Freelancing in Bristol

Bristol - a great home for Freelancers

In order to launch our new freelancer marketplace (, we scoured the country to find the best spot to be a freelancer – looking for features like culture, number of freelancers, price, support services. After an extensive search, we chose Bristol – the place that many of those freelancers we spoke to felt was the UK’s best place to work (and the UK’s ‘City of the Future‘).

Freelancing and consulting is an increasingly attractive option, whilst economic woes and high unemployment batter the headlines. Bristol continues to be a fantastic place for people who’ve chosen an alternative path to full-time work.

Here are some of the reasons why Bristol continues to be the city of choice

There are a number of fantastic collectives for independents, including, but not exclusively:

- Coexist (Hamilton House), a creative, somewhat ramshackle yet charming Montpellier-based hub, comprising office spaces, workshops, it’s lively ‘Canteen’ - - @coexistcic @inthecanteen

- Pervasive Media Studio, a collaboration between the Watershed and local Univesities

- Spike Island, incorporating artists studios, workspaces and cool names - @_spikeisland.

- The Tobacco Factory -

- The Mild Bunch - - @mildbunch

There are great workspaces, including the above collectives:

- Check out, which covers a number of the above as well as other lovely places to work

Local support services:

- Connect Bristol -, @ConnectBristol,

- Business Navigator -

- Low Carbon South West -

- Bristol Media -

Bristol and Bath is home to a number of successful businesses

- SW Top 100 – there’s a rich media and creative scene, for example -

More and more freelancers are able to work remotely, with better online marketplaces:

- Sites like - are all enabling freelancers to win work remotely and, where price is an issue, the living costs in Bristol mean that freelancers can be more competitive than in London, or other parts of the UK. Yet a mere hour and forty minutes on the train from London and an hour twenty from Birmingham, Bristol is still within (albeit a tiring) commuting reach of our biggest cities.

Finally, freelancers like to be free. With Cornwall, Devon and Wales close by, freelancers enjoy the freedom on Bristol’s doorstep.

We’d love to know other reasons why you think Bristol is, or isn’t the spot for freelancers as the spring springs.


Bristol Freelancer Interview – Aaron Geis

Over the coming months, years even… we’ll try to feature some of our finest users.

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce Aaron Geis, a photographer from Portland, Oregon who’s recently made his home in the southwest.

Aaron is a freelance photographer, taking wonderful shots (some of which we’ll use in this post).

A young English lad in Thailand playing the didgeridoo

How long have you been freelancing?

I transitioned to full time freelancing at the beginning of 1995. I kind of fell into it after working at a professional photographic supplier and doing photo jobs on the side.

You recently moved from the US, has it been hard getting work here?

I really just started my marketing efforts but so far I have found Bristol to be a very welcoming market. I’m getting some work but still focusing on connecting with the advertising agencies based in the area.

Where’s your favourite desk?

Ah, good question. My favorite desk is a 1950′s Steelcase, the kind that was designed to double as a shelter in the event of nuclear attack and it is in a shipping container somewhere in the Atlantic.

One man's transport is another man's desk

We’re trying to make it easier to find and administer work? Do you find this challenging? 

Marketing is the bane of my existence. I didn’t study it at University and I’m not a natural salesman. When I meet freelancers who are just getting started I often caution them against working exclusively for one client. When I did that I found that my marketing efforts dropped to zero and when the work dried up with the one client I was left high and dry.

If you could wave a magic wand and build something to help you do your work, what would it be?

A list of art directors and art buyers who are looking for a new photographer to work with on their ambitiously creative project.

[3Desk - roger that...]

Commercial shots that still look smashing... Aaron's your man

Tell us about life as a freelancer:

One of the most challenging things about being a freelance photographer is pricing.

I use the method approved by the ASMP and AOP (American and British photographers organizations) which is – creative fee + licensing fee + production costs.

The trick is to take all of the factors into account; running costs, taxes, insurance, pension, holidays, etc.

All of the things that a full-time employee takes for granted I have to work into my billings. The problem is that the client is then tempted to take my ‘day rate’ and multiply it by 200 and compare it to their base salary.

They do that and then say to me you’d be making ‘X’ times my salary if I paid you that much.

Even though freelancing presents some challenges I wouldn’t give up the freedom to make my own decisions about how to run my business. I love having the flexibility to put the priority on creativity rather than on fast track to maximum profit.

[3Desk - agreed Aaron. Check out - Why we started 3Desk]

Check out more of Aaron’s work here

Thanks, great views (sorry)

If you’re a freelancer and would like to tell your story, please email hello at 3desk.

Two Freelancing Friends

This is a story of two friends who freelance that helped shape 3Desk.

Both work in ‘international development’. One has worked in Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, the DRC and Chad (amongst others) with many of the larger UN agencies and smaller NGOs. The other is based in the UK but has worked for a number of the bigger charities as a press and media expert, both nationally and internationally.

They both describe themselves as consultants primarily, but also sometimes freelancers or contractors.

The first, O, currently lives in Sri Lanka, but is regularly flown across the world to deliver projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. I asked her why all this money was spent flying her around the globe – was it because she was the only person that could do the job?

