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Creating Your Brand : A Guide to Freelancing

Creating Your Brand :
A Guide to Building a Successful Freelance Career
By Tracy Bass
University of Missouri - Kansas City
Dissertation Points Credit
Spring 2019


So you wanna freelance but... where do you even begin? The freelance life can be extremely rewarding, but requires more work than most people realize and is rarely an instant success. You need an attack plan and a promise of commitment to yourself. The obvious issues of location and socioeconomic level will be contributing factors to the outcome, but if you push yourself and be patient, you will be surprised at what is possible.

The Essentials

First and foremost, buy a planner. There are countless studies that have proven you remember more when you write things down. Plus, making lists and marking items off is more satisfying than deleting a note on your phone when you take a look back at what you have accomplished. Find a planner with plenty of space for you to jot things down quickly or make lists as you go. I recommend the Passion Planner. The creator has designed it as a yearly tracker for putting your goals on a timeline and holding yourself accountable to accomplish what needs to get done.
Your second step is to make sure you have a professional email. I use gmail because of all of the other resources they have for storing documents and keeping files in an easy to reach place. Keep the email simple so that it does not confuse anyone who sees or hears it. Use at least part of your name and avoid using numbers if possible. Check this email multiple times a day and respond as quickly as possible to those who need it. My best tip for this is make sure you have five minutes when checking your email and if you can respond to any within that five minutes, go ahead and do it. Save emails that need a longer response for when you have more time and mark them as unread so that you are sure not to forget them. Create a signature for your emails that includes your current title(s) along with links to your website and any social media platforms you feel comfortable with.
Creating an online presence is a necessity these days. I am not by any means suggesting that you need to have a facebook page that anyone and everyone can see, but I am saying people need to be able to google you and find out who you are. Building a website is easier than ever and you can include as little or as much information as you want. A basic bio describing where you are from, where you are now, and where you want to go is a great place to start. From there, you can include information about your teaching or performance experience and finding a way to incorporate several audio/video links can also help gain attention. A simple set up with basic information is key; people are not going to spend a lot of time reading your site so make sure your audience has quick access to the information you are wanting them to have.
The next tool you want to have in your tool box is a business card. Again, keep it simple and just include your name, what you do, and how people can get in touch with you. Keep these cards in your case, every bag you carry, in your car, and in your purse/wallet. Give it to everyone in the music world that you meet. You never know when someone could get offered a gig and they might need you or when someone with your card could run into a parent looking for a teacher for their child. Freelancing is at the base a networking game and to win, you want as many people to know your name as possible.

Make sure you have a resume, CV, and cover letter template at the ready for when a potential employer could need one. Creating these documents should never be done alone. Ask people in your circles if you can take a look at what they are doing with theirs and seek mentors to look at your documents to give you their honest feedback. Remember that planner you are supposed to have? Mark one day each month to sit down and update your resume and CV. Keep your programs and take notes throughout the month so that you do not forget anything that you have been doing. This should just take a few minutes each month and these documents are invaluable when applying for jobs. Another tip is to have a separate versions of these documents depending on who your audience is. Having a separate version geared towards your musician life separate from your work life could be useful.
For your resume, you want to keep it at just one page. This needs to include the most recent and most relevant information for the job you are applying for. There are various ways to choose a layout and decide what information you are going to include, just make sure you are drawing attention to what would be most useful for the position you are applying for. I recommend that you have a separate resume for the types of work you are trying to get, ie: teaching, performing, or other non-music work.
As far as a CV goes, here is where you keep a comprehensive list of everything you have done throughout the course of your professional career. Just like the resume, there are countless ways to create your layout. The best advice I have gotten about creating a CV is from the people who are on hiring committees. Ask them what they are looking for and how you can arrange yours to stick out when they are sorting through their applicant pool. If you can arrange it in categories, ie: orchestra experience, band experience, teaching experience, etc., you can easily rearrange the contents by dragging the most important sections for the job you are applying for to the top of your document.
When creating a cover letter, you want to give a testament to your writing skills and once more, highlight what about you would make you successful for the job you are applying for. This is another document that you want to keep at one single page and you can have different versions for different types of jobs. Create a template that you can easily fill in the information for who you are applying to and what job. I also suggest taking items from the job posting that adding those to your cover letter to display how you can specifically fill the position.
The last essential everyone needs is references. These need to be people who know your capabilities as a performer, teacher, student, worker, etcetera, and have known you for at least half a year. Make sure these individuals know that you are going to use them as references and that you keep in contact with them on a regular basis. I suggest having at least three people on your list and make sure they are in the loop with what you are doing with your life. Ask them for advice on yourresume and CV and from time to time as a way for them to know the most recent you.
There are various ways to make a living as a freelancer so be open to as many possibilities as you can. You may prefer to teach, or maybe you want to spend more time performing, or maybe you have a full time job and are just looking to freelance in the music world on the side. Whatever your situation is, you need to have a plan of attack to get your name to everyone who could need you.


