Breaking In (July 2021)

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Chaired by Faye Daniels (Senior Marketing Manager at Roundhouse, freelance copywriter/creative director), panellists include: Heather Marks (Creative Producer at Words of Colour, Brand & Sales at No Bindings, freelance writer/editor), Rebecca Jeetoo, (Marketing co-ordinator at National Theatre) and Pippa Perriam (Location Coordinator at LS Productions).

 

Faye Daniels

Welcome everyone and thank you for coming. I’m really excited to be here and to be hosting this event today. This is the Breaking In event, run by the Creative Careers Federation, and it’s all about how to help you find your feet in the Creative Industries. This event is aimed at supporting a range of young people, so if you’re interested in freelancing, or you might be interested in a more permanent position, there’s something for everyone. You should get a really good insight on how to start navigating the industry and all the different facets of creativity that that encompasses,  everything from fashion, to film, to publishing – there’s so many different things that make up the Creative Industries. We’re going to be talking about our own experiences and hopefully sharing some good tips and tricks for you to start off in the industry because it can be a little bit daunting.

I’m Faye and I’m going to be moderating the session today. I am a Senior Marketing Manager at the Roundhouse and I also work on a freelance basis as a copywriter and creative director. I do a little bit of both, which is a common theme I think, for a lot of us who work in the industry, and you might hear that from some of the other panellists as well.

So, without further ado, I’ll introduce you to the brilliant guests who we’ve got today. Heather Marks is here with us – she is a freelance writer and brand and sales person for a publishing house called No Bindings.

 

Heather Marks

So hello, I’m Heather. I am a creative producer at Words of Colour, which is a creative development agency for writers, creatives and entrepreneurs of colour. We collaborate with organisations and institutions on systemic transformation programmes that facilitate inclusion and action. My part in that, as a creative producer, is to develop talent in both emerging and established writers of colour. I do this in partnership with local, regional, national and international partners, like libraries, universities and other literature organisations across the globe. I am also part of the small but mighty team at No Bindings, which is a Bristol based publishing studio, and we create Limited Edition publications that are a hybrid of print and audio.

My colleague and I were editorial audio and design consultants as well. We also research innovative publishing practices that connect print, audio and audience and deliver workshops on our hybrid print audio models – helping people tell stories in creative and refreshing ways. I’m also a freelance editor, arts journalist and writer of historical young adult fiction. I’m the winner of the 2018 Golden Egg award for my work in progress, and have a first look deal with Chicken House.

 

Faye Daniels

And you’re going to hear a lot more from her as we go forward into the session. Becky, who we also have with us today, is currently marketing coordinator at the National Theatre, but is soon to be marketing manager at the BAC (Battersea Arts Centre). So Becky, can you tell us a little bit more about your journey and your career to date?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Yes. I think for me, it’s been quite a wavy journey to get to where I am currently and where I’m going to be in a couple of weeks at Battersea Arts Centre. I first started in the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, doing, I think it was ten, zero hour contracts all in one go in different parts of the building. So that was, I think, like quite a lot of people’s experience of their first jobs in theatre – I sold ice creams, I was on the box office, I just did a bit of everything. And then I became a backstage tour guide at the National Theatre. There was quite a big gap between getting from the zero hour contract into something more permanent, and that was very difficult for me. I was a PA for a while at the National Theatre in the Learning Department, and then moved into marketing at quite a junior level, because I didn’t know anything about marketing. I’ve done that for nearly three years and now I’m moving on to a more senior role in a different theatre. So yeah, a bit of a wavy route to get here, but I’ve enjoyed every single one of them.

 

Faye Daniels

Amazing. So you’ve really kind of worked your way up through all those different kinds of worlds, getting a real overview of what you can do in a theatre and in those behind-the-scenes roles, which is really, really cool to see, and definitely something I think a lot of people can relate to in their journey.

We also have Pippa with us, who is a location coordinator at a company called LS Productions. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about your role, Pippa?

 

Pippa Perriam

Yes, so I started at LS three years ago now as an entry level Location Assistant and, in the past year, I’ve been promoted to Location Coordinator, which is very nice. We’re a service production company and we serve as shoots across the UK. We’ve got offices in Edinburgh, Manchester and London, and we work on all kinds of shoots from small stills and fashion shoots, all the way up to film, TV shows and  commercials and music videos. Before working at LS I did a number of different jobs. Over the years, I worked in marketing small businesses and worked as a PA, and all of my general interests, prior experience and love of organisation all kind of added up. Because it was such an entry level position, as long as I had those kinds of interests and skills from other roles, it wouldn’t necessarily have mattered if I had not had experience in film and TV and production before. I could never explain what a typical day is – we could be working on a small fashion shoot for Vogue, shooting in an estate in the highlands, and then the next week we could be working on a music video, looking for the perfect, rugged and faded grandeur theatre in Manchester.

