Freelancing in Melbourne

Why Iím writing this

After writing about Freelancing in London, it made sense to explore the other side of the coin when I moved back to Melbourne.

About me

Iím a freelance Art Director and Designer. I have a lot of freckles. Read more about me here.

Starting out

Becoming a Sole Trader

If you're going to go it alone you'll be an individual working as a Sole Trader, unless you set up your own company but that's a different kettle of fish altogether. I know nothing about setting up companies and for the purpose of this article, I'll be referring to rules pertaining to a Sole Trader. Becoming a Sole Trader is easy, just apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) as an individual.

Registering for an ABN

You can't work until you have an ABN. If you don't have an ABN you may find it's very difficult to get paid and that's the last thing you want. You can find out how to register for an ABN here. I can't remember the exact details about how to fill out the form, but my understanding is that it's pretty easy to complete. If you get stuck with anything just call the Australian Business Register (ABR) and they'll help you out.

Registering for GST

You must register for GST if both of the following apply to you:

You can choose to register for GST even if your GST turnover is below the registration turnover threshold.

I always charged GST on my work even if I earned below the threshold. The bonus of charging for GST is that your work related expenses can be GST free! This doesn't mean that your purchases are automatically GST free, you have to claim back each time you fill out a BAS form.

Find out more about GST.

TIP: Set up a savings bank account to transfer the GST charged on invoices once you get paid.

Business Activity Statement (BAS)

BAS are a fact of life if you want to freelance. Itís best to get your head around them in order to make your life easier. A BAS is essentially declaring your income and expenses for the period in which you worked. You still have to fill in a BAS if your income is nil for the period. When I started working I found that filling out the BAS monthly was the best way to keep on top of my finances.

Looking for work

What kind of person are you?

Looking for work is a full time job in itself. Some people like to look for work themselves. Some people like others to find work for them. I choose to find work myself.

Recruitment Agencies

Recruitment agencies can work in your favour if you like to have people organise and place you for work. Because I enjoy looking for work myself I find recruitment agencies a hindrance more than anything. Theyíre nosy buggers who like to extract information out of you. Keep your sources close, you donít need to tell them how you know your contacts, or who they are for that matter. A typical technique of a recruitment agent is to bombard you with a list of agencies to send your CV to. This allows them to find out how big your network is.

I could probably talk a lot about Recruitment Agencies and how they work, but itís not really the point of this article.

Who do you want to work for?

I didnít want to work for just anyone, I wanted to work with Melbourneís best agencies and their best people. After returning from the UK in 2005 I had no idea who to approach. I asked myself ďHow do I find out who is doing great work?Ē

This is what I found:

This directory lists many individuals and studios in Australia. It would be handy to sort between studios and individuals. They also have a jobs board.

Industry awards are excellent for finding out whoís doing great work. Visit the following websites to see whoís doing what, where and the people involved.


A yearly subscription to Adnews will not only get you monthly industry gossip, itíll get you access to most agencies in Australia with a point of contact thatís not just a address. $100 well spent.

Your portfolio

In digital if you donít have a portfolio then you probably shouldn't apply for a job.


The name of your URL is important, choose a name that should be memorable. I get a number of referrals from google because people can remember Hairycow before they can remember my name (thanks Mum, Dad).


Designing your own website is possibly one of the most difficult things to do. Write yourself a cracker brief, narrow down your target audience (creative people are impatient, if weíre going to wait for something to load, it better be good) and create something that showcases your work quickly and easily. One-page portfolios are great for this exact purpose.

Credit Your Work

Give credit where credit is due. If you worked on a project for a design or advertising agency you should say so. Specify the role you took on a project, for example you may have worked on the Information Architecture, Strategy, Art Direction, Design and Production to name a few. Itís good practice to ASK before putting work up on your portfolio. In any case, if you want to display work and keep it away from the prying eyes of search engines and web statistics then I suggest you get savvy with robots.txt and using tinyURL to create links.

Feeling nosy? Take a look at my robots.txt.

Applying for a job

Crafting up a well-drafted email takes time, sometimes it doesnít even matter. Sometimes agencies just want to see three examples of your projects and your availability.


I tend to write my emails in a conversational tone, Iím probably a bit too informal for most people but itís my true voice. Unless you swear like a trooper itís not a bad thing to be informal.

What is the project?

When you get a response from an agency, you should endeavour to find out as much about the project before you begin. Sometimes this just isnít possible and you wonít discover exactly what the project is until you arrive in the studio.

Whatís required specifically for the project in mind?

Find out the specific requirements for the project. Quite often I was getting roped into doing production work as opposed to design. Now Iím much better at defining what I will and wonít do. While I have the skills to do production work, itís not the type of work I want to do so now I decline that type of work.

How long do they have in mind for the project?

This allows you to plan your working week around their project. If theyíve booked you in for the full week then less planning you have to do!

Who is in your team?

Itís always good to find out who your working with and their role within the agency. Be nice to them, they know everything.

The interview

Thereís no point being interviewed for a project if itís not suitable for you. This goes for recruitment agencies as well as advertising and design agencies. In the case of dealing directly with a client, youíll need to meet them to determine the requirements of the project.

Find out if a Creative Director will be at the interview, I've always found it very strange when I'm interviewed by non-creatives.

What to wear

Do some research into the culture of an agency to determine what to wear. Itís always appropriate to over-dress than under-dress. Iíve worn a suit about four times in the last eight years for work. Unless youíre on your way to a funeral, donít wear a suit. Youíre a creative, thereís no dress code!

What to bring

Bring. Yourself.

Bring. A laptop.

Bring. Business cards.

How the interviewer sees you

If you get an interview this means that youíre a serious contender for the role. The interview is about personality, approachability, the ability to articulate your work and confidence. It takes time to learn the art of the interview, theyíre all not going to go well but thatís ok.

Negotiating wages

Every project will involve negotiating wages. Itís part of the business, and agencies need to know how much time they can book you in for.

How much are you worth?

To work out how much you should charge, Freelance Switch have a pretty nifty calculator to help you. When I worked in Melbourne, I charged $80-125 per hour for digital design and art direction.

Salary expectation

The amount you charge is dependant on the client you are working with