gotta do something, you only got $2,000 in the bank…’ When you’re paying fifteen people to travel around the world and hotels and airplane tickets and everything, it just gets out of control. So, small is beautiful.”

That’s great advice. The other thing that stuck out to me from the book was your description of the close encounter with a contract that came via Lou Reed.

“Oh yes, that was a shocker too because, you know – you can imagine Lou Reed wants to produce your first album and you’re a band from Lower Manhattan and how perfect would that be? And then you go to see the lawyer about it and the lawyer says ‘Oh no, I would never allow one of my clients to sign one of these standard production agreements because, when all is said and done, you could have a hit album and you would never see a penny’. So yeah, that was a shock.”

“It sounds like a no-brainer but a lot of people seem to forget… If you keep your expenses down, you can actually survive”

Creative Money icon
You were a young band living on nothing in Bowery lofts at that time. I don’t imagine you had a lot of money to spare for legal advice. What made you decide to pay that money and get it looked at?

“Well, we felt like we didn’t have a lot of experience in this business, but we didn’t want to be stupid. I got a recommendation for a lawyer that we thought might be good, and my father [who was also a lawyer] said ‘Oh yes, he’s very good, go ahead…’ We made an appointment and the lawyer’s name was Peter Parcher – and he had been in the newspapers because he got Keith Richards off of a big heroine bust in Canada. He was able to swap jailtime for a concert to raise money for the blind and, well, that’s my kinda guy.

“We had a meeting with him and he said ‘I wanna introduce you to my partner here who this is his specialty’, and you know we just paid the money and it wasn’t a terrible amount for just looking at a contract – and it saved our ass.”

That was probably a $100-200 at the time. Who knows how much that saved you in the long run. It’s likely the best investment you ever made.

“Yeah, money well spent!”

Chris Frantz autobiography Remain In Love

Chris Frantz’s autobiography Remain In Love is published by White Rabbit and available now.


How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

Chris Frantz autobiography Remain In Love
Creative Money site logo

Like this? Join the mailing list and never miss a post!

See previous creative Money Newsletters
Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Stephen Mallinder

The electronic music pioneer on how adaptation and determination have proven to be the watch words for his diverse music career

Stephen Mallinder rose to prominence with Cabaret Voltaire in the late 70s, becoming one of Rough Trade’s early signings and establishing an approach to experimental music-making which would prove to be hugely influential in the electronic/ club scene.

In the intervening years, Mallinder remained embedded in music, working in all manner of roles and gaining his doctorate. He has continued to create and innovate and currently works under various monikers, most notably as part of electronic trio Wrangler (with Phil Winter of Tunng-fame and Benge) and Creep Show, with US singer-songwriter John Grant.

What’s more, he also finds time to teach on Brighton University’s Digital Music and Sound Arts degree and masters courses. Mallinder was kind enough to speak to Creative Money about how he has learned to adapt and survive, financially, despite opting for a career in experimental music-making…

How do you feel the way you work with money has helped or hindered your creative journey?

“It’s interesting. I’m part of the Sound Art programme here at Brighton, so I work with students and it is scary. It’s always been scary, how creative people move on from there. It’s alright when you’re at university and you’ve got all these great ideas and you’ve got facilities, but it’s how you function outside there. It’s obviously much more problematic now, too, with what’s happened.

“If you do music, you can’t afford to be mono-cultural in the way you approach it”

Creative Money icon

“We’ve leapt into so many unknowns in the last 20 years, really since digitisation came along. Originally the arrival of the CD gave us this big splurge, or really, for older artists, the opportunity to re-sell their back catalogue, which worked for labels and that transformed everything, but since then the loss of ‘the product’ and the move to streaming and digital forms has massively affected people. So I think there had to have been an adaptation and I’ve kind of been through all of that.”

How did you first start to adapt?

“My adaptation was really that I realised I needed multiple ways of existing. My daughters were born in the early 90s and at that point, it was like, ‘Wow, this is really difficult…’ We were still making music, we still had our own label, but there wasn’t much [coming in] and it was hard to survive.

“I went to Australia and I lived in Australia for a while. Part of that was needing to find other ways of doing what I do and I ended up doing lots of different things. So I ran a radio station, I ran a record label, I started a production company.”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
That’s quite a variety of roles…

“I think I quickly adapted to the idea that if you do music, you can’t afford to be mono-cultural in the way you approach it. Or you can, but it’s difficult to go, ‘I make music, I make money out of selling music and doing gigs.’ That’s alright but you’ve got to be smarter with it, really. I ended up working in different parallel ways. I wrote for magazines and newspapers. I did all these things. That kind of prepared me for the world as it has been for the last 20 years, really, this ‘streamed world’. I rapidly became flexible in how I saw it.”

