Representing the creative future


We attended a panel talk with Jeii Hong, Nicole Le Surf, and Pip Jamieson at the Alexander McQueen Sarabande Foundation last week and this is what we learned;

For anyone looking to set up as a freelancer, it can seem like a daunting task. How do you get paid on time? How do you get paid at all? How do you get jobs that suit your practice, and when should you compromise? Rest assured, there’s never been a better time to be a freelancer. Working for yourself is undeniably becoming more prevalent and appealing than ever post-pandemic, partly because there is currently a talent shortage within the creative industries. This time last year there were roughly ten times the amount of people applying for each freelance role, right now there are not enough. This talk, therefore, arguably couldn’t have come at a better time as a new generation attempt to navigate the complicated world of freelancing.

The panel discussion, curated and organised by the Sarabande Foundation at their space in Haggerston was hosted by longtime freelancer Jeii Hong who has over fifteen years’ worth of experience from both sides of the coin. Hong has previously worked at Stella McCartney and Burberry before establishing her own global consulting agency ModernCommodities which relaunched under her own name earlier this year. Hong led the discussion alongside Nicole Le Surf, Vice President of brand operations at BLEACH London, offering the perspective of the client, and Pip Jamieson, founder, and CEO of the creative networking platform The Dots, which she says “prioritises kindness, because nobody wants to work with an arsehole.” Between them, the panel covered an array of topics from the importance of community, working for free, and contracts to finding work and how to present yourself to potential clients. Luckily for those who missed it, we were there, taking notes.

Be a giver

When starting out as a freelancer, community is everything, according to Jamieson. “More giving people are the least successful but are also the most successful, whereas the takers always sit in the middle. If you are giving all your time sometimes you get taken advantage of and you have to watch that, but if you do give and you have the means to be able to do it; that can come back in spades. Someone that you mentored or collaborated with six years ago could suddenly end up being your biggest client.” Pip confesses; she is a “massive giver, without people taking the piss.” This is important advice: use common sense and when you feel yourself being taken advantage of, “be aware of it and voice it.”

““Do email regularly, do send portfolio updates, do keep on top of it because for me it’s more about moments.” –  Nicole Le Surf


It’s about perseverance

Hong admits “legitimately stalking someone for six months” until they finally caved and gave her a role. “As a freelancer, you have to be prepared and have the emotional readiness for it.” From the client side, Le Surf adds that there is no shame in relentlessly emailing someone, “Do email regularly, do send portfolio updates, do keep on top of it because for me it’s more about moments,” explains Nicole. Getting the jobs you want could all simply be down to good timing and the ability to stick in a client’s head.

The panel spoke of the importance of managing your expectations. Expect to be turned down and don’t expect every pitch to be successful, take everything as a learning experience. “When you pitch, if they say no it’s not really about you, it’s just you’re not right for it,” according to Le Surf. Jeii adds, “You might not be right at that moment but make sure you maintain those relationships, because you never know when those relationships may turn into jobs.” It is always important to keep these doors open.

“As much as you do want to diversify your skills, try to avoid being a jack of all trades and master of none.” – Nicole Le Surf


Have faith in what you are doing and stick with it

Nicole, speaking from the perspective of the brand, gave this advice on finding work: don’t chop and change what your practice is. “Have faith in what you are doing and conviction and stick with it. Perfect your craft, keep working at it and the jobs will come. As much as you do want to diversify your skills, try to avoid being a jack of all trades and master of none.” She goes on to speak of the importance of watching the reactions and body language of clients, taking their feedback on board, and incorporating it into future jobs.

Jamieson muses on how finding work is “a lot more squiggly than people think.” She adds “it’s about building genuine relationships, keeping in touch, and ensuring you are staying up to date…. Softer networking leads to better things in the end.” This term ‘softer networking’ referring to helping someone, having genuine relationships and “supporting each other on your journeys.” Essentially, don’t expect every interaction with a peer to turn into a job, but foster these friendships and with time these will turn into much more fulfilling and interesting opportunities for you both.

