Power to the People: Nina Hendy & The Freelance Collective

By Jake Carson

Professionally trained journalist Nina Hendy found herself at a crossroad.

It was 2009, and was in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis. Times were tough, morale was low and nobody, seemed to have any money.

Newsrooms across the world; already on increasingly unstable ground with the rise of digital news; began to flounder as advertisers and audiences left in droves for digital publications.

Hendy had been working with newspapers and business publishing houses for years. She wrote about business and marketing journalism, so had a keen sense of public relations.

Hendy was also no stranger to the world of freelancing, occasionally penning pieces for outlets on the side during her steady gig.

Then, she got the news she was being let go from her permanent position, but her reaction wasn’t one you’d expect.

“A redundancy was offered, which was greatly accepted,” Hendy says. “I was well ready for life as freelancer, having had a taste of it,”

Hendy left, knowing she’d pursue freelance writing the marketing and business sphere full-time. Within a fortnight, the media and marketing editor of Fairfax Media called her, offering her a weekly gig writing for the media and marketing pages of The Sydney Morning Herald, which also ran in The Age. Other business and marketing publications followed.

“Suddenly, I had the opportunity to meet and entertain the stories for a small bank of editors I had cultivated that I couldn’t pursue when in-house,” she says.

Her business stories led her into the world of entrepreneurs and startups, giving her the opportunity to ponder how that might apply those skills to journalism. Her father, who passed away of stage 4 brain cancer a week before The Freelance Collective launched, was a hugely successful real estate entrepreneur who grew from nothing to a multi-millionaire in the industry he loved; who had helped cultivate Hendy’s sharp business sense. While a failed real estate mogul in her former years, she saw a gap in the freelance market – quality Australian freelancers had nowhere to promote their talents, so set out to build that place.

She was sick of the hassle freelancers have to go through on a daily basis to just land a brief from some publishers, not to mention the exhausting process of pitching work to producers and editors, she chose to cut out the middleman. “So many of the clients valued what we did as freelancers; and yet they continued to work with the middle man. I didn’t see the point, when they could hire the right freelancer for the project directly.”

The Freelance Collective, created and self-funded by Hendy, is an online marketplace of creative Australian freelancers.

The site extends beyond journalists and writers – with 23 categories currently listed on the site (ranging from photographers, editors, copywriters, graphic artists, web developers and software designers).

Profile holders can include recent projects, areas of specialty and links to other social media accounts/portfolios or videos. They can login and update their profile as often as they like, or just list for a month or two, then remove their profile if they happen to be swamped.

The Freelance Collective puts the power back into the hands of freelancer – giving them greater visibility and a support structure in a notoriously self-reliant and lonely industry.

“Freelancers have been giving Australian publications some of their best stories of the year, but it hasn’t always been clear to freelancers what their rights have been. And while publications have been happy to take the story – they’re not always keen to part with that information, or even explore it on behalf of the freelancer,” Hendy says.

For employers, publishers and clients, it’s now easy to track down the perfect freelancer for the project at hand, she says.

“You could be living in Timbuktu and be the right person for a freelance job, so quite purposefully, the site doesn’t list where you live, or how much you charge – which is very much on purpose. It’s about giving potential clients the opportunity to read your story in a profile format, and then to be contacted based on your expertise – which isn’t based on where you might happen to call home. As long as you’re Australian and you’re a quality freelancer – you’re in.”

The decision to forgo a steady newsroom role in favour of self-employment is becoming increasingly attractive to journalists and creatives in Australia, which Hendy says is a result of a shift in attitudes and greater awareness of sustainable freelance work.

The temporary basis in which freelancers are employed makes them an increasingly attractive option for clients who may no longer be able to employ dedicated full-time staff, she says.

Data from consultancy firm Expert360 indicates that by 2020, 40% of the workforce will be employed on a freelance and/or contractual basis.

The launch of The Freelance Collective coincides with 2015 being dubbed “The Year of the Freelancer”, noting the ongoing shift towards specialist workers being hired temporarily.

In addition to the increasing job opportunities for freelancers, Hendy also says the work can also be far more lucrative than in-house pay rates.

“You’re setting your own news agenda, and getting more money for the work you do.”

Estimates show freelancers working on high profile; temporary assignments can potentially make 275% more than full-time employment.

However, Hendy is quick to warn about the realities of freelancing, with the rewards directly relating to how much work a freelancer is willing to put in. “If you work hard and make a name for yourself in your chosen field, you’ll be well rewarded – it’s as simple as that.”

Hendy is adamant that the site will work, saying there’s nowhere for freelancers to promote what they do well – particularly not for $9 a month. It was expensive, but she has bootstrapped the costs to pay for the build of The Freelance Collective. She has had a small team of freelance specialists working with her on the site.

And while Hendy acknowledges there will always be a place in the media for the existing mainstream giants, she believes that independent media and digital start-ups are beginning to carve out their place in the media landscape.

“The internet’s a big place,” she says, “There are so many opportunities, if you know where to look. Right now, the site is about giving freelancers the power back to promote what they do well.”

Hendy has a number of tips for journos and creatives looking to dip their toe into the world of freelancing. “Don’t try and be everything to everyone, ,” she says, noting the common trap freelancers fall into by listing each and every one of their skills, which can be overwhelming or counter-productive. “Be one thing, and be really good at it.”

The Freelance Collective is only in its early days, barely a month old. But Hendy has a big vision for the future – one that’s looking bright and powerful for freelance journalists in Australia.

“We’re giving the power back to the freelancer.”

For more information on The Freelance Collective, click here.