 

Faye Daniels

Amazing. I love that you just said that it was your love of organisation that got you into the role. I think that’s something that people who are thinking about the creative industries might not think is a transferable skill that you need to get into the industry, but you’ve just proved there that that is something that’s invaluable.

I wanted to start by asking you all a little bit about how you got here. So did you attend university and if you did, what were your biggest challenges after you’d graduated?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

So I went to the University of Kent and I studied Drama and Theatre. I did a Master’s in theatre directly afterwards – I spent four years there and I had this job that I mentioned before at the theatre, whilst I was studying, doing all these zero hour roles. My biggest challenge, after graduating, was then getting a permanent job in a theatre. You think after years of studying, you would easily get a job in the theatre, but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that. I had about three years where I worked in shops and just did quite a lot of different jobs to try and make money, but was applying for these jobs all the time and not getting them.

I’ve recently done another degree with the Open University, on the side, which has been a management degree. And it’s funny, because the number three is a big deal for me apparently, because it took me three years to get a job in the theatre after graduating the first time. And then this time, it was three days, and I was offered a management job. So it’s kind of very stark opposites. The first time the main struggle was getting a job in the industry that I wanted, and to follow my degree, and then this time around, that wasn’t really the struggle, and it seemed that maybe what I’d learned on the management degree, gave me extra things that other people didn’t have. So two quite different experiences. But yeah, that was my experience of studying and then trying to get a job.

 

Faye Daniels

That’s great. It’s really insightful to look at it in that way, and all the different ways that you can train for a role.

So Pippa, how about you? Did you go to university?

 

Pippa Perriam

I didn’t go to university. My school had a great UCAS department and they assumed it was a conveyor belt from school into university. If you weren’t going to university, you’d have a gap year and then you’d want to go to university. So I was basically left to my own devices to work out what I wanted to do after school. I went to cookery school for six months and I learned invaluable skills there, but then decided that I didn’t want to work in a kitchen professionally because that’s not an environment I really want to be in. I did a number of different things afterwards – I moved abroad; I was an au pair a couple of times, once in Luxembourg, and once in Copenhagen. If you’re ever looking for a job where you want to move to another country without going through the stress of moving –  be an au pair. I was 18 years old and looking after four children under the age of 10, so it was definitely a learning curve but it was the making of me.

Then after that I worked in cafes, and on the side I did a professional PA diploma at Pitmans. I got my Word and Excel skills brushed up and then worked as a PA. Following this, I worked in marketing for a couple of small companies and just before working at LSI I was unemployed for three months and applying for temp jobs, getting turned down for roles in financial services amongst others. And then this came. I’m very lucky to be in a role that I didn’t realise actually existed or that I was able to break into at all, you know. You see people working on film sets and it’s like, “Oh, did they study film and TV to get there? Is that how someone gets there?”. But actually, a lot of people that I work with, in the industry, they just kind of start from the beginning and they work their way up –  they’re a runner on set, they’re making coffee for people, and then they kind of work their way up. That’s basically how everyone starts, you don’t have to have qualifications to get there, it’s almost more important to have the transferable skills to get into it really.

 

Faye Daniels

Yeah, that’s really interesting, and just shows you don’t have to have that clear idea of what your dream job is, or what the end goal is, you can just sort of navigate and find it along the way. Really interesting. Heather, how about you? What was your experience in terms of university?

 

Heather Marks

Yeah, so I went to Sussex University. For my Bachelor’s, I did Drama and English and then I went to do a Master’s at Goldsmiths University, which was in black British literature. Similar to Becky, I was doing low paid retail jobs alongside my studies, and then I graduated with my Master’s, and it was just really hard to get a job in what I wanted to do, which was in either literature, or the creative sector, or in Academia in the field that I’d studied in. I ended up working in a lingerie shop, alongside posting on Twitter, for free, for the Master’s programme, because they wanted to increase their visibility. And so actually, doing the social media for the Masters in Black British literature, kind of helped get me the experience that I needed for my first creative job, which was a social media coordinator for this creative agency. So yeah, I can definitely relate to the challenges of finding a job once you graduate.

 

Faye Daniels

Yeah, I think that’s always incredibly tricky, isn’t it? As soon as you graduate, you feel like you’re gonna go into a job, but it’s not always the way that that works. So quite a few of you have touched on this, actually, but in hindsight, are there any skills you wish you’d developed as a new graduate or an entrant into the industry? Rebecca – when you spoke about your management course, is that something you wish you’d done sooner, perhaps?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Yeah, so what ended up happening was that I did a full management degree, which has taken me quite a long time to do alongside working, and I probably wouldn’t say it’s necessary to have a second degree in the way that I’ve done it, but I think I got to a point where I felt really stuck and I couldn’t really see it any other way of doing it.