“When I started, you didn’t really do it for money, but then you make money out of it and you feel, ‘Oh well, I do well enough that it owes me a living’. It doesn’t work that way, though, so I think you just have to be flexible. If you want to make music then you just have to be understanding. Your expectations have to be reined in a little bit. Perhaps what I’m saying is that there has to be separation between the creative process and the entrepreneurial, money-making process. You have to spread those things a little bit apart.”

How do you make those decisions? What’s the line for you in terms of what you feel is reasonable to do for money as an artist?

“I think it’s a little bit easier for me, because I’ve not come from that world of commercial music, I’ve come from experimental, electronic music, club music, whatever you would say. It’s never been mainstream, so I’ve never been put in that position of saying, ‘Would you do this… to make money.’ I can’t remember too many instances in the past where I’ve gone, ‘I can’t do that, even if the money is really good.’ I’ve never really been put in such a compromising position. The offers for me tend to be more left field, whether it’s working for Manchester International Festival or BFI. I don’t feel I have had to make those ethical decisions.

“I love making music, but we’re not an elite, we’re not above, or better. Sometimes you have to work.”

Creative Money icon

“I’ve always tried to make sure that what I do connects with music, so even when I was writing or when I was running a radio station to make money, the core of what I was doing was still around music. I was happy to work around parts of music – I used to put massive gigs on in Australia, for thousands of people, which were really successful – but I still felt as though I was really connected with music.

“I guess you start to have this kind of portfolio career and I do kind of say yes to most things – and then regret it later! Not because I don’t think it’s been a good thing to do, but usually with me just because I think, ‘Why the fuck did you say you’d do that? I haven’t got any time to do it…’ It’s never an ethical or a financial thing, it’s usually a time thing with me. But I tend to get asked to do nice things, so I’m lucky.”

But the fact that you get offered that kind of work is, I would imagine, down to the decisions and the connections that you’ve made…

“I’m lucky, really, in the sense that I’m from a period where music and electronic music as we were making it in that early period was incredibly significant and held a much bigger role in people’s lives. There were less people making music, the impact was greater and it was getting into people’s homes because there was product in that way. I think what has changed is that with everything becoming digital and things going online, it has democratised it, so there’s just so much of it. I don’t believe it’s dumbed it down, I just believe it’s increased the amount of work that’s been produced and the difficult thing for people now is to just make themselves heard through the noise.

“You have to have your mind set to go, ‘I will never stop doing what is the core sense of myself’. But you also have to accept that It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Creative Money icon

“Also, music that 20/30 years ago was very core to people’s lives is just part of people’s lives is now – a smaller part of a bigger entertainment or digital creative economy. It’s a smaller slice of the cake now.”

So, knowing that, what would you recommend people do to sustain themselves while making music?

“I just think: ‘Don’t shut anything off.’ The next thing you do might not seem totally relevant to what your primary path is, like, I love making music and doing all those things, but I may end up doing something that is not literally based around me making a piece of music, but what it might lead to is something interesting. So, you know, I enjoy teaching in Sound Art and working with the people who run the programme. It’s nice to do that because it offers so many different things. You need to think much more broadly in terms of what you’re doing, nowadays.”

One of the big struggles is how variable people’s incomes are. Have you figured out anything that helps you deal with that?

“Quite honestly, not really! Sometimes you have to work – that’s the human condition. As much as I love making music, we’re not an elite, we’re not above, or better [than others]. Sometimes you have to do that. The only thing that is difficult and this is probably the nub of it, really: for a lot of artists and musicians they don’t really sit comfortably in those worlds. They make music because it’s an expression of who they are and sometimes that’s because not everybody sits easily in the outside world. I think that’s the difficult thing.”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


So what has proved helpful for you in this process of adapting?

“Well, I did a degree when I was really young and was the first member of my family to do it, but it did kind of make me believe that I had other things to offer, I suppose. I think that’s the difficult thing. You have to sometimes go, ‘Well, I’m going to have to do this…’ You have to separate it. Like everybody else, I’ve adapted to the situation and thought, ‘Well I need to be doing other stuff.’

