Fancy working for yourself? Some tips from an award winning freelance

PR Academy alumni, Hil Berg set up her freelance business, Hilary Berg Consulting in 2010. In 2013 she was awarded ‘Outstanding Freelance Practitioner’ in the prestigious CIPR Excellence Awards.  HBC works with communities, public and third sector organisations to inspire positive social change.

I asked her about working as a freelance……

Why did you decide to work for yourself?

In all honesty, since I was a small child I’ve never been all that good at being told what to do. I’ve always thrived in jobs where I’ve had some autonomy and I really love the idea of being my own boss. I like learning new things, so being in control of my own career has meant I’ve been able to create a portfolio of work – paid and voluntary – along with personal development experiences that I can plan myself.

Hilary Berg

Hilary Berg

Was it an easy transition?

I’ve been very lucky to work for some brilliant people. At 21, my first-ever PR boss Nigel Green gave me some fantastic opportunities to prove myself, and is still a friend and mentor 30 years later. I first set up a PR consultancy in 1987 as part of a bigger marketing group, and its MD, Brian Williams not only taught me the value of brand development and strategy, but gave me real freedom to develop the business. My last ‘proper’ boss was Malcom Walker at Iceland, who was fantastic to work for. He’s inspirational, encourages creativity and innovation, and accepts that if you’re going to take calculated risks, not everything will always work perfectly.

I set up HBC after 10 years running Leapfrog PR, which was an ethical consultancy established with my friend and business partner, Jeanette Riley.  Working entirely on my own was very new – and to start with I missed the collaboration and support of a team. But I’ve quickly built a fantastic community of people around me – clients, colleagues and students from my teaching work. Many have become friends and I quickly became used to the discipline of planning and working on my own.

You have continued to develop your skills and knowledge, why have you decided to do this?

As a freelance, it’s critically important to keep up your skills and knowledge in order to give clients the best advice.  I studied for the PR Diploma with the PR Academy in 2009, before becoming a Chartered Practitioner and I loved every moment of it. I’ve always been interested in strategy and the course inspired me to read widely and continue to learn more.  More recently I studied for the Digital Communications Certificate and found it really helpful in keeping abreast of new approaches.

Part of my inspiration to be my own boss was about learning.  As well as PR-related skills, I’ve studied for a teaching qualification, and qualified as an executive business and performance coach.  This has been invaluable in expanding my work into training and mentoring with my client, the School for Social Entrepreneurs.  This year I plan to study for an MSc in PR and Communications with the University of Chester that will expand my knowledge further and enable me to do some original research

What do you like most about being freelance/working for yourself?

Freedom to do what I want, including creating my own business model.   I charge commercial fees to larger clients, and that allows me to commit 20% of my time to voluntary work, and offer affordable fees to community businesses.

I also have a rule that I only work with people I like. So my client relationships are long-lasting and fruitful.  At the moment I’m very lucky to be working with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, where we’ve launched a charity campaign called ‘The Land of Remarkable People’ – and it’s true!

I am a voluntary Trustee of an innovative social care charity, PSS and of Lankelly Chase, a £multi-million independent charitable funder.  As a board member I get to work as part of a team with some really inspirational, brilliant individuals, who are making a difference to people’s lives.

Through my work with the School for Social Entrepreneurs I have worked with over 120 community businesses and never fail to be inspired by the people I see doing amazing things to improve life in their own communities.

Is there anything that you miss about being in permanent employment?

No.  Well, occasionally I fleetingly wish I had an occupational pension or got holiday pay, but I can’t think of a ‘proper’ job that would let me go and work in New York for a week for minimum fees, or go on a study tour to Bangladesh.  Working for myself, I can choose to work where and when I want to, and factor in other experiences.  Speaking personally, I work incredibly hard as a freelance, and that can sometimes mean seven days a week – but that’s really no different to when I was employed by someone else.

You won Outstanding Freelance Practitioner at the CIPR Excellence Awards – how did it feel to win such a prestigious award?

I was very humbled to win, having seen the quality of the individuals shortlisted alongside me. Winning the award has definitely made a difference to the way people view my business, and I think it was a useful process to go through. Putting an entry together means you have to be quite reflective – and the panel interview demands that you have a clear view of your business and where it is going.

What advice would you give to other PR practitioners thinking of taking the leap?

To succeed as a freelance you have to have a clear idea of what you want from your business, and then you have to be rigorous in the way you plan your time and your finances. You also need to be a self-starter, have confidence in your own abilities, keep learning and stay motivated.

And you need a good accountant.

If that sounds like you, then what are you waiting for?!

Contact Hilary or follow her on Twitter….

Twitter @HilBergHBC

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PR Academy is the largest centre for qualifications accredited by the CIPR and has been established since 2007. It offers the full range of CIPR qualifications covering public relations, internal communication, public affairs, digital and crisis communication. All courses can be studied online and some face to face in central London. Join the hundreds of practitioners that get #CIPRQualified every year.

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