I think if you can upskill yourself in something that will make you stand out – because I think effectively, that’s what this has done for me, it’s made me stand out from other people who are applying for the same role – then that would be a great thing to do in that period after you’ve graduated. I mean, it’s very difficult, university, but people do, I think, make it seem that you’re going to graduate and then immediately fall into a job that is within the sector that you are studying, if that’s what you want to do. I saw a lot of my friends doing that, who didn’t do a drama degree, and they did tend to fall into roles that were sort of similar to what their degree was, but I think within the creative sector it can be quite tricky.

I wish I’d spent some of that time upskilling myself,  maybe, in things like  Pippa was saying, stuff that isn’t necessarily arts related, or, for me, theatre related. Most of the people I work with have much more knowledge of finance or Excel spreadsheets and Word documents – I kind of wish I’d done some sort of admin. thing at that point, because that was always a really big gap for me. I kind of wish that I’d spent a bit of time then instead of just, you know, moping about the fact that I couldn’t get a job in a theatre – trying to upskill myself on some other things that could have made me stand out.

 

Faye Daniels

Yeah, definitely. That’s really interesting to hear from you.

Heather, how about you? You were talking about how it’s difficult to get into the industry – is there anything you think you might have, in hindsight, wanted to have upskilled?

 

Heather Marks

I really relate to Becky’s point about learning the financial side in the creative sector. I didn’t know that I would be freelancing – that I’d be self employed – and so it’s really taken a while. I mean, I’m still building my financial acumen of what I should be doing, how much I should be charging, and getting a pension and sorting that out for myself. All of those things. So definitely, I could have. Doing an English degree, doing a Drama degree and knowing that that’s going towards working in the creative sector, it would have been really useful to have had more knowledge about the business side of things. So like the finances, before I’d gone into that sector, I would have been on much better footing and I would have been better able to negotiate as a newcomer.

I do arts journalism as part of my freelancing, but also one of my previous roles at Worlds of Colour, at this creative development agency, was as content editor, and so with that, and I think if you’re interested in writing about theatre, or writing about literature, or just writing about the arts in general, I would say start early – create a blog, and just start going to see stuff. Start writing about stuff so that you have that portfolio ready for when you want to pitch yourself to an editor, or in an interview. I would definitely recommend that if that’s one of the ways you want to go.

 

Faye Daniels

Definitely. I think showing that you’re passionate about what you want to do through that blog, or through whatever, is always quite important as well.

Pippa, what about you? Have you had any thoughts on this one?

 

Pippa Perriam

Yeah, I think one of the skills that I’ve developed over the past three years, that would have been very important to develop before, was speaking on the phone. I would never pick up the phone to anyone ever in the past, and networking, like I knew at the time, is a little bit icky to do, and you feel like you’re putting yourself out there and you may be rejected. I used to be scared to call up the doctor to make a medical appointment and that’s mad. I feel like a lot of younger people just don’t speak on the phone as much anymore, but it’s something that I do in my job. Like they say everyday, if you can’t pick up the phone to someone, you can send an email, but they won’t reply to you for a couple of days, so it’s always easier to pick up the phone, and that’s something I’ve learned that’s invaluable.

Networking as well, and putting yourself out there and seeing what’s real – I’ve had people ask me before, “How do you start out, working locations?” and actually, if you just go on and see a film that was shot, you can go onto the IMDB page and see who the location manager is for that. You can get their email address and say, “Next time you’re filming there, I can be a runner. I’m available”, for example. That kind of thing is so important, to be able to put yourself out there. And the industry is so busy at the moment that they are always looking for extra hands – there’s Facebook groups and lots of channels to put yourself out there to network, so it’s not a difficult thing. Once you know a little bit and you know where to go for that, it’s easy.

 

Faye Daniels

Yeah, that’s brilliant advice. I think being able to put yourself out there is super important and knowing how to network.

I think everything we’ve spoken about here are kind of business skills – that wraparound stuff that you don’t maybe get taught in school, like how to do your taxes and that kind of thing. So if you’re thinking about going freelance, or if you need that support, we, at the Roundhouse, actually won something called the Self Made series, which is all about everything from how to network really brilliantly and confidently, to how to do your taxes for the first year when you need to do your self assessment and it’s super overwhelming. If you are thinking that you need to upskill in those areas, then I definitely recommend having a look at that series as it can really help you out.

So how did you all determine which skills you would need to navigate the creative job market? What kind of thing made you think “I’m going to need that for sure”?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

So I’m a little bit obsessive when it comes to job ads – even when I’m really happy in a job, I look at all of the theatres that I might one day want to work at, like my dream list, and if they’ve got any of my dream jobs going. At the minute, for me, I’m interested in anything in marketing, but, for example, I would look at Marketing Director or something that’s way higher than what I would currently be applying for and then go through the job ad and highlight the skills that I don’t have. That’s how I put together my toolkit of what I need to get in order to get there. It might not be a matter of going from one job to the next and them all being the dream job, but I’m basically trying to gather all of my skills from all of the different things, to then one day being able to tick off everything on that dream job list. I’ve got quite a big folder of all of these job ads of dream jobs that one day I’ll be ready to apply for.