She told me that there were plenty of people with similar skills, but the managers of those projects had worked with her before, plus it was hard and time-consuming to find people, so she was often called upon, regardless of where she was. She said there may well have been lots of people locally who could have delivered the work, without having to spend thousands of dollars on flights. Yet the project managers tended to rely on their personal networks because it was easier and time consuming to look for others.

She’d rather work locally in Sri Lanka, but has to follow the work. Plus, it wasn’t their money, so hey.

But it’s our taxpayers money – and every dollar spent unnecessarily is a dollar that could have spent on another vaccine, refugee camp shelter, or rehydration salts. That’s just inefficient.

How often does this happen? Surely a more liquid marketplace would save money and enable those in the field to choose the best work locally? It was one of the many stories I heard which helped shape 3Desk.

The other, A, with a shiny top first from Oxford, works for a number of clients and has those who know her falling over themselves to give her work. However, given their limited number, she often has to take time out to ensure that she has new contracts coming in. In January of this year, she found herself without any work for a month because she hadn’t the time to do enough business development. If other employers had known about her, there’s no doubt she would have found work quickly, but there was no ‘place to go’, where she could let people know she was available. Her network is limited by who she can reach out to and recruiters and job boards meant an investment of significant time and money.

Both examples are indicative of the problem with hiring freelancers. Plus freelancers often have to charge inflated daily rates in order to cover their ‘business development’ and administrative time – the incumbent insecurity is factored into their charges.

If the UN could find the best possible people quickly at the best price, they would save millions of dollars and improve their projects.

The market is illiquid. There may be a freelancer in the same street as an employer looking, but if neither party is able to find the other, they’d never know.

Huge amounts of time, money and talent is wasted, every day – when many others are unemployed. Our dream is that by making the talent market more liquid and efficient we can help people find better work and organizations better people, more cheaply.

Watch this space.

A Taxi Brousse in Madagasar - taken on a conservation mission by a consulting friend of 3Desk's

Why 3Desk?

It’s rather strange that in the interconnected, multicultural, permeable world in which we live most people have a job with a single company and most companies employ permanent staff.

Work is often undertaken in a single location, with a fixed team that is chosen by others. People earn a salary that changes only yearly and incrementally. It often only vaguely matches the contribution of that individual, if at all. Corporate ‘culture’ is mostly dictated, projects pre-determined, holidays limited to legal minimums and rules and regulations created to ensure managers can manage.

This is the modern slavery.

Employees work for a single company, with all of its quirks and features. People will spend years locked into offices, for the majority of their waking lives.  There is too often a disconnect between someone’s desires and dreams, and what they are forced to accept.

Savvy investors would never invest all their savings in one stock and yet we do that with our working lives – investing in one job at a time.

People are either in, or they’re out. Employed or unemployed.

At least that’s how it’s been and is… mostly.

Owing to recession, technological advances and mobility, things are changing. A recent article stated that over 50% of the US workforce will be freelancing, temporary or contingent workers within 10 years.

We think that is really, really exciting.

The employment landscape is shifting. Online freelance marketplaces, like Elance and Odesk, enable more and more people to work remotely, to choose their projects.

However, the majority of people who want work ‘face-to-face’ or ‘in-person’ across the globe – on building sites, oil-rigs or on movie sets… from those working for the UN in refugee camps to those providing primary care. These platforms don’t cater for working in person.

Closer to home you’ll find drivers, caterers and healthcare workers working in part-time roles. Even in offices, there are graphic designers, architects, engineers, marketeers, project managers and many more who for a multitude of reasons don’t have ‘full-time’ jobs.

Huge swathes of the population in almost every country in the world remain unemployed against their wishes.

At 3Desk, we believe that the future of work will be freer and more flexible. People will be ‘agents’ rather than employees. We want people to have more choice. The unemployed should be able to find small pieces of work that means they can get back to work.

Imagine a liquid market for talent, in which someone knows their value. A market in which people choose who they work for, when they work and for how much.

Our dream is that in 20 years, the majority of the Harvard MBA graduation class will choose to freelance because of the advantages it brings – working with people they like, choosing their own projects, setting their own terms or choosing a 3-day week to spend time with their kids.

Sure, there are benefits to working full-time. A salary and the ‘safety net’ that a company provides Teamwork and collecting people together around a singular goal. We’re not extolling the removal of organizations, but instead making them more porous and flexible so they can achieve more.

Imagine employers being able to choose the talent they need as and when they need it. Instead of bringing in a big consulting firm to work on a problem, what if they were able to select the best 12 people in the market instead? Imagine paying solely for their skills, without having to cough up for the company’s marble atriums, secretaries and employment structures.

Imagine if the unemployed could find pieces of work in their neighbourhoods, to help bring in small pieces of income and charities could achieve more by bringing in experts who are able to set aside 20% of their working days for causes they believe in, regardless of the pay.

Although a long way off, that’s why we started 3Desk - because we believe that both employers and employees want more security AND more flexibility – and it is only possible by creating a liquid temporary marketplace, where people understand their true value, that they are able to work the way they want to, with the people they want to.

It’s early days, but in time we’d love to try to help people feel that freelancing had all of the benefits of a full-time job, with less of the negatives.

If you like this vision and want to know more register with us and more importantly, tell your friends.

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for  - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car and the house you leave vacant each day so that you can afford to live in it” – Ellen Goodman