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How to be a Freelance Creative: An Interview with Jonny Elwyn

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Jonny Elwyn is a freelance film editor and has just released an eBook about how you can thrive as a freelance creative. We caught up with him to find out a little about who he is, what he does, and how he hopes his book may help other freeancers. 

Tell us, what do you do for a living? And how long have you been doing it in London?

I’m a freelance film editor, which is the only job I’ve ever really had and I’ve been doing it for the past nine years. I’ve lived in London for the past 12 years.

Can you give us a flavour of the kinds of projects you’ve worked on?

As a freelancer you end up working on all sorts of things. I’ve done everything from music videos to TV adverts, to charity fundraisers to corporate dramas – I even edited an improv corporate comedy for IKEA once. What I love about being freelance is the variety of clients and projects.

What has been the most rewarding project for you to work on?

I think the most rewarding films are the ones you know that will make a difference – like the Taken eBook, which was a brilliant project to work on with New York Times photojournalist Hazel Thompson, and is part of making a huge difference in the lives of women and children trapped in sex slavery.

You recently wrote an eBook, How to be a Freelance Creative. What prompted you to write it? 

Over the years, you end up having conversations with freelancers about how you go about running your business (which is effectively what you are) and it always seemed like people were struggling to make ends meet, or get organised with their finances, or find new clients etc. I thought that the things I’ve learned over the past nine years might be helpful to share with others; given that they work pretty well for me, I’m hoping they’ll help other freelancers thrive too.

So what kind of things do you cover in the eBook?

The book covers everything from how to earn more money, how to work with difficult clients, how to collaborate with other freelancers, how to network, how to stay creative, how to manage your finances – there are loads of useful, practical tips for freelancers in there.

You say that the book contains everything you wish you’d known when you started, and just flicking through the contents page, it looks like there’s a lot of material in there! But if you had to pick the one biggest lesson you’ve learnt, what would it be?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned would be that as a freelancer you are an entrepreneur. You are not just a gun for hire but you have to get out there and make business come your way. You have to be very proactive, willing to take risks and, essentially, full of faith to give it a go.

What are some of the biggest misperceptions that people have of freelancing? 

That it’s plain sailing and that not working all the time is a bad thing.

And what are some of the biggest perks?

Not working all the time! That and getting paid more money per day as a result. You can probably earn more freelancing than being fully employed I’d wager. But the genuinely biggest perk is the time and flexibility to pursue your own creative projects – like writing this ebook or taking on charity projects that matter to you, or blogging. All of which consume my ‘free’ time!

What is the best way for non-freelancers to understand the pressure of freelancing, and consequently support freelancers better? 

Hmm… good question. I think that the best way is to be aware that things can really ebb and flow. You can be manically busy one minute and completely dead the next. I suppose to understand that in the downtimes it can be emotionally hard (just like being unemployed for anyone) to be at home all the time. So invite your freelancer friends to lunch, that’s the best way to support them (and pay of course – thanks Tom!)

Hang-on… I think I made a word up there. What term is the opposite of ‘freelancer’?! There surely has to be a better term than ‘non-freelancer’? 

The opposite of a freelancer is an employee. Employee’s get sick days, pension, national insurance contributions and their taxes sorted for them. That and a regular, consistent pay cheque, every month.

Does your faith inform the way you approach your work? And if so, how?

I frequently try to tell people that I don’t think I could be a freelancer if it wasn’t for my faith – I’d be too worried about money! But after so many years of seeing God provide time and time again you start to build up an awareness that He really is in control of it all and that prayer is your best weapon. In freelancing you have to do all you can do, pray like crazy and let God do the rest.

Are there any particular instances when you have had to make a difficult decision because of a conflict between your faith and a project you’ve been asked to take?

I have had to draw some lines about the kind of material I will work with – which is why I have some set Terms and Conditions I give to every client (p.s. that’s in the book too!) so that they know where I stand on certain things before I step foot in the edit suite.

What are your hopes and goals for the future? Do you see yourself working freelance indefinitely? 

I don’t think I could ever let someone be my boss! I enjoy doing whatever I want to do every day far too much to not. I would of course do whatever I need to, to support my family but I’m happy to keep doing what I’m doing for a good while. That said I’d love to edit feature films, write more books and do ”more and different’ of what I already do.

Who will benefit most from this book? Just creative freelancers, or does it have a broader appeal?

Anyone who is freelancing, whether in a ”creative” sphere or not, will benefit from reading the book. I suppose some of the ideas about negotiations, networking and getting organised with your finances could apply to everyone. But creative freelancers will definitely find some practical techniques to make their lives more enjoyable in the 100 pages of the book. Or at least – I hope so!

So where can people find out more and purchase the ebook? 

My website is the best place to find out a lot more about the book, download a free sample, buy the book, check out the kind of work I’ve done and read my post-production blog (if you’re into that kind of thing – if you’re not, don’t follow me on twitter!) and get in touch if they have any freelance questions.

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In addition to visiting Jonny’s website and purchasing the eBook, you can see some of his handiwork on the Taken video, which we showed at Love London Sunday.

Check out some of our other interviews, including ones with Opera Singer Samantha Crawford, Novelist Joanna Rossiter and Social Entrepreneur Kelvin Cheung

Image by Bill Selak, used under CC

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