And the other thing I do is apply for jobs all the time that are completely out of my reach, because it’s such a good exercise to write that application out and to just see. It really highlights then what it is that I’m missing and what I might need to do. And quite often, they invite me for an interview, which is always baffling. This job that I am going to in two weeks was a job that I applied for thinking I would never get an interview, and then I actually magically got the job. So that, yeah, that’s always been a really big thing.

You get feedback from those interviews, they can tell you a lot of things, but also from the questions, it’s really obvious to yourself what gaps you’ve got. If they ask the question, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna really have to make something up here”, then that’s something to go away with. After each of these slightly terrifying interviews that I’m not prepared for, I write down all of the questions that they asked me so that I can reflect on them later. But that’s quite an in depth process that I go through.

 

Faye Daniels

That is such brilliant advice, and also something I’ve never heard someone say. It’s such specific, but brilliant advice, and I think that’s really valuable. Being self reflective in that way, about where your gaps are and where you need to upskill, is really vital. Not thinking that you can just go up and up and up without upskilling and learning more. It’s really great

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

I think, for me as well, the industries aren’t particularly transparent. Nobody has told me what I’m going to need to be a marketing director one day, and that is what I want to do, but no one can give you a list of those things, so I think the only way to do it really is to just look at yourself and compile your own list of what you need.

 

Faye Daniels

Really brilliant advice. Heather, what do you think? How do you know what you need in your role and how you would get there?

 

Heather Marks

I’ve gone from being a social media coordinator to a freelance writer, from a freelance editor to now a Content Editor, and to a creative producer, and I think a lot of those jobs have come about through seeing them in newsletters. In the beginning, I signed up to so many newsletters for creative organisations, because that’s one of the first places they would put up their jobs.  And just following key people on Twitter – following these organisations, these places that I wanted to work at, these people who I wanted to work with, and then they would post jobs or opportunities there.

So for me, as a writer, seeing when there’s a new competition out, or a new workshop series, or something that I could apply for, was really useful. I definitely think Twitter is fertile ground, if you’re a writer, or you’re thinking of  getting into publishing; find those industry people and also sign up to the newsletters and creative organisations, like Spread the Word and the British Library.

For the more journalistic side, like as a theatre writer, one of the skills that was really useful for me was being well read and confident in my unique vantage point. So with that it’s like someone’s coming to you to reach your point of view on why any one particular thing, whether it’s a play or performance, or film or book, is interesting. And  I think, for someone to trust you and continually come back to you, it’s always good to stay clued up on what’s happening in the landscape – like particular relationships between a director and a writer, they constantly pair up together, what is that bringing to the work? Or thinking about the history of a play – what kind of iterations has it had in the past?

One thing that I found really useful was actually reading the reviews and the writing of other writers that I admire. Exeunt Magazine is so good and there’s a lot of writers there whose work I really enjoy reading and seeing the originality and the directions that they go in is not like your typical writer, so I think that’s really refreshing and it’s quite nice to see what your peers are doing. Also, when it comes to being at a networking event, it’s always good to be ready to pitch yourself, because you never know who you’re gonna end up talking to.

For example, I was doing a review for someone else, for Words of Colour, actually, and I ended up sitting next to the editor of Exeunt Magazine, so we just got chatting. And you know, she was asking, “Oh, what do you do?” and then it’s a great opportunity for you to then say, “Oh, I do this and this is where I’m writing from, and you can find me here” or “Here’s my email” and that sort of thing. So it’s always good, being able to have that little 32 second bite of what you’re doing, because you never know, like, what gig might come out of that conversation.

 

Faye Daniels

Yeah, totally. And I feel like what you were saying about being really clued up and knowing your industry and your uniqueness really helps when you come to network with those people, right? Because then you can connect with them in a way that shows that you’re invaluable. And you know your staff.

 

Heather Marks

Yeah, absolutely. So my Master’s in Black Literature has really helped me in my conversations with Writers of Colour, because, for example, I’m able to have a much more nuanced discussion of the work of Debutante Green compared to say, Mark Billington – when he first went to see Debutante Green’s work, he couldn’t understand it, whereas I was actually able to; I could see the lineage of the literary traditions that she was in. And so it’s  what you’ve got that is so unique and so powerful, and it’s gonna be so advantageous to you. So definitely rely on all of your reference points, because that’s what’s going to make you stand out and make your voice really compelling.

 

Faye Daniels

Definitely, that’s really brilliant advice.

Pippa – how did you determine what you would need in your career and in your job market?