If you want to spend some time performing, there are a few things that you should have at the ready at all times. People who are looking to hire you could ask to hear your playing and you need a set of music that has variety while still showing off the things you do well. You first want several orchestral excerpts that vary from technical to lyrical and highlight as much of the range on the horn that you feel comfortable with. You should also have a solo prepared, just like you would for any orchestral audition. This gives them a sense of your performing on a larger level than just a short excerpt and can make or break their opinion of your playing so make sure it is something you enjoy. I recommend rotating in new excerpts or pieces over time so that your list does not grow stale. Some people could ask for you to pay duets with them so that they can get a sense of how you play with other section members. These could be duets that they have ready for you to read through, but having a couple with you that you are more familiar with can also be useful.
Getting in contact who potential gigs involves research and an open mind. Decide on the region in which you are willing to travel and start looking for what opportunities are available. These can range from orchestras, bands, theaters, etcetera and the best place to start is by getting in contact with personnel managers and contractors. Compose a standard email that introduces yourself and has a short history of your experience and then attach your resume as well. Be sure to ask if they have any availability on their sublist and what the best process to get on that list is. Some places may just hang on to your resume and reach out if they have a need for you, while others could get you in contact with their principal player and have you set up a time to play for them. Another useful way to get your name out there is to join the local musician’s union. This will make your name more visible to people in your area when they are looking for performers.
My best advice for when you are starting to get playing work is to accept everything you possibly can and yes this means even if it does not pay. Do not turn down a gig that does not pay unless you have a conflict or just can not realistically make it happen. You never know who you will meet there (give them your card!) and what opportunities that could lead do. Until you have a plethora of regular paying gigs, you are not too good to be taking work that pays little or nothing. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. It can put a bad taste in the mouth of who you turn down and could lead them not wanting to reach out to you in the future when something better comes along.
Another way to get gigs is to just flat out make them happen. Create chamber groups, put together recitals with other local musicians, perform in public spaces (make sure you have a permit where needed!). Do whatever it takes to get out there and you will be surprised who might see you that is looking to hire musicians for any type of occasion. If you have a free weekend where you are not performing and do not have anything else to do, you are doing a disservice to yourself by not attempting to gain some traction in your area.
The most important factor in being a successful performer is how you behave on the job. Simply put: sit down, shut up, and do your job. You never know what type of environment you are stepping into and your job is to fit in without stepping on anyone’s toes and to be a positive light that people want to have back in their group. Being someone people want to work with could potentially have more of an impact than how you play. Of course, play your best and be 100% prepared for the first rehearsal. Always have a pencil for yourself and have some extras in case anyone needs one. Create some sort of system for yourself to mark the sections of your music where you need to put more work in. I suggest using bright colored tabs you can place at the end of lines. Write on your music as much as you need;think of it idiot proofing.
Finally, be thankful! Follow up with whoever reached out to you and offered you work and just let them know you appreciate it. Again, meet as many people on the job that you can. First impressions do in fact mean a lot so put a smile on your face and do not be afraid to introduce yourself to the people that matter, ie section leaders, personnel managers, and conductors.