“Reach out to the brands and the company’s that you love, you do get discovered that way.” – Pip Jamieson


Presenting yourself

If you produce creative visual work then Instagram and websites are vital, according to Nicole. While she does insist, “you won’t have gotten hired in the first place if the client didn’t believe in you and your work,” so ensure you are only putting out work that represents the creative output you want clients to see.

Pip adds, “Reach out to the brands and the company’s that you love, you do get discovered that way.” Jamieson then goes on to speak about the times when you should work jobs that don’t necessarily align with your style, “if you need to put food on the table, absolutely do that, but maybe don’t put it out there on your public profiles. You can still do this work but put out the work that will lead to the kind of jobs you want. Essentially only publish work that represents you and your practice the best, rather than necessarily work that represents your ability to produce a diverse range of outputs.”

“You have to assess what you are getting out of a job, and if it’s not monetary then what are you learning from it.” –Jeii Hong


Working for free 

Jeii states that she is “firmly against the notion of working for free, you should be compensated for the work you do,” especially when working for a brand or company. Nicole adds, “You have to assess what you are getting out of a job, and if it’s not monetary then what are you learning from it, who are you going to meet by doing this? If you are taking something from it that’s ok. If you have to go work in a bar on the weekends to compensate yourself then there is no shame in that. It’s a personal thing of having your boundaries and assessing what is right for you. Experience is a wonderful thing, even the experience of being in a shit situation together can lead to wonderful things.” Essentially, while paying the bills must come first, and so for many starting out in the industry paid jobs must take precedence, it is important to assess what you can actually gain from an unpaid job. “Is it going to benefit me tomorrow, or in a year?,” as Jamieson says.

“There is a list of things to look for in a project. Does it pay the bills? Is it creative? Are the people I work with arseholes?” –Jeii Hong



How much should you compromise your creative practice in order to suit clients?

As Jeii says “No project is perfect. There is a list of things to look for in a project. Does it pay the bills? Is it creative? Are the people I work with arseholes? No project is going to tick all the boxes, but take what you can from each and you will learn from it.” Nicole goes on to say “Set boundaries to a certain extent. Set the number of days you will work on it and the number of rounds of feedback you agree. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, you can discuss more money, more time.” She emphasises the importance of setting a bar at the beginning of the work process and the importance of that to avoid conflicts during the job.

Hong recommends, “Give yourself some self-worth. It’s having the confidence to stand your ground and putting value on what you are bringing to the table. The client is not doing you a favour, after all, you are working and it’s not one way.”

The panel highlighted the importance of keeping channels of communication open between you and the client and not being shy about voicing when you feel they are taking advantage, as Nicole says, “If they are a good client they’ll listen to you.”

In terms of creative compromise, Jeii raises the point of conflicts that arise between your own personal aesthetic and the brand’s, and how to reconcile these differences. Nicole responds by arguing that it is important to “preempt the conversations you may have along the way, and have them up-front.” This is, of course, something that as a freelancer you learn over time and will become easier with experience. She reaffirms, “It’s all about collaboration and striking a balance.”

Hong argues that over the last five years brands have “become a lot more open, whereas before brands would get names in and create a different version of the same thing. This is something that can be pretty soul-destroying for creatives and is something that does still exist, especially among big brands.” When these sorts of conflicts crop up it’s important to “communicate in a way that’s constructive rather than negative, this is an art you learn over time,” argues Jamieson.

Essentially, it is vital to keep the channels of communication open so that when you feel you are bending your creative vision too much you can voice this. “Just don’t be a dick about it.” This is also something, argues Pip, that can be resolved by speaking to your peers. Jamieson is part of a ‘cube’ of eight fellow founders who meet once a month to “discuss their deepest darkest fears,” a sort of professional group therapy. The panel also spoke on the advantages of having mentors who can help you out with more specific issues, emphasising the importance of a network of peers who can help and advise you when you need it. Sharing and confiding in your network.

