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Helping People

‘Can I pick your brains?’

‘I’d really like to speak to you about a project’

‘[insert name – normally of someone I like very much] suggested I get in touch with you’

I’ve been operating as a freelance producer for a few years now. It’s a brilliant job, no two days are the same, I get to work with artists whom I find inspirational, on projects I hope can make a real difference.

I am part of a community who have supported me through some pretty tricky times, taken care of me, looked after me.

I have had tons of free advice, informal mentoring, professional development and much more from the creative community around me. I continue to get this informal and free support all the time.

Yesterday was an example of this. I posted a problem I’m experiencing on Twitter and Facebook, and what I got in return was a wave of support, advice and offers of conversations with people who have experienced similar problems and found ways to overcome them.

So. I’m making a plan to tackle my issue, and the first step is to blog about it here, so I am committing publicly to doing something about it (rather than just having the occasional splurge of moaning on social media!).

The Problem

My problem is this: I fully believe in giving back – in supporting others to get where they need to get, of sharing my experience, expertise and knowledge. I’m not precious about things, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve shared old funding applications, promoter lists, budgets, or had meetings with folk to tell them the best route to making their idea into a reality.

I think it’s important that I do this, I BELIEVE that by supporting the wider community to grow stronger it will in turn strengthen my own practice.

My brilliant Friend Helga Henry (@helgahenry – well worth a follow) quoted this Alan Weiss (@BentleyGTCSpeed) thought to me yesterday:

‘Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others’

Recently I have been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of time I have been spending giving out free advice and support. It has begun to really get in the way of the delivery of the paid work I do, taking up the headspace, using up lots of energy. It came to a head when I realised this week more than half my working time had been taken up dishing out advice for projects that I won’t ever work on or see any kind of income for.

I felt stressed and torn. I like helping people. I like being kind. I find it almost impossible to hear a person tell me their problem with making their project happen and not help them – not give them a ton of thoughts of how they can make it happen. It’s the problem solver in me, the fixer, the producer I guess.

But it is overwhelming. Especially when I can see the project or idea is very far from fruition. I’m not into crushing people’s dreams, it’s not my place to decide who does and doesn’t get to make art, but the amount of lovely people I speak to, whose ideas I just can’t see coming off realistically is also great. Those conversations are very hard.

There’s 2 main tiers of approaches I get:

  • People approaching me to work with them as a producer

  • People who just want general advice

Working with new artists and projects:

I have a bunch of people / projects / organisations I have long term relationships with. This is the mainstay of my work. This is normally where I grow new projects and ideas. These relationships normally come about and grow over years of knowing each other, lots of chatting, seeing each others work and more. I find this is when I’m at my best, when I know the artist / person / organisation well. When I feel comfortable in the context, when I understand clearly the skills of those around me, and therefore as producer, the gaps I need to fill.

It is very rare (almost unheard of really) that I take on a project with someone I don’t know / haven’t seen the work of / haven’t built this deeper relationship with.

However it is almost weekly I am approached by people to work with them. I also want to highlight I think this is a really important door to keep open. I NEED to talk to new people, to grow the circle I work with, to expand my collaborators. Having conversations with new people is important.

BUT sometimes it feel like they’re proposing to me, when I feel like I’ve not even agreed to a first date (props to Emily Coleman for the analogy of producing = relationships in her wonderful SOUP blog a while back – check them out – they’re fantastic women).

Invariably these conversations wind up with me dishing out loads of free advice. I end up compensating for turning down the proposal by offering to support them through their funding process / brokering them into organisations / giving them examples of previous successful similar things and so on.

Then when they are writing the bids there will be a flurry of emails, can I look at this? How would I deal with that? What do I think about the other?

Then when they’re in the doing stage, more similar questions.

By the end of it I feel sort of like I’ve worked on the project anyway – all be it at arms-length.

I’m saying it again: I like helping people. I don’t resent this, it just feels like it’s becoming unviable for me.

General Advise Giving

This is often people who may still hope I might be able to work with them, but realise I probably can’t – but they still want to pick my brain, get some advice. Access the brain full of my learning over the last 15 years. Some of this advice can and is offered by cultural institutions, which is great. However, sometimes cultural organisations simply don’t have the perspective these individuals are coming from (it’s a blustery world out here in the non-salaried freelance environment). Organisations with all the good will in the world just aren’t going to be able to offer the same view.

In addition, I think it’s fair to say I’m pretty approachable. I’ve got a big mouth, a friendly attitude and I reckon I’m probably a bit less scary to go to with a problem than a big organisation that you’re hoping to work with / be programmed by / impress generally.

Again: I like helping people. I want to support new work and new artists. I’m bad at saying no.


The response to my social media whining has felt fruitful. A number of people have stepped up to the plate straight away to offer support and chats, and this has given me the confidence, believe and fire in my belly to do something to address it, hopefully potentially making it better for all in the long run.

Between now and D+D (get to that by the way folks – link here) in January at the REP I am going to gather as many testimonials / stories / experiences / advise from those older and wiser than me as I can.

I’m going to blog about those conversations (with permission and approval of posts before setting them live) of those I speak to.

Then I’m going to convene a session at D+D and see who is with me, and what we might do. Perhaps some kind of monthly advice-bank with online resource, perhaps something else entirely. I’ll see what these conversations throw up and who might be interested in getting involved.

Next Steps

If you’re a person who has tackled these types of issues in the past and you’d be up for a quick chat about how you dealt with them please drop me a line – I’d love to speak to you.

If you’re a person who is experiencing these kind of problems and you’re looking for solutions too, come to D+D in January, come to my session and let’s do it!

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