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Freelancers with Impact: Zara Janjua

As one of the YunoJuno Freelancer Impact Freelancers of the Year finalists - we spoke to Zara Janjua to hear about the work she's doing as a freelancer, and supporting fellow freelancers.

Every year, YunoJuno, the UK's largest freelancer marketplace, hosts its Freelancer Awards, celebrating some of the self-employed individuals who are doing amazing work. 

This year, they've added a Freelance Impact category for people who are going above and beyond to support fellow freelancers. 

Our founder Matthew has also been nominated as a finalist - and he's speaking to each of his fellow finalists, to hear about their work, and why supporting fellow freelancers is so important. You can vote for any of the finalists on the YunoJuno website.

Hey Zara, massive congratulations on being named as a Finalist in this year's YunoJuno awards - tell us a little about yourself?

I describe myself as a Broadcast Multi-Hyphen because I've never really found a term that embodies everything I do. It's really hard to pigeon hole me and that's the way I like it, but I read The Multi Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon and felt this might help to explain my career in a broad sense. I am a journalist, screenwriter, producer, media trainer, filmmaker, comedian, creative, actor, presenter and non-exec on the board of a bank. A squiggly career. 

I became self employed in December 2019, a few months before the pandemic and missed out on all the furlough action my full-time, permanent job would have offered. I had also decided to spent a month working on a humanitarian film project in Nepal, hoping to return in March to some meaty client bookings but instead I returned to lockdown. I had to really hustle to create a new income stream, which is why I launched courses in virtual presenting. I was very lucky because I sold the course to Dyson, who became one of my best clients that year. Phew. 

That's a huge of different facets to your work - you've been nominated for the YunoJuno award for your work supporting freelancers - how did that start for you?

I wanted to go freelance to afford myself the flexibility to mentor and to work on projects that aligned with my values and offered creative and financial freedom. I mentor several young people across the industries I work in. People started getting in touch through clients or on LinkedIn to ask for advice on how to diversify their career, or make a success of presenting or screenwriting. I started offering informal mentorships, which segued into work experience on projects I secured. 

I feel a huge responsibility to pass on my insights because I had a few challenges breaking through and don't see why those should be repeated. The TV industry is crying out for diversity in crew and production teams. When I was producing This Morning on ITV, I quickly became aware of my responsibility to pass on my opportunities and luck. I'm Scottish Pakistani; when I started out I didn't see anyone with my background doing what I do. Increasing visibility is so important in changing that. It's not enough to do it, you have to tell people. 

The biggest reward has been seeing my mentees secure their first paid placements and jobs. I love hearing about their progress and knowing they plan to pass it on. That's how you create community. 

But I also have been focussing on securing projects that allow me to bring in my own teams. I write comedy and was blown away to receive 7 commissions from the BBC and BBC studios to produce sketches. They provide funding and I can recruit my own production and talent. Being able to provide first credits to young people and to extend opportunities to other freelancers is a sweet spot. It's where everything aligns. 

Based on what you're seeing when you're working with freelancers - what are the biggest challenges people are currently facing?

There are some weighty macro factors influencing the landscape right now. Typically during recessions and times of economic hardships, marketing budgets are slashed and TV commissioners tightens their belts. Opportunities to work in some industries have declined and budgets are being squeezed so even when you do secure work, you're asked to reduce your rates. I would always advise offering more value than receiving less in fees, as a side note. 

The pandemic also really impacted students who weren't able to secure experience or their first jobs, which really knocked their confidence. We need to have more transparency over fees and work conditions for freelancers, and we do this by sharing our experiences and having open, honest discussions with our peers. There is a real crisis in confidence for people wanting to become freelancers and not knowing where to start or how to take that leap of faith. 

Why do you think it's important to give back to fellow freelancers?

I felt like an island when I went solo. It's daunting to go it alone. I also heard so much negativity about this career choice and realised that people tend to speak from a place of fear. Tony Robbins once said that the quality of life you have is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with. Turning that fear into excitement really changed the game. I think it's important to listen to the positive forces and learn from experiences. I'd like to offer some of my mistakes as lessons that will hopefully help others to avoid making the same ones I did. I'd rather you made other mistakes and came back and told me about them. 

I see freelancers as colleagues, ones who I don't see everyday or go for Friday drinks with but who are very much part of my team. I work within the ED&I space as a council member for the NatWest Ethnicity Advisory Board. We talk about the impact of policy on stakeholders, customers and communities. I bring that work back to everything else I do and have an acute awareness of my own actions and how they will impact my industry and everyone around it. I am a Scottish Pakistani who was raised as a Muslim and who never fitted in. I wanted to create my own space and found power leaning into my differences. Diverse businesses outperform those that are not, in every way. Freelancing offers people the opportunity to insert themselves into spaces that have been otherwise unrepresentative. 

Well, I'm in awe of all the remarkable work you're doing alongside not only the fellow freelancers in the finalist for the awards, but others doing great work to support freelancers. What other projects have you come across that are doing great things for the self-employed?

I'm a big fan of ScreenSkills. They offer courses and funding for development and kit, with a rolling deadline to apply. Also the BBC writersroom, who gave me my big break in comedy writing. They have lots of opportunities listed on their site and even being on a long list for a competition can boost your career options. The Writers Guild also has a fantastic weekly newsletter with jobs and competitions. For creatives, it's important to have deadlines. 

Congratulations and thanks to Zara.

Check out Zara's profile on LinkedIn here, where you can follow her content and multiple projects. Vote for Zara or any of the finalists here.