Written by Malin Evita
“I always found it very stimulating and rewarding to be a freelancer, but I think you really have to have the kind of mind that’s able to go with the flow and accept the highs and lows that come with that, […] otherwise you will never be serene.” —Nikki Petersen
This week’s guest on Making It: Women in Film is Paris-based director Nikki Petersen. Nikki has worked with YouTube Originals, Google, Vogue, Lancôme, and several other companies, creating both fiction and commercial work! In the episode, she shares her experience in film school, the French film industry and talks about how you can successfully run your own business in the industry and adopt some mindful habits to create a healthy work/life balance!
Listen to the full interview now on all major podcast platforms, but first—here are some of her top tips on being self-employed in the industry.
“It takes a certain kind of person to be a freelancer because you don’t have career stability,” Nikki says, “It’s really anxiety-provoking for a lot of people to move from project to project, not knowing what their next project is.” As a freelancer, you have to be prepared to hit bumps in the road and then suddenly speed up. Having the ability to be flexible and prepared for changes that might come up is key.
Don’t sell yourself short
As it is can be quite an unstable profession, you also can’t sell yourself short to your clients. And if you do, they’re now going to expect that type of rate from you from then on. So before you settle on a rate, get as much information as possible on the client and the standards for the work you will be doing. How many hours does the full job include? Would your fee be less than/just around the minimum wage? Is it sustainable and reasonable? If you struggle with imposter syndrome, it can be difficult to set a “higher” price, but try to make an objective calculation. It does have to be something that works for both of you but make sure to consider multiple factors. Including…
Have you thought about insurance and pension?
As a freelancer, you are not going to receive the same benefits as a regular employee. These vary from country to country, so look into different insurances (healthcare in particular) and consider opening up a pension account. Nikki says, “I didn’t think about retirement! But someday, I’m going to have to retire, and I’m not, you know, paying into a pension or anything like that. So, I’d say, on the financial side of things, really do your research!”
Ask for advice, not jobs
We have all heard about how important networking is, but many still find it a fake and almost icky thing. So instead of talking with people purely with the end goal in mind being to get a job, try to actually get to know them and create an authentic connection.
“Make a list of people in your life that have jobs that you’re interested in, that you admire, and you can reach out to them and ask for 15-20 minutes of their time just to get advice, to ask them questions about their career and what it’s like,” Nikki says, “It’s nice for both parties. The person can tell you about [the] industry and their role and give back by mentoring you. It’s not overtly asking for a job,”
For Nikki, she’s had the most success with word of mouth’ marketing’. She avoids cold calling people; she says it has never worked for her. Instead, she focuses on standing out and making an impression that makes people talk good about you and want to stay in business with you. One client does not have to equal just one gig.
One last note on this, Nikki suggests that you also connect with your peers – who you might consider the competition. If you can create a good relationship with other people doing the same thing as you, that opens an entirely new door for collaboration and word of mouth recommendation.
Long story short: Show a genuine interest in people’s work, and they will return it.
Create a portfolio that reflects who you are
Oh, the portfolio! The first step into the business which will always make you stop in your tracks and go, “How do I put together a portfolio when I haven’t done anything to show for?” Well, youngling, you don’t need to get paid to show what it is you can do and what you strive to do. You don’t even need any fancy equipment! “You can do a lot with what you have,” Nikki says. Get together with your friends and shoot something you believe reflects the kind of stories you want to tell. Volunteer for other peer’s works and try to get your hands dirty. The sound quality may not be outstanding, and the picture might not be in 4K, but when you are starting out, the most important thing is just to get going.
For more advice and insight from an industry professional, listen to the full conversation now available on Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts). The freelance talk starts at 30.00:
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.