Career

How To Manage The Practical Side Of Being A Creative Freelancer

Everyone seems to have their own opinions about creative work. Creative professionals either don’t make enough money, or they make far too much. They work tirelessly, or they breeze on through. Where does the truth lie?

We spoke to three creative freelancers in different creative fields, with different sources of income, about how they manage the practical side of having a creative career, and the day-to-day of making money from their creativity. And how it’s actually nothing like we think it is.

The Photographer

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Michelle Grace Hunder is a Melbourne based freelance photographer with a hard and fast rule for those starting out in the freelance photography world: be first, be known. Setting her sights on getting her name known in the music industry, Michelle would shoot as many hip hop gigs as she could and made sure she was the one who got photos out first, “If I shoot a gig, I have to be the first one to get photos out. It’s served me really well in my career.”

This sense of urgency while she was starting out has also helped in the other areas of her freelancing, too. Now working across a range of industries as well as music, Michelle makes it a priority to tighten her turnaround time, “I don’t like to be sitting on photos for a long time. That’s a decision that I’ve made to maintain that relationship with clients.” Of her work ethic, she admits, “I’m incredibly self motivated and I can’t not meet a deadline.” But of course, she balances the work around the clock with sufficient rest, saying “it’s important to maintain that balance.”

“I’m incredibly self motivated and I can’t not meet a deadline.”

Another part of creative freelancing, is balancing the things you want to do, and the things you need to. Michelle makes sure to balance the passion with the practical, booking larger corporate gigs and weddings to justify the smaller music passions that pay little to nothing.

Interestingly enough, Michelle’s husband is also a creative freelancer. With a mortgage for them to maintain, managing money is a priority, “We don’t have savings as such, we have an account that’s like an offset account, almost like an emergency fund, and we keep that at a certain amount just in case we both have a few quiet months. A little buffer that we have for really, really desperate times.”

The Designer

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Photo: Kris Rees

Lucy Hinde is a textile designer who works according to a rule of three. Breaking up her week into design days, admin days and email/client interaction days, she allows herself to knuckle down and commit all her focus to a specific part of her job. She’ll then kick it all off by writing down three tasks, beginning with the most difficult and ending on the easiest.

She says, “I generally work within traditional working hours, but I always like to try and start with a nice morning outside or exercising, walking, swimming or yoga, that way I have been outdoors before I start work and I don’t get too tempted to break up my day with distractions.”

She also relies on the help of administrative software to assist with the practical stuff that could soon become overwhelming. She uses the accounting program Quickbooks to keep track of all of her invoices and Asana to keep an eye on the deadline for her jobs.

“appreciate the people who take the time to share their knowledge with you.”

But really, she never clocks off, filling up her bank of design ideas and inspiration almost constantly. She says, “I collect images constantly and make folders of ideas for future design ideas. I collect a lot of old books and magazines as I am really drawn to vintage eras and particularly their design styles.” Even just a stroll around her suburb of Elizabeth Bay, prompts inspiration from the design details in the art deco buildings. And when she’s taking time off, she allows social media platforms like Pinterest to inspire her to explore new things.

But most of all, enjoy the time you have learning new things. On starting out in a creative field, she advises, “Enjoy every opportunity you get and also appreciate the people who take the time to share their knowledge with you, I look back very fondly on my first professional creative job, it was so fun to be able to experiment with all the hands on creative techniques and even doing the silly admin jobs as you learn a lot of little skills that eventually add up to what you need to start your own business.”

The Writer

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Inga Simpson is what you would call a word expert. With 4 books and 2 PhDs in English Literature and creative writing under her belt, as well as recently making the longlist for the Miles Franklin Award, she certainly knows how to make words work for her, both creatively and professionally.

Of course, managing her own career also requires a lot of discipline from her side. Discipline she credits to the steady 9-5 job she held before going freelance. Describing a regular day, she says, “I head up to the studio early and do my new writing before traditional business hours (and phone calls) start, and before I access email, social media etc. Then I do my other paid work, from hardest tasks to easiest, and then a little admin each day to stay on top of things.”

“set yourself up so that you don’t need much money to live on.”

With no boss around and no one to keep you in check, it’s easy to think of a freelancer slipping into an internet wormhole, never to return. But when you love your job, there’s no need to slack off. Inga says, “I’m not really tempted to do that during the day, unless I’m unwell. I’m too keen to finish tasks and tick them off my list. That way I can relax at the end of the day without feeling guilty.”

Money is also a huge part of the freelancing equation. As in, you have to be okay with not making that much of it. She the topic of cash flow, she says, “There isn’t any saving going on. I mark on the calendar what payments I am expecting each month. When I get a lump sum in, I pay all my bills, mortgage payments etc and just leave myself a little to live on.”

In fact, if she has one piece of advice for young writers looking to freelance, it’s to “set yourself up so that you don’t need much money to live on”.

Inga Simpson appears at the National Writers’ Conference on June 17 – 18 as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival.


Josephine is a writer from western Sydney who likes to blatantly lie on her bios. She played the youngest sister in 80s sitcom Family Ties and looks fantastic running with a backpack on.