Helen Gimber on Working as a Freelancer
Helen Gimber (LHA, GrE 97-04) has taken on a variety of projects in her career, working in NGO campaigning, design, marketing, social media, and event management, to name but a few. The recurrent themes of her work are “co-creation, empowerment, social justice and sustainability” and she has now taken on issues around sustainable fashion, gender equality and anti-racism.
What are the benefits of working as a freelancer?
Flexibility – being able to choose when and where and how you work. In theory, getting to choose who you work for – that is the first thing that most people mention. I have certainly been lucky to be able to select what projects and organisations I work for. But starting out you often have to say yes to projects that you would rather say no to.
What are the challenges of working as a freelancer? How do you overcome them?
Sometimes having too much work, sometimes not having enough – and finding a balance. I’m still working on overcoming that! But it has meant that I have been able to plan longish trips back to the UK or to visit my sister in Hong Kong – because I choose to work extra hours during the weeks before and after.
What do you do on a typical day-to-day basis?
Before the lockdowns, I would be in a different office each day with, perhaps, one day a week working from home. So, most of the time, I would have a clear cut off from one job to the next – now I’m pretty much always working from home so my schedule is sometimes a bit all over the place. Most of my roles have involved lots of collaborative decision making and planning, so lots of shared online documents and (digital) post-its – and meetings to discuss the things that need to be discussed in detail.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I love being able to put my creativity to good use and (facilitating) telling stories that engage and empower audiences and communities. It’s always great to come up with new ideas for projects/events and see them develop and evolve. I love connecting, collaborating and co-creating with other people and learning while doing.
What have been your proudest achievements of your career so far? / What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
It’s hard to pick only one. One that has a nice beginning, middle and end is a crowdfunding campaign I did with INKOTA-netwerk. We co-created messages and designs for T-Shirts during a weekend workshop and then offered the most popular ones (decided on by a public vote) to crowdfund for labour’ rights training for shoe and leather workers in India. We reached our goal (€10 000) with 24 hours to go! You can find out more here.
But also I feel I have to mention the International Women* Space book launches (three and counting). The first one IN OUR OWN WORDS was the first big project I worked on with them in 2015. The book contains the testimonials of 10 refugee women living in Germany, it was a labour of love and we were overwhelmed by the response at the launch event.
How long do you work on a project for?
It varies and I think it’s very different for ‘normal’ freelancers, many of whom tend to do one of jobs with clear cut boundaries – sometimes just for a couple of days. With the types of projects/organisations that I’ve been involved with, I often end up doing co-ordination as well as production and execution, and one project will flow into the next – but I would say anywhere from one month to a year on one individual project.
Do you work on more than one project at a time?
Oh yes, probably too many at once! I started describing my work situation as a “puzzle of jobs” – when one little puzzle piece falls away, a new one comes along. I’ve been working towards making some of the puzzle pieces bigger and have achieved that in the last six months.
What are you currently working on/what is your next project?
I’m working on a series of DESIGN TALKS with an international audience (LA to Dubai) and simultaneous translation into six languages – it’s the first time I’ve worked with a very big and old (120 years!) company and it’s the first time they have done anything like this, so it’s been an interesting process. I’m also working on planning a press and communication campaign for an embodied arts festival happening in April… which we are hoping won’t have to be 100% digital. I am also trying to find the time to update my own website.
What skills do you need to work in your career?
Openness to trying and learning new things, intercultural communication skills, listening, empathy, emotional intelligence, patience, flexibility, 2nd/3th/4th languages, public speaking, proofreading, copywriting, social media, digital marketing.
What would you say to current pupils or young Old Blues looking to work in the sort of role you’re in?
I would say be patient, persevere and take the detour.
To find out more about the types of issues Helen works around, read the full article on pages 2-3 of The Old Blue Spring 2021