How we Became a Freelance Team (and Why!)

The idea of becoming a freelancer often fills people with dread. Waving goodbye to a steady salary and taking a punt on the unknown seems counterintuitive. But writing for The Candidate, senior conceptual creative team Joanne Oatts and Mark Winter explain why we shouldn't worry about it, and talk about why they swapped the safe port of perm for the freedom of freelance.


We've both had permanent jobs in the past, and probably will again in the future. But our particular route to becoming a freelance creative team had more to do with a planetary alignment, than saying "shall we just sack off perm and go freelance?"

Joanne has worked in advertising for over twenty years, sandwiching the first and second half of this time around a separate career as a journalist and broadcaster. Mark climbed the greasy pole of finance to manage a team of researchers, before finally following his heart a decade ago to become a writer.

Where this led to, was a coming together of two creatives who were already freelancing by the time they formed a team.

But we've both known the fear of turning our back on a steady job, walking the plank, and taking the plunge into the cold, dark, shark-infested waters of freelance...only to find the water's really rather lovely!

There are ups and downs of course. Here are a few of them:

You get to be a superhero

We're often hired on shorter, last-minute contracts, parachuting in to save the day when a creative department is run ragged (or - whisper it - they've run out of ideas). That's actually both a plus and a minus.

On the plus side, we're brought in because there's frequently a thirst for a creative team who can throw off the shackles and go large on an idea. There's a lot of talk in adland about 'the big idea'. But a lot of the time ideas stay medium-sized because agencies grow cautious about how clients might react, based on the last idea they showed them. This becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy after a while. A syndrome we jokingly refer to as it starts out as a million pound integrated campaign, and ends up as a gif.

We have the advantage of being a fresh pair of eyes though. And having been around the block enough times, we understand quickly which line to tread between the politics of an agency relationship and the genuine desire of everyone involved to do something new and compelling.

The minus side of short contracts is that we can get everyone excited about a new creative direction, but we don't always get to oversee it through to production. We're creatives, and we love making things. So the creeping sense of disappointment as Friday rolls around and you're not being asked to stay for the next phase feels like not being picked for the school team. You're shedding tears for us right now. We can tell. Boohoo.

The self-promotion shuffle

Another struggle is that self-promotion isn't necessarily hard, but it can be hard work. No-one knows you’re out there unless you tell them. And keep on telling them. So you have to, er, keep telling them. Got to hustle if you want to keep the money coming in people. LinkedIn is great for this, as is regularly dropping a line to your list of agency and recruiter contacts to say hello and tell them what you've been up to.

Dealing with a multitude of personalities in a multitude of agencies also sounds like a chore - but it actually becomes a super skill in the end. It's all part of another upside, which is that you get to meet SO many more people as a freelancer, and thus widen your network - another big factor in making sure freelance never gets boring.

Fun with numbers

One thing that is undeniably boring, is having to do your accounts. Unless you're a freelance accountant of course, then it's a busman's holiday. But since we assume most of you reading this aren't number crunchers, that's just a fact of life you need to get used to.

IR35 also seemed like it would lay waste to freelance life initially, but it seems like things are shaking out - with longer, 'permalance' contracts going inside IR35, and shorter contracts staying outside IR35 (mostly).

Staying the course

Like anything in life, the more freelance you do, the less scary it becomes. You quickly realise the freedom it offers means you can work here, there and everywhere, and get a ton of experience, new skills and sector knowledge that you'd never get by clocking in and out of the same place for years.

We're currently based in London, but have done loads of work in Manchester and bloody love it. The North West is going gangbusters, and some of the most creative work we've ever done has been here. That's the thing: when you're freelance, you can take those short term opportunities to work in different places and different kinds of agencies. So if you ever decide to go perm again, you'll be more clued up on what and where you do and don't like.

Our advice is face the freelance fear and dive in anyway. Because it's not actually that scary at the end of the day. Oh, and did we mention you can take time off whenever you want? Which is especially good if you want to make a comedy short, or create a blog about creative thinking - just a couple of side hustles that being freelance helped us bring to life.

If you liked that and want to drop Joanne and Mark a line, they'd love to connect with you. She's on Linkedin here and he's on Linkedin here. And while you're at it, why not check out their portfolio at