The Ultimate Guide to Freelancing | Alison Grade on The Artists of Data Science

On this episode of The Artists of Data Science, we get a chance to hear from Alison Grade, an award winning entrepreneur and freelancer who is skilled at transforming creative concepts into business reality.

She’s a professional freelancer all her career who fully understands that you want to make your career work for you. Her book, “The Freelance Bible” talks you through absolutely everything that you need to know to start your successful self-employed life.

Alison shares with us her journey into becoming a freelancer, and how she navigates networking and pricing her services. She also goes over tips for beginner freelancers on understanding their clients and the freelance field. Alison has some great insights for beginners and experienced data scientists alike, who wish to achieve independence and balance in their careers!

Some notable segments from the show

[9:05] “I shaped” vs. “T shaped” people

[11:45] The three C’s

[21:00] Should you ever work for free?

[31:32] Key traits of an entrepreneur

[41:22] Advice for women who want to freelance

Where to listen to the episode

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, YouTube, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Alison’s journey

Alison’s journey began when studying social and political sciences at Cambridge University. She ended up focusing on management studies in her final year at Cambridge. From there, she began work within the media industry, where she still currently works, but now as a freelancer.

Where is freelancing headed in 2–5 years?

Alison believes that due to the current state of our world from COVID-19, we are going to see a huge increase in freelancing opportunities. Unfortunately, many sectors will not recover well from this pandemic, which will result in skilled professionals seeking gigs.

[28:40] “I think certainly with where we’re at at the moment, with Coronavirus and real uncertainty in the economy, I think we’re going to see huge numbers of freelancing opportunities. It’s sad to say, but I think that’s going to be an awful lot of redundancies coming up because there will be sectors that just aren’t in a position to keep going in the same way. And unlike a more traditional recession, it will hit what it will hit an industry or a sector. So people will have to find new ways to redeploy their skills and then other companies will be busy, but they’ll be terrified that something’s is going to hit again. They’ll be hiring freezes, but they’ll have busy periods, so they’ll need freelancers. So I think the opportunities for freelancers are going to increase massively post Covid just because of the way as the economy opens up again, people will be more risk averse in terms of taking people on. And they’ll be a lot of people out there in the marketplace and there won’t be as many jobs. So that naturally starts. Well, can I find a little bit of gig work here and that. Can I be a freelancer? Can I be a consultant? So you will be looking for enterprising ways to earn a living that you know, that aren’t a sort of especially if they’re experienced professionals, they’re not going to be looking to do those minimum wage jobs that might be on offer.”

Key takeaways from the episode

What does it mean to be a freelancer?

[6:57] You are in charge of your work. No one tells you what to do and when. You get to choose when and where you work, within reason.

“I shaped” vs. “T shaped” people

[9:05] An “I” shaped person is someone who has a depth of knowledge in a field, with very specialist skills. T-shaped people are those who’ve got a good depth of knowledge, but they’ve got this kind of “T” across the top, which is that breadth of collaboration, and it’s their ability to enable teams to function to bring people together.

The three C’s

[11:45] The three C’s are customer, company, and competition. The company would be you as a freelancer, and what skills you have to offer. Customers are the people that value your work, and they can vary from small or large companies to even individuals. Competition is whoever else is going for the jobs you’re after. This can be direct competition (another colleague) or indirect competition (other products or services that your client can spend money on, unrelated to what you are offering).

Should you ever work for free?

[21:00] Always start by asking what’s in it for you. You need to find the value that this project will provide to you if you do it for free. Be wary of being taken advantage of, and working with people that do not respect your value. If you need to develop your portfolio, that’s fine, but make sure you begin asking for payments once you’ve established yourself.

How to understand your client’s problem

[26:57] As a freelancer, you own the project. Someone is hiring you for your expertise. Make sure you create very clear expectations of what you are going to do, and for how much. If something changes during the project, make sure the additional work you are being asked to do is revisited within the agreement you made, and send a quote for your work.

How technology will impact freelancing in the future

[30:08] The client base has now completely changed. In the past, certain opportunities were only possible if you were willing to be present in person, which could mean long commutes or even flights. Now, clients are more open to having remote work done. On the flip side, this also means more competition is now present in the market. I think this trend is going to continue on for the next few years.

Key traits of an entrepreneur

[31:32] You need to be self motivated to succeed. You can’t rely on a boss to give you objectives. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to have a financial drive, skills, and desires. You need these three equally, or else you won’t be motivated to freelance.

Freelance vs. entrepreneur

[33:33] People use freelance and entrepreneur interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. Freelancing is about autonomy and work-life balance, and you are providing your services. You are not interested in hiring more employees and growing your business.

Dunbar’s number

[37:58] We all have networks of people that we connect with, and according to Robert Dunbar (an anthropologist), it’s usually around 150 people. As a freelancer, each of the 150 people in your network is also connected to another 150 people, totalling 22,500. With this in mind, you can leverage your network and the network of your friends to get leads for work.

How to leverage networking events

[40:14] Do your research before going to networking events to find out who will be there and what conversations are going to happen. If you can, try to volunteer at these events. Volunteering is a great way to meet people at these conferences and find a way to connect with them later. Ask good questions.

Advice for women who want to freelance

[43:22] Since there aren’t many women in certain STEM fields, use this to your advantage. You could brand and market yourself really well. Even if you don’t feel confident at the moment, try to own your brand and who you are.

Memorable quotes

[24:46] “You’ve got to be able to explain why you can add value.”

[31:32] “You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to just get out of bed and want to get on with it.”

[34:58] “The freelancer side of things…is about flexibility, autonomy and freedom.”

The one thing that Alison Grade wants you to learn from her story

[44:51] Everyone can be a freelancer. It’s a valuable and empowering way to have a career and find balance in your life.

From the lightning round

What do you believe that other people think is crazy?

I have to get things done right away. Some people think I am hyperactive, but I just prefer to get things done as soon as possible.

Most bizarre aspect of human nature

That people distort their realities and perceptions based on their beliefs and values, even if they can be harmful.

Best advice

Own up to things when they go wrong.

What Alison would put on a billboard

Make work, work for you.

Advice to 20 year old self

Slow down a bit. You don’t need to do everything so quickly.

Topic outside of data science we should study

Marketing and communication. It doesn’t matter how good you are at something, if you can’t communicate with others why they should care.

Recommended book(s)

Nonfiction: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek

Fiction: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

What motivates you?

Putting people and ideas together to make things happen.

Song on repeat

“I’m still standing” by Elton John

Books and other media mentioned in this episode

“The Freelance Bible: Everything You Need to Go Solo in Any Industry” by Alison Grade

How you can connect with Alison Grade






Episode transcript

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