 

Pippa Perriam

I mean, I think it was very much a case of learning on the job, and I think it’s very important for people to know that, especially when you’re starting out, you’re not going to know everything, and that’s okay. No one expects you to know everything. I think a skill that’s really important for people that are starting out is to have that willingness, and be happy to help –  be happy to do whatever. It’s actually a transferable skill from when I was working in a cafe – seeing if a member of the public is getting a bit agitated and managing their expectations, saying things like: “It’s okay, it’s gonna be fine”. And actually, I’ve learned that from working two years in a coffee shop – in a cupcake shop. I think everyone needs to work in the service industry at some point in their life, because I think those skills are just invaluable and can be transferred. So yeah, that willingness to learn and willingness to help is so important for people, especially in the film industry.

 

Heather Marks

I just wanted to add a little anecdote about what people are saying about that willingness to help. I have a friend who’s an animator, and their willingness to just be on call for anything like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll do that job. Any other job that you want? I’ll do it.” And, I mean, it’s definitely like if you want to commit that much time, then that’s your motive – that’s on you. But  it’s led him from being a zero hour contracts person who’s only got  a few bits and bobs, to now actually getting credited on productions. They have so much more responsibility now, because the senior team were saying: “Oh, we can rely on him because he will get the job done. He does it well and he’s always eager to pick something else up”. And so, the senior team, or whoever you’re working for, will see that and will see it as a plus and will think of you for positions that are coming up.

 

Faye Daniels

I totally agree. I think that enthusiasm and willingness is key. It actually leads us on really nicely into the next section where we want to talk a little bit about wellbeing as well. I think what you were saying, Pippa, about acknowledging that you’re not going to know everything when you start a job and when you start a career but just showing that willingness kind of leads me into talking about when you were starting off in your careers. How did you keep your motivation up and how did you manage your wellbeing? Because it can be quite a daunting time, going from being a student or being at home to suddenly having all these responsibilities and you’re trying to get your dream job. So how do you do it? How do you manage your motivation?

 

Pippa Perriam

I’m very lucky in that it’s kind of rare, in the industry that I am in, for someone to work in-house rather than freelance. I work for a great company that really safeguards free time and mental health as well. We’ve actually just installed this great app on Slack called Spill, and it gives you access to therapy sessions within the day. It’s amazing and I’m very lucky that I work in a company that does that, but I think there does come a time where you do have to safeguard, or you’re backing yourself at the end of the day, and that does kind of tend to come down the line. And when you know your boundaries, and you know your worth as well. I mean, I started out on an entry level salary and was working really hard, and you eventually will get rewarded for your efforts, but that first year, especially if you’re working freelance, being a runner, being a marshal –  can be pants. You’re on a rainy film set, sorting out bins… it’s a lot of those entry level kinds of things.

But knowing that – when you see people in charge, or you see people up the level – everyone has come from this level is always very reassuring. It may be tough, but everyone’s come from this level. And it does get better, but I do think you have to set your boundaries and it’s no bad thing to decline things or put your hand up when you are struggling, because at the end of the day, if you’re struggling but you’re not saying anything and therefore not being as productive or not getting the job done as well, it’s much better to put your hand up and say that you’re struggling. And actually, that is quite a scary thing to do. It’s very easy to put your hand up, and everything will be fine, but you think of the repercussions. At the end of the day though, people appreciate communication. Communication is such an important skill, and being able to communicate when you’re not feeling well is really important.

 

Faye Daniels

Definitely. Thank you, Pippa.

Becky, have you got any tips and tricks for managing your wellbeing in the roles that you’ve had through the theatre?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Yeah and they’ve changed as I’ve changed. Sometimes it’s been things like going out with friends, and being a very social person to distract myself from any job related things that might be stressing me out at the time. I don’t know whether this is a result of COVID or lockdown, but I’ve kind of done the opposite, where actually, because I find that work on Teams and on Zoom quite tiring due to always being on camera, I find the way to look after my wellbeing is to just do what I need to do by myself – away from a screen. So I think flexibility and just sort of being aware of what it is that you need at that time are good. And it might not always be the same thing, but I think the wellbeing question in the first few years can be around the fact that you might be applying for a lot of jobs and not necessarily getting them or being invited to interviews, and it can be exhausting after a while when you’re putting yourself out there quite a lot, so I think the main thing to remember is not to take it personally, which is very much easier said than done. But it’s often, if you don’t get the job, more about the other people that applied rather than a specific comment on you, so I think that’s always really important to remember as well.

 

Faye Daniels

It definitely is. I think, the sooner in life you can realise not to take things personally when you don’t get that role that you really wanted is when you’ll be happier going forward. It’s really tough and not something that I mastered for a very long time.

So Heather, obviously you spoke about the fact that it actually took you quite a long time to get a job after you graduated. How did you keep your motivation up, and did you struggle with that?

