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How to balance personal and commercial projects as a creative freelancer 

In one of yesterday’s blogs on photographer Jack Bridgeland, we recognised Bridgeland’s need to express the importance of personal projects. It was through a personal project – one that no client understood or wanted to take on – that Bridgeland got his big break. In sharing a well thought out personal project on social media, Bridgeland caught the eye of Robert Pattinson and that recently iconic GQ cover was born. 

What we learn from this story is that, yes, commercial jobs do pay the bills but they often (though not always) are at the expense of the abstract. If you’re a songwriter, a basic beat on a rum ad could make you £15,000 expanded over one year from just one job but it’s the meaningful, personal song that you share on TikTok which could be your big break. 

Finding the balance between creatively fulfilling projects and more commercial work that pays the bills is something that people will no doubt be thinking about more deeply in the wake of the Great Resignation and the ongoing threats of stagflation and recession that loom over the UK economy. So how can creatives actually achieve that delicate balancing act? 

The truth is, the balance wavers. There are some moments where you find that in one month you can take on two or three well paid commercial jobs and still complete a personal project on the weekends. Other months however, your mental health may be fragile and you find you only have the energy the balance one or two commercial jobs and just focus on paying the rent that month. And that’s okay!

Inspiration is also crucial. Working commercial jobs tend to – but not always – be powered by PR agencies that won’t always want or understand your vision. For example, if you’re a photographer doing a job for ASOS, they’re not going to care about your idea for a Nouvelle Vague French 60s inspired shoot. They just need a close up of a bracelet in front of white wall that will sell said bracelet.

Furthermore, no man is an island. Where am I heading with this? I mean that remember the privilege of our job is that we are monetising our hobby so collaboration isn’t only key but also fun! It’s so necessary when it comes to fueling independent projects. Go out to gigs, exhibitions and meet people, create a scene where you always have collaborations (makeup artists, videographers, marketers even) at hand. Because, as mentioned, this sense of community won’t come from the highly paid and well produced commercial jobs. 

Furthermore, working and going out with other creative freelancers will enable you to have first hand conversations with others in this exact same situation. Preferably those more established who can advise you on how they personal and commercial projects. They may even ask you to assist on their own personal projects which will inspire your own. 

Activity is really the key when it comes to producing great work. You can also dedicate a portion of the money you make off commercial projects – say 10% – to invest in your personal projects which will make your portfolio all the more impressive and lead to exciting commercial jobs (bringing us full circle back to Bridgeland’s GQ cover gig). 

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