“If you are struggling you need to switch it up.” -Jeii Hong


One of the biggest cons of being freelance is the lack of financial security

Jeii speaks of the importance of being “comfortable that there is not just one way of making money. If you are struggling you need to switch it up.” She speaks of friends who, during the pandemic, took up full-time jobs and the importance of not sticking at something that is not working. It is always important to be realistic, constantly re-evaluating where you are.

This sort of financial instability can often lead to a lack of motivation to pursue freelancing. Nicole argues you simply “can’t not stay motivated: as long as you are interested and keeping an ear on the ground and learning about new things, you will stay relevant and strike the balance of growing and learning. Recognise if you are not that good at something, but ensure you are always staying curious.”

“Putting your energy into the productive things. It is easier to be motivated when you are doing something you are passionate about and love but 40% of my job is bullshit. I just have to get through the bullshit to get to the stuff I love,” Jamieson explains. Hong then stresses that for her it is important to take a step back and look at her overall life objectives, “I decided to work for myself because I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” she goes on to say “every few months I will reassess, Is this how I want to live? Am I still happy living like this?” These are important questions to ask to stay committed to your craft as a freelancer. “Think about how the lifestyle serves you and if it makes you happy because if it doesn’t you won’t be motivated!”

“Manage your expectations in payments. You don’t want to piss the client off but read the room. ” – Jeii Hong


Getting paid

“When starting a project, be clear about payment terms,” but as industry-standard, “payments are going to be late. It’s just how things run” according to Jeii. Nicole argues the way to get around this is once again, laying it out at the start. Ask the client what their system of payments is. “Manage your expectations in payments. You don’t want to piss the client off but read the room. If you have no intention of working with that client again then charge them a late payment fee but it’s important to consider whether socially this is something that would benefit you.” She stresses: ask these questions at the outset:

  • How do I get paid
  • When do you want my invoice
  • Who am I sending it to
  • What are your payment terms

“Getting an accountant that understands what you do, who understands the nuances of the creative industries is really important.” – Jeii Hong

“There is no shame in asking these questions so ask them upfront,” Hong reaffirms, “Don’t be rude. Coming straight out the gate with a sass level 100 email is not going to get you paid. Always be polite.” There is, however, no shame in chasing payments, “do remind them, have the confidence to chase it,” adds Nicole.

“Getting an accountant that understands what you do, who understands the nuances of the creative industries is really important,” Hong advises. This helps take elements of the financial pressure off you and allows you to focus on perfecting your craft rather than spending half your time chasing payments and filing taxes.



Jeii, who is currently training in law, laid out some of the key things to look out for in a contract:

  • Termination clause
  • Cancellation fees
  • General payment terms (these must be in the contract, as they are not binding on an invoice)
  • Terms of the use of the work you produce to self-publicise
  • Any limitations of clients you can work with off the back of this project
  • Entire agreement provision, meaning whatever is agreed in the contract is the final terms and nothing else counts

“A lot of things are arguable even if you do sign a contract,” Hong adds, “Don’t ever feel too overwhelmed by a really long contract,” they are simply a general agreement between two parties.” It is vitally important for certain aspects to be laid out upfront, such as payments and deliverables. Jeii’s advice: “Make sure it is not skewed, it must not just protect them but also you. Look out for termination clauses,” it is quite standard in a lot of agreements that the client can dispose of you at a moment’s notice, so ensure that the contract is fair and you are being respected. “Contracts are a good time to set a tone with the client,’ she adds, ‘an email is binding in court,” important to remember. Her final and perhaps most imperative advice on contracts is, “Always read them!”

Without getting too bogged down in the legalities and formalities of being a freelancer, remember that it is your craft and practice that matters more than anything else. Stick to it, perfect it, and as Jeii says: ‘Book yourself a holiday!’

Check more future talks by the Sarabande Foundation here