Recently, I completed a milestone in my career: my first real freelance gig. It was for a local production house that I’ve held in high regard for a long time, so it was great (and kind of terrifying) to get the opportunity to do something for them. I have a fellow editor to thank for the gig, as he recommended me. Listen kids: networking works. Networking, mixed with a little luck, good timing, and well, knowing industry people who are kind to you helps a lot too.

The project was a DVD menu for a pretty big client, at least around here. Or at least to me. Since I’m such a complete noob at this side of the industry, I don’t know what I can or can’t say or show, so I’ll just leave it at that. It wasn’t a typical DVD menu (at least not originally), and it was a bit of a challenge to come up with a way to make it work for them. The project became more challenging than I anticipated as ideas bounced around, and I spent way more time on it than I ever thought I would. To say the least, working a day job and on an intensive project put me through the wringer in a way I haven’t been since I graduated from school.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be the perfect little freelancer I wanted to be, simply because I didn’t know what the hell I was getting myself into. I dove in and gave it my very best shot, and here’s what I learned from the experience that I’ll apply not only to future freelancing gigs, but also to permanent jobs:

  • Communication is the big huge gigantic key to success of a project. You know how you spend all that time in school, from kindergarten through college, working on group projects and completing all those lame communication exercises? Turns out the entire world relies on your ability to communicate with it effectively. In freelancing, this means learning how to express yourself concisely to another editor or a client, adjusting jargon or industry terms. It means emailing everyone everything at any given time and creating a virtual paper trail. It means speaking up and making people listen to you when they need to be listening to you, or shutting up when you need to be listening to them. It seems to me that budgets get broken, projects get delayed, or errors happen when communication breaks down. A funny thing to “learn” since I’ve “learned” it forever, but still, an important lesson.
  • Even if you spend way more time learning and reading about a topic than a normal person should, you still won’t know everything about it. At least not as a young, relatively inexperienced editor. You have to acknowledge that you don’t know things to yourself, and commit to getting good at researching the Internet effectively. Or make friends with smart veteran people.
  • Try not to be intimidated. This was really difficult. Wet behind the ears, first freelance gig, a real live production house, clients from a big company – duh, intimidation has taken over. It’s difficult to remember how much of your own time and money you’ve invested into yourself and how much you do actually know when you’re in that environment, but you need to take a step back and remind yourself.
  • If you think something is wrong, go with your instinct to correct it right away. If it ends up not being wrong, oh well. If it IS wrong, you saved yourself some additional work and time.
  • DVD technology pretty much sucks and needs to go away. I never really sat and considered how old school the DVD spec is. Freakin’ yikes. 
  • Do your very best, because it’s all you can do.