“You have to have your mind set to go, ‘I will never stop doing what is the core sense of myself’, whether it’s music or making films. But you also have to accept that it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I accept that there will be times when this is the primary part of my life and there may be times when I’m not flavour of the month and I’ve got to do other things.

“But I think people who really want to do these things, they’ll never stop. I think if you’re really into it, you never give up. You can’t. You just have to adapt. We’re humans, we have to adapt.”

Stephen Mallinder
Credit: Paul Burgess

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Shell Zenner – DJ/presenter

Manchester’s mainstay DJ and new music obsessive Shell Zenner on how she makes, saves and tracks money from a diverse range of music gigs

Shell Zenner somehow blends together a career involving multiple radio shows, club nights, DJing and a huge variety of other activities, all of which revolve around an almost surreal level of dedication to new talent.

Having gone full-time in music a year or so back, she is in some ways the consummate modern media worker, pulling together a variety of incomes and a strong sense of her personal brand to sustain herself in the music and broadcast industries.

Unsurprisingly, keeping on top of her various work and projects requires a remarkable level of personal and financial organisation, so we couldn’t think of many people better placed to discuss the challenges, tips and tricks of money in the music and broadcast industries. Fortunately, Shell was generous enough to share her insights…

How would you describe your current role, given the many different strands to your work?

“I would describe myself as a ‘radio-presenter-producer-curator-music-journalist – that does digital’. Does that make sense!?”

Er, yes… How many different sources of income do you have?

“Well, I don’t do any free work unless it’s for charity, so everything else I do is paid. There are a couple of things which will pay me PAYE [Pay As You Earn – i.e. taxed at source], which is BBC work, whether freelance or staff, so I work a day and a half a week for the BBC. I do two days for my XS show, which is freelance, and my Amazing Radio show is freelance, then I do various other little projects…

“The more skills you’ve got, the stronger a position you’re going to be in”

Creative Money icon

“So things like DJing, which is obviously not happening at the moment, but I normally co-curate nights with [Manchester venue] Band On The Wall, I do lecturing, I do hosting, I’ll get paid for filmed interviews for brands, build playlists, write articles, host online gigs – and I also do voice-overs. And I’ve forgotten about artist development! I’ve been doing quite a lot of that over the last 12 months, which has been really great, being able to mentor new artists. I’ve also done things like assessing funding applications for PRS and Help Musicians. All of that ‘top-up’ work [outside of radio], is all freelance.”


Looking for funding? Check out our guide: UK arts funding and development opportunities


There are so many poor unpaid ‘opportunities’ in the creative industries. How did you go about finding such a variety of paid work?

“I find it mostly comes to me now. I think that’s about networking and about being a sure thing and also having a big palette of skills. So, if someone wants a voice over, I can copy-write, I can voice it, I can edit it. It’s having a home studio and the equipment you need, it’s having contacts at facilities and a rapport with people.

“[In terms of networking], it’s just about talking to people because you’d be surprised – that conversation might not lead to something right now, but it could in six months time. If a project comes up, they may think of you. It’s also about wanting to keep learning new skills and pushing your knowledge because technology is changing all the time. Now I’m able to video edit and film myself and things like that make a big difference. Again, the more skills you’ve got, the stronger a position you’re going to be in.”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
Do you think we have an issue with financial literacy in the creative world?

“Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I do a bit of lecturing and often wind up talking about how I budget or how I organise myself and I think it is illuminating for people. [It’s surprising], even freelancers at the BBC, where they get tax deducted at source, don’t know how to handle freelance earnings and DJ money and stuff like that. And people don’t know how much to charge for stuff, so it’s about having the balls to stand up and say how much you need to be paid. I’ve had to point out to people like, ‘That’s going to be paying me below minimum wage, once I take the tax money off.’ Once they think about it, they will up the money then, but you have to have the strength of character to do that as well, because there’s a risk you could lose the work.”

Shell Zenner discusses managing money in the music and broadcast industry
A major issue for many in the creative industries is the ups and downs of cash flow. How do you deal with that situation?

“There’s a couple of things that I think are really important. One is always having some savings. I grew up in another industry [engineering], and I never really wanted to depend on anyone else, so I always made sure I had a bit of money to cover one or two months, should anything go wrong. I worked this career up over 10 years – I didn’t take the plunge to go fully radio/music until last year. I’ve always been quite risk-averse but that has stood me in good stead because I built it up over such a long time and wore so many hats.