 

Heather Marks

Yes, I did. I graduated from my Master’s feeling so great, and then I spent six months working up to seven days a week in a rubbish lingerie shop, constantly applying for jobs and not getting them. It was definitely really disheartening and it just really erodes your self confidence. For me, I just felt like, “Oh my god,  I’m really stupid”. LikeI wasn’t that good. Like, “Oh my God, I’ve done the wrong thing. Why did I do English literature?” So, God, how did I maintain my wellbeing? Not very well, to be honest, during those times, but I’m quite a driven person in that I’ll keep persisting, so even though I was getting rejected, I was still constantly looking for jobs, because it was my way out. And so I was getting closer, incrementally each time. So I was, “Okay, I didn’t get to interview those times, but now I’m getting to an interview and I can actually get the feedback from what they’re saying about why I didn’t get it.”. And so, after a couple of those, I finally did get the job that took me out of the rubbish retail shop.

So, yeah, definitely having the resilience to just keep applying and once you get to the interview stage – you’re good, but it’s just that someone else has that little extra something that they’re looking for. So next time it might be you and because you’re getting that feedback, you’re able to better understand what it is you have to give to them that can persuade them.

But also, I guess now that I’m further along, I’d say recognise your crisis point. So, for me, I do way too many things, and I’m also trying to write – for me, that’s the long term goal, I want to be a writer full time. And so whenever I’m doing way too much work and it’s impacting my writing so I’m not doing anything – it’s recognising what the signs of that crisis point are. So it becomes hating my work, hating my writing, not wanting to write, and, you know, being able to recognise what those signs of crisis are means that you can start to remedy things. You can start to think “Okay, what do I need to do? Do I need to lessen my hours? Do I need to take a sabbatical? Do I need to change my job so that I can actually fit my writing around my work life?”. I’d definitely give that as a good point, because that’s something I didn’t think about once I got started in the creative sector – I was just saying yes to everything, because I was so happy to not be working in lingerie anymore.

 

Faye Daniels

There’s definitely that balance between managing your burnout, and wanting to do everything because you work in this exciting industry.

You’ve touched on feedback and getting feedback from your interviews – I think that can be a really daunting thing, when you start going into interviews, to ask for that feedback when you’ve been rejected from a job. How important do you think it is to do that? Becky and Pippa, have you had any experiences where you’ve used that feedback to drive forward for your next role?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Yeah, I find the feedback so invaluable, and I think because, along with this job role collecting thing that I do, I also go to a lot of interviews, even if I’m happy in a job, and I feel like it’s something that I’m not naturally good at. I’m quite an anxious person, so the idea of going in front of a panel of people I don’t know is quite a big deal. So I’m really open with my boss about that, and he knows, so I’ll often say, “Oh, I’m going to a practice interview.” And he’ll say, “Okay, good luck”. But I just feel, for me, getting that feedback is just really great.

So like, once they were like, “You were really good. And you didn’t seem very nervous, but you talked super quickly, so we could tell that you were nervous. And when you didn’t know something, it was really clear because you started to stumble and you got really uncomfortable.” And even things like that are just saying, “Okay, so next time, I just need to be much slower and calmer, and then I’d be ready for the next one”. But yeah, I feel like you can’t really practise an interview without putting yourself into the awkward position of doing them lots. I do quite often.

 

Faye Daniels

And it sounds like that’s something that can help you build resilience over time, the more and more you’re getting that feedback.

Pippa, have you had any experience with feedback and how have you built your resilience from start to finish in your career?

 

Pippa Perriam

I would like to say I am amazed that Becky goes to so many interviews, because I hate them. I find them so uncomfortable. I’ve actually, only this past week, started to interview some people for a role and it’s funny being on the other side of it for a change. But yeah, I hated that period of unemployment before I started working at LS –  I was going into interviews every week – because when you go for an interview, you have to put yourself into the role. You give a little bit of yourself away every interview and then when it’s a job that you don’t necessarily even want and they don’t want you, it’s just so demoralising. So, usually I would be so salty after an interview, I wouldn’t ask for feedback, which actually, looking back on it now, is just, you know, invaluable. Knowing how you come across is so important. I get a lot of feedback. I work with a great manager who gives me really constructive feedback and actually knowing that feedback is not necessarily a bad thing, and getting good feedback as well as constructive feedback is also important to keeping that balance, because when someone’s doing good work, you want to shout out about them. We have a daily meeting with everyone and if someone from marketing has pulled together a presentation for me, I make sure to give them a shout out because it is such a morale booster. But yeah, once you get more confident in what you’re doing or if you had a reason that you did ‘that thing’ – feedback isn’t isn’t a bad thing, and once you open yourself up to it, and knowing that feedback is coming from a good place, and it’s to make you better in your role, it makes you a better person to move that development on, I think once you understand that, receiving feedback isn’t so scary.

 

Faye Daniels

Definitely. Thank you.

I just wanted to get us into talking about finances. I guess it’s a bit of the elephant in the room sometimes, but I wanted to ask you – what was your first paid position in the creative industries? And if you’re comfortable with talking about how much you got paid in that position, that would be great. Can you talk a little bit about how you felt about that first paid position, in terms of the money side of it?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Yeah, so aside from all of my zero hour contracts, which I don’t really think counts as a permanent situation, my first job at the National Theatre, as a backstage tour guide, was £19,500, which I was really happy with. It was quite tricky to live in London, on that salary, but I loved the job, loved what I was doing and it was my way in, so I really felt that it was important to take that salary that was lower than many of my friends who aren’t part of the creative industries were getting.