Take a second and make a list of the things you can do and be as comprehensive as possible. Can you teach multiple instruments? Can you tutor music theory? Could you teach basic piano skills? How are your marching band skills? List anything and everything in order to make yourself as marketable as possible. You also need to decide what your availability is. Are you available during school hours? Just after school? Weekends? How late are you willing to teach? Be as open as you can be but also make sure there will not be a chance of you double booking yourself and make sure you create some time each week where you can relax and disconnect from your work.
Lastly, you need to make sure you have locations locked down. Some school districts will not allow you to step on their property in order to “make a profit”, meaning you can not teach lessons on school property. Some students may be open to you coming into their home, others would prefer you to find a different location like a music store or perhaps a church. Teaching in your own home could be another option, but you just want to make sure everyone in the environment is comfortable with the situation. Whatever the case may be, just make sure you have a plan to present to your students. Then you will need to decide who you are wanting to teach and how you are going to get their attention. You also need to decide your radius you are willing to reach out to for students. These are personal preferences, but remember that the more open you are, the more likely you will be to get work.
Once these decisions have been made, it is time to reach out. For me, I compiled a spreadsheet of names and email addresses of every band director within the area I was willing to teach. I composed a brief email that outlined my experiences and what I was willing to teach. I listed my prices and offered to come in and give a free masterclass to their students. Your main goal is to get in the door so that everyone can meet you. Getting students, teachers, and even parents excited about taking lessons is not always easy, but meeting you in person and seeing what you have to offer can be a huge help.
Creating a flyer for yourself is another great way to be seen. Attach it in your email to the schools and tell teachers that they can hang it up in the classroom and even forward it to teachers and parents if they want. Make sure the flyer is brief and includes your name, what you do, and how to reach you. Some sort of generic visual aid to make people want to take a second look or help it be easily found is always a good thing.
The biggest mistake I see private teachers make is setting their price too high. Believe me, I think we should all be making $60 an hour but that just is not realistic in most areas and for most families. Set your price low. Ask around and see what other teachers in the area charge. Have a price for half hour and hour and if you find yourself having no luck getting students, lower it. Once you are gaining some traction and are getting the numbers to where you want them, you can slowly raise your price. It truly is a hussle out there and no matter what degrees or experience you have, you will always have to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Be prepared for teachers and parents wanting to know some more information and maybe even some deeper information about your teaching. Having a teaching philosophy in mind is an easy way to describe to people how you approach lessons. You also need to have a contract for the students and their parents to sign that outlines your expectations for lessons. This can include payment plans, how much the student will practice, how often, when, and where lessons will take place, and any other pertinent information that the students and parents need to be held accountable for. You are running a business and you will at times need to give friendly reminders to students and/or parents when they are not holding up their end of the contract.
Your students are going to come to you with varying degrees of knowledge and abilities. It is important to be patient with new students while you get more comfortable with each other and a natural flow of lessons finds its way. From the start, find out why students are taking lessons. Sometimes it is because they really enjoy the horn and want to become better and will potentially continue long term, but others may simply be there because their parents are making them. Make a set of goals with each student based on what they want to achieve and how much work they are willing to put in and come back to these goals and access them with the student from time to time.
Having a selection of music appropriate for all levels is a must and it can take some practice at identifying what students need. I have a tablet with pdf of everything that I assign my students on so that we can look through music together to find appropriate things for them to work on and this can also come in handy for when students forget their own music so that they do not have the excuse of leaving things at home. This can also be useful for sharing recordings with your students or other resources they may want to access later.
Depending on what your students are wanting to do, you need to know what extracurricular activities are available in your area for student musicians. This could be as simple as your local solo and ensemble events and district/region/state bands that they could audition for. It is also worth taking a look to see if there are any local youth orchestras and other ensembles/clinics that your students could participate in. Band directors are a good source for this information, but do not rely on them to know about everything. I recommend also putting together a recital for your studio each year. Get a parent or two involved in the planning this will be an exciting event for everyone involved. Make it optional for your students, but if they are participating in solo and ensemble events, this could also be a great way for them to get more performing practice in if you plan it around the same time.

Common Mistakes

Like I said before, the biggest mistake I see people make is charging too much for lessons. When you are teaching middle and high school students, be reasonable. Think of your parents and what they would have charged for lessons when you were their age. You may end up lucky and live in a place where high lesson rates are the norm, but that is rarely the case. Start low and once you have the numbers you want in your studio, you can slowly raise the price year by year.
Another common mistake I see people make is that they are not willing to travel very far. I put around 40,000 miles a year on my car when I am freelancing full time. It is understandable that you would not want to drive an hour for one student, but talk to the student and see if you can work out something to where you can find a place in the middle or if they could get someone else from school to also want in on lessons to make your drive a little more worth it. If you put some effort into working out a plan, the students will appreciate it and it will get you closer to your goals.
This also goes for driving to gigs. If you want to be doing this and make a living, you are going to need to get on the road. Find out details from the personnel managers about if the ensemble will help cover travel and lodging if needed. Do not make it a demand or expect them to say yes, but if it is not clear up front, if never hurts to ask. Some orchestras provide host housing for their subs or long distance members which is also a nice perk to take advantage of.
Another thing to keep in mind is your taxes. I am not an accountant and am not here to give you tax advice, but I do have a couple of tips to make your tax preparation a little easier. One is to keep track of all of your mileage. There are several apps out there that are great for this, but a keeping track in a notebook also works. If you spend money on your horn or supplies for your students, keep the receipts so that you can potentially write them off. I also suggest that you keep track of everyone who pays you and the amount. Not every gig is going to send you a tax for so make sure you have a running list to provide accurate information on your taxes.
A more controversial issue is whether or not having some sort of full time or part time job to supplement your income is ok and if your gigs should know about this job. There is nothing wrong with needing some work outside gigging/teaching to supplement your income. It is a reality that sometimes you may not be able to make ends meet just on freelancing, especially at first. Unless asked, you do not need to discuss the details or bring it up. There, unfortunately, are people in this world that are making it freelancing full time who will judge you and look down at you for not being able to also make a living freelancing and that is their problem, not yours. Keep your head high and keep fighting the good fight!


All in all, be patient. You may live in an area that is so excited to have you and you could have a studio full of students and more more playing work than you can handle within weeks, but the reality is that that will not happen most places. Do not be embarrassed if you have to explore other means of employment to supplement your income. This is all a game and there are a lot of politics involved so just be smart and treat everyone with respect and be willing to do anything you can. I have not built freelance careers in two very different cities. Both took me about a year and a half in order to be doing it full time.


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