“The other thing is that I’ve been really clear about keeping spreadsheets for earnings, expenses and mileage and understanding what you can and can’t claim as a business expense. I got myself an accountant and you think, ‘Oh I don’t want to pay that kind of money’, but an accountant is a tax deductible expense and they don’t always cost the earth. Having someone there that you can run stuff by gives me the sense of security that I’ve done everything correctly and am not going to find myself in trouble and needing to pay a big sum of money down the line.”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


How do you handle things like invoicing and tax savings?

“Every freelance earning you make, regardless of whether it’s paid in cash, you still have to invoice, so it’s having systems in place for invoicing and saving invoices. Then, for me, it’s making sure that whenever you get a payment you are – right at source, as soon as it comes in – taking 30% off for tax and national insurance and putting it in a separate savings account. I have two linked [savings] accounts at this point, one for the last financial year and one for the current one. I got my tax return back today and it says I’m getting a rebate! So not only do I not need to pay it, I get a rebate. Now I’ve got some extra money and I can think, ‘What can I invest that in?’ Or give myself more of a buffer.

“You hear people say, ‘Right, I need to go and sell my car so I can pay my tax bill.’ That’s insane!”

Creative Money icon

“I’m not the messiah of tax but I’ve seen friends fall foul of that who have worked in the creative industries, so I think it’s worth being super organised and giving yourself that buffer. If I have that money there, I also know that if something goes drastically wrong then I have that flexibility. You don’t want to be living hand-to-mouth if you lose one of your roles. Some people rely on one particular organisation for a lot of their work, that’s pretty normal for most people, but then if you do lose your role you’re in quite a catastrophic situation.”

Do you use any fancy financial software to help you keep track?

“There are people that track things in more modern ways, but a spreadsheet is fine for me, so I keep an eye on my income, my receipts, my mileage and just have it all listed in one document. If you can do that and update it week-by-week, it just makes your life so much easier. Then when you get to the end of the financial year, you can just have a quick check-through and send it to the accountant for the final number crunching. The amount of people you see who are at the end of December and January, trying to do their tax returns and panicking… I’ve seen that a lot. That thing like, ‘Right, I need to go and sell my car so I can pay my tax bill.’ I’m just like, ‘What!? That’s insane!’”

Shell Zenner discusses managing money in the music and broadcast industry
What are the financial issues or mistakes you think people should be wary of as they try to keep their head above water in the broadcast or music industry?

“I think if you are in a situation where you are pitching for something and you’ll need to hire a lot of equipment or pay out for locations then you’ll need to be really watertight on your contract. If you lose the job and you’re having to pay, then having policies in place for that kind of stuff is really important. Insurance, too. For instance, I have public liability insurance and I try to cover myself to make sure if I say anything on air [that could lead to a lawsuit]. You just have to protect yourself really well and prepare for every eventuality. I’ve done a lot on this, my career before this was engineering so I was into health and safety, risk assessments and stuff like that!

“The worst thing you can do, business-wise, is promise things and then not deliver”

Creative Money icon

“It’s also about always having a contingency [plan] so that should anything go wrong, you’re not out of pocket, because ultimately you need to be making profit. Even if it’s just a small profit. You may be gaining from a project in a different way, whether it’s experiences or contacts, so you may be willing to do something at a stripped-back rate to gain that network and that experience, but it’s still important to make sure you’re not going to end up out of pocket.”

Is there anything about money in the creative industries that you would like to change for the better?

“I would definitely like the BBC to change their freelance policy. I was angry about this before, but the lockdown situation has really brought to light the major issues with it, which is that if you work as a freelancer at the BBC, you get taxed at source and that means you can’t claim the mileage or any of the expenses [nor do you have the perks of full-time staff]. So should you need to travel two hours to get to a job, you can’t claim that mileage, you can’t claim any equipment you might need to do that job.


In need of financial support amid the Covid-19 pandemic? We’ve rounded-up some options here: Coronavirus support: resources for the creative industries


“[The BBC have stepped-up to offer furlough payments for freelancers now] but there were people who lost all their work because the BBC has changed schedules etc., which is fine, but if you go to HMRC and over 50% of your earnings are PAYE, then you are not eligible to claim on the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. So that’s meant there were a lot of freelancers who couldn’t be furloughed because they weren’t technically ’employed’ by a company, they couldn’t claim for the self-employment benefit and all they had left is Universal Credit, which is very little. If you are paid as a freelance, you shouldn’t be taxed at source, you should be figuring out your tax through a tax return and you should be able to claim your expenses. I question why freelancing at the BBC has to be taxed at source, it just doesn’t seem consistent to me.”

And it’s not just BBC freelancers, it’s those setup as Ltd companies, new starters and other PAYE freelancers. Millions of people…

“I’ve been trying to support [the #ExcludedUK campaign] on Twitter and stuff. These people have really fallen through the cracks and it’s just pretty insane really. It just blows my mind.”

What would you say to someone trying to figure out how to sustain themselves within the industry?

“Maybe just that it’s good to give yourself a financial buffer. It means you don’t have to flog yourself just to survive at times. The problem is in the creative industries is that self care is something that’s often overlooked. You feel like you need to be ‘on it’ 24/7 and sometimes, for whatever reason – you’re not very well, or you’ve got family issues – giving yourself a little bit of a buffer can enable you to take some time out and give yourself a breather. You can push yourself too far with the pressure of it, so having some savings there really helps.

“Also, it’s about not over-stretching yourself with work and trying to be realistic with what you can accommodate and do. The worst thing you can do, business-wise, is promise things and then not deliver.”

The summary:

  1. Spread your risk. Zenner worked a day job for nearly a decade before taking the plunge full-time in music. She also now has a huge variety of income strands.
  2. You need savings. Make the effort to syphon off tax money as soon as it lands in your account and build a savings buffer to get you through tougher times.
  3. Network – and deliver! We don’t mean lunch at The Ivy. Just talk to people. You never know what might happen down the line. And, crucially, make sure you follow through on any promises you make.
  4. Keep building your skillset. Zenner has consciously expanded her skillset to include writing, recording, editing and video, alongside promoting and industry knowledge. All of these can provide a source of income.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Lydia Wilkins – freelance journalist

We talk useful financial/career resources for journalists, industry barriers and the difficulties of managing money as a freelancer

For this week’s How I Make It Work, Creative Money spoke to Lydia Wilkins. A freelance journalist, Wilkins [pictured above, right] has had bylines at a string of significant publications, including The Independent, The Metro and Readers Digest. Wilkins also writes her own blog, Mademoiselle Women (in which she documents life on the Autistic spectrum) and pens an excellent weekly newsletter. She is currently busy developing these into sources of income.

Like many of us, Wilkins is in the process of attempting to weave these various creative threads together in order to form a viable freelance career and support herself through her writing.

We spoke via email about the resources that have helped her figure it out thus far, what she’d change about the treatment of freelancers and how she goes about keeping track of her finances, despite her struggles with numbers.

How would you describe your current role?

“I’m a multi-hyphenate freelancer! I blog three times a week at mademoisellewomen.com. I contribute regular freelance articles to places like The Independent, Readers Digest, Refinery 29 and The Overtake – usually to do with travel, book, or autism. I’m also a webinar trainer for a small organisation that teaches strategies about Autism. I also run a weekly newsletter; this has interviews, a comic I’ve been able to commission, as well as resources for freelancers and Autistic individuals.”

“It’s insulting to ask me to do whatever for ‘exposure’. Exposure isn’t a tangible concept – it doesn’t pay my bills”

Creative Money icon
Do you ever do unpaid work? What are your thoughts on this?

“Very, very occasionally. Right now, the blog is not profitable – despite ‘breaking even’ last year – due to the pandemic. Sometimes smaller magazines that cannot afford to pay allow you to pursue a story you wouldn’t have been able to take up elsewhere. I recently interviewed Lissie for BN1 Magazine – everywhere I pitched had quite specific rejections, she did not ostensibly fit the ‘brand’, etc. I got to interview her down the phone – and it’s still one of my favourite interviews I’ve conducted.

“That being said, I don’t think it should be allowed. Freelancers are highly qualified individuals. They are just as valuable as staff reporters – you should be paying for the service you use. I sometimes feel like freelance contracts have just been used to pay less, to still create a quality product – but we need time and resources… it’s insulting to ask me to do whatever for “exposure”. Exposure isn’t a tangible concept – it doesn’t pay my bills – so why would I agree to that?”

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters
What decisions or experiences have proved most valuable in helping you to establish yourself within the industry?

“Firstly, I have been invited to events that Hacked Off have held. While the issue of press regulation is still controversial, it was utterly harrowing to hear the stories of people who’d been harassed, placed under surveillance, etc. Journalism has a responsibility; we are the gate-keepers, but we cannot behave in such a way to people, regardless of fame or fortune. I have this at the forefront of my mind most days – and it informs the way I talk to sources.

“Secondly, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ is a phrase I grew up with. Derren Brown wrote of changing our stories, the stories we tell ourselves [essentially, making the choice to reframe the way we view ourselves and our limitations] – and doing that can work really well.”

What have you found to be the best resources in terms of figuring out how to earn money and sustain yourself as a journalist?

Journo Resources was the first website I came across, while studying, that I thought ‘they get it’. As an Autistic individual, I have often had to battle to be heard – and not just be taken as someone who ‘suffers’. (Yep, this has been said to me on several occasions – and is a disgusting trope. It also can prevent me doing the job I do.) There is a wealth of resources, and I learnt a lot more than I thought I would – with CVs, how to invoice, and more.

The Bloglancer is run by journalist Jenna Farmer. It’s a blog about how to make money blogging, as well as freelance journalism. Here was someone experiencing the same I was – who was maybe just that little bit older, and a little bit wiser! The posts are accessible, cover a slew of issues, and I have gotten some work from the fortnightly jobs board.

PressPad is an organisation that is devoted to #DiversifyTheMedia. I wish they’d been around when I was starting to get interested in journalism! The pandemic means they’re running a great outreach programme – with masterclasses, CV clinics, and more.”

Freelance journalist Lydia Wilkins
Lydia Wilkins (right)
Have you had any good financial role models?

“Not really, no…”

How do you attempt to deal with the inevitable ups and downs in cash flow that come with freelancing?

“I must admit, I am not really sure how to answer this one…”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


Do you find that you have to keep a close eye on your finances? What tools and resources help you to do so?

“Yes. My support worker has suggested I may have a condition that affects my ability to interpret numbers – it’s something I really struggle with. I use a form of journaling, month by month, to keep a track of my finances – such as with ongoing invoices, and keeping a visual record of my financial history. Bullet journaling can help.”

Are you saving for retirement? Is this something you feel is feasible?

“Not just yet! I am looking to get into full-time employment. Though I am a trained reporter – and have interviewed people like Anastacia, Sir Harold Evans, Jodi Picoult – I have often found myself on the end of discrimination. I am slowly transitioning; then I will save for retirement.”

“I use a form of journaling, month by month, to keep track of my finances”

Creative Money icon
Is there anything that bugs you about the way the industry operates, particularly in terms of finances or money management, that you would like to change for the better?

“What bothers me is the way freelancers are treated. You are supposed to be paid within 30 days – and late payments can apply. This is the law, yet so many publications willingly flout this! Apparently, it takes 45 days to get set up on one finance system, I was told for one publication. And I think I also had to follow up that payment… Freelancers are becoming more and more used, across more and more industries. It’s about time they were treated fairly – with pay that’s in line with a staff job, equal across all characteristics – and not just as an afterthought.”

Have you noticed any issues relating to finance that might prove a barrier to diversity in the industry? And do you have any ideas for improving the situation?

“I’m not sure I have any practical solutions. It’s a really good question to be asking, but it is not always to do with hiring, but more about [what we can do] at an educational level. For journalism, if your parents are university educated and were reporters – plus, being male and white with your own degree – it gives you a hell of an advantage… I wouldn’t know what to say to that – but I wrote about it here.”

What’s the most valuable advice you can offer to someone starting out in the industry?

“One of my mentors worked for Reuters, and is sometimes looked-up to as a kind of ethics authority. I asked for him, and I remember the most valuable piece of advice he gave me: ‘at the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to.’ Regardless of having to pay your bills, keep to deadlines, as long as you are okay with what you’re doing – if it ‘sits right’ – then that’s okay.’”

The summary:

  1. If you’re going to write for free, write for yourself. The much-vaunted ‘exposure’ offered by non-paying platforms is rarely worth it. Spend the time building your own audience.
  2. Change the stories you tell yourself. Do you avoid pitching opportunities for fear of rejection? This can be a self-perpetuating cycle: fearing failure means we don’t try, which results in guaranteed failure. Instead, try telling yourself ‘I need to give it a go to find out if this works…’
  3. Find resources that demystify your industry. There are some excellent resources emerging for the world of freelance journalism and writing. Check out Journo Resources, Press Pad and The Bloglancer.
  4. Try bullet journaling to get a visual representation of what’s happening with your finances, month-to-month. If you struggle with numbers, bullet journaling can give you a more ‘hands-on’ sense of your cash flow. Here are some ideas on that.
  5. Journalism is still dominated by white males with degrees. Diversifying access to education and training is key to addressing this imbalance.

Support Lydia Wilkins’ work!

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.