Finance is something that I’ve struggled with quite a lot in the lower kind of sections of the jobs that I’ve done. I’ve been at the National Theatre for six and a half years, but I’ve changed jobs in different ways. I went from being a tour guide, and then I was a PA, which is also sort of a similar level. And then I wanted to work in marketing, which meant I had to continue at a similar level at the kind of starter section. In six years, I’ve only managed to gain £4,000, which is not great, however, the new job that I’m going to is a much bigger step.  So I think what people were saying about doing all of those kinds of jobs, and kind of paying your dues, although I haven’t had great salaries, I’ve been really appreciative of them and I really love the jobs that I’m doing. I wouldn’t swap them for the world, and it’s now paying off because I’m taking that step up and that salary will come with it. So that’s been my experience of it.

 

Faye Daniels

Thanks, Becky –  that’s really, really interesting to hear. Thanks for being so open about that. And Heather, how about you?

 

Heather Marks

So my first paid creative role was as a Social Media Coordinator, which was in a recurring freelance type position. I was contracted every month to get £200 for doing 28 hours work. I don’t know if that counts though, because before I’d got that role, I was working as an amanuensis, as a little clerical assistant to an academic, and that was part time. So, I don’t know if that will count – it was still in literature, we’re still dealing with books and writers and that sort of thing, but yeah. It was definitely paying a lot more than this Social Media Coordinator role. So if anyone does want to get a job at university, they pay really well. I was getting paid £15 an hour as a clerical assistant, compared to the £7 an hour as the Social Media Coordinator, so a huge, stark difference. I can’t calculate the difference in pay as well as Becky can because I feel like I’ve done so many different positions, like on a project by project basis, and it really depends – some magazines and some places pay their writers, pay their editors, better than others, relative to the budget they have, so yeah.

 

Faye Daniels

Thanks, Heather, that was really, really interesting to hear.

Pippa, how do you go about discovering what your monetary value is in your role? How do you start to think about that and position yourself?

 

Pippa Perriam

It is really only something that I’ve got comfortable with over the past year or so. So I’ve been working at my company for three years and I started at an entry level role, an entry level salary, and over these years, I’ve done more. I’ve worked above and beyond, slowly getting a pay rise, and then I got to the point where it was time for the promotions location coordinator. I don’t know whether it’s as a woman or being in your mid-20’s, but I am so uncomfortable talking about money, so uncomfortable talking about what I should be earning and also, it’s so hard to compare – where do you compare? Because the good thing about film and TV is there are industry standard rates for freelance people, so you know, if you’re working as a location manager in commercials, you get paid X amount of money per day, and that’s a set of values that everyone kind of really follows. But, you know, I can’t compare my salary to my friend from school who’s working in insurance, or, you know, KPMG on a grad scheme in London, and I think that’s really hard, especially when you’re leaving school, and you’re in this kind of position for so long, seeing the same people every day, doing the same things, and then you leave, and you all start to do different things, start to be interested, go for different jobs, and then you you’re not on a level playing field anymore, and everything’s kind of open, everyone’s doing their own thing.

So there was a time where I was starting out, and I saw my friends who were working in London and working in big high res. offices, and that would not be something that I would ever want to be doing, having to wear heels and a suit everyday, but they were earning a lot more money than I was. You know, I was living at home, working in a creative sector in Edinburgh, and it’s only really been in the past few years that I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s totally okay, you know; you’re not going to earn the same amount of money as your friends. Also being much more open and talking to my friends about what they earn and talking about our money. I started listening to some podcasts, and I follow this great American lady, Her First $100K, and she gives you investment advice. And I’m: “I actually have no idea where to start with all that” and I’m actually at the time where, luckily, because I’m employed full time, I have pension contributions and the company matches that. But I know freelance is a whole other minefield. I’m starting to get to the time where I’m, “Okay, I need to start thinking about my future, I can’t just spend every paycheck every month – I need to start saving”.

So it’s hard coming to terms with that kind of pay disparity, but I think once you’re on a salary you’re happy with and you know you’re getting paid for the work you’re doing – you work in a job because you enjoy it but also because you’re getting paid money, so once that levels out and you’re happy with it, I think you’ll know. Yeah, it’s a constant balancing act, I suppose, of happiness and pay.

 

Faye Daniels

I totally relate to that as well and I think lots of people in the Creative Industry Series do too. There is that disparity but you usually have a much more exciting and interesting job, and I always think of it as ‘you spend so much of your time doing your work, you have got to love it and enjoy it’ and that is a privilege that is not quoted in the pay, especially in your first few years of work, but does come in the end, and there will come a point where you do feel comfortable when you have that disposable income – it just can take a little bit of time to get there.

Johanna has actually asked a brilliant question that I was just about to get to which is: “Do you have any advice for managing taxes while being freelance?”

Heather, have you got any thoughts on this? Have you got any tips and tricks or any brilliant ideas? I know it can be very tricky.

 

Heather Marks

Yeah, sure. So I didn’t actually know that I was not paying taxes. My first year of freelancing, I just got a letter from HMRC that gave me money back from my old retail job, but then it also  listed all that I earned from my first freelancing job and I was, “Oh, okay, cool”. I mean, it’s stupid because obviously, if I’m invoicing someone they’re not going to be sorting out my taxes for me. Finances took me a long time to get better at.

As a freelancer you can do your first year and you don’t have to submit your tax return. You have to do it your second year, but then also as a freelancer, you get a certain amount of earnings that is tax free. Definitely look that up because I nearly got caught out when I did my tax return for the first time. Thankfully, I had a good accountant and they sorted it out because  HMRC did try to say “You were late in submitting your tax return and telling us you were self-employed.” and they wanted to find me, but my accountant was like “You didn’t tell her that she had to do so”. But yeah, essentially, I don’t trust myself to be able to do the tax – to do the self assessment form – and feel confident that I’m filling it in right, so I have got an accountant, and that kind of just takes the pressure off me of having to sort all that out, like come December, January, when it’s suddenly, “Oh, my God, I have to get this thing in. And it’s really important, otherwise HMRC will kill me.” And so they take care of it. And actually with the accountant I’ve got, it’s tiered, so if you own a certain amount, they’ll only charge you an X amount. It’s really helpful for creatives, like loads of creative people here in Bristol use them.

Getting ready to pay your taxes, what I do is I put 20% aside from all of my earnings into an account, a separate account that is just tax – when I have to pay my taxes, that is where the money will come from. It’s just a really good practice to get into as you’re earning, rather than when you have to do your self assessment, and suddenly you’re thinking: “Oh, my God, where are we going to get all this money from?”, you’ve instead actually been putting it aside every month with all of your earnings, so it’s not going to come as a big surprise or shock. And hey, you might actually have to pay less than what you’ve been putting aside!

 

Faye Daniels

Definitely great advice. I’ve just gone freelance on the side of work this year, and I’ve just got a pot in my Monzo account called Taxman and I just put money in there, and I can’t see it, and then I know that, when it comes to self assessment, I’ll be ready to go. But yeah, it can be a bit of a minefield.

There’s a company called Crunch who do a free accountancy service, and they also have some really good plain English guides to going freelance that I read. I read the one about going freelance on the side of a full time job – it’s written in plain English, it’s very easy to understand. I’m not good with finances or complicated documents, so I really recommend that. We also have an online guide, as part of our Self Made series.

As a final question, Leah has asked: “How do I know what kind of training will be best to do?”. I suppose it’s really dependent on what you’re doing and what your skill set is, but are there any kind of general training pieces that you think are just good for anyone to have?

 

Rebecca Jeetoo

Having just done a degree at the Open University,  I know there’s actually loads of free courses that they offer, which I didn’t know about before. Just type into Google ‘free courses Open University’ and they do them in hundreds and hundreds of different topics. We have quite a big learning department at the National Theatre, and some of them are about how to engage young people in the arts and things like that that you maybe wouldn’t necessarily do a long course on, but these are just free things so I think it’s a good idea to have a little look at what’s available there because they do have some finance type ones and, like Heather and I were saying before, it’s always good to have a bit of finance behind you. But yeah, they’ve got loads of different things and I’d really recommend that catalogue of free Open University courses

 

Faye Daniels

Great! Has anyone else got a quick bit of training or anything that you want to suggest?

 

Heather Marks

FutureLearn may be useful, because they have loads of courses. Some of them are in more university-style things like mediaeval literature, but they also have lessons on professional development things like data analysis or healthcare, so I definitely would recommend you check out FutureLearn to see if they’re doing any free courses because I did one on podcasting. So yeah, there’s something for everyone!

 

Faye Daniels

Right. I know I keep plugging it but look at what arts organisations are doing. Lots of arts organisations have a youth programme, Roundhouse has a really brilliant one. I do marketing for it and we’re going on sale with new projects next week for 11 to 25’s, so have a good look. There are lots of different courses where you can kind of skill up in creative opportunities or those business skills as well. BAC, where Becky is going, they’ve got an amazing youth programme as well. Lots of them do so I would say see what’s out there. They’re usually free for under 25’s, so yeah, take advantage of all of those things.

I’m gonna wrap up now because we’re at time but thank you so much to Heather, Becky and Pippa –  you’ve been amazing. I hope that you’ve all got a lot out of it, those who attended, and got some real tips and tricks for that start to your careers. Hopefully, you’re going to be doing some brilliant things in the creative industries in the future. So yeah, thank you for coming and it’s been great to host you all.

 

Transcript editor: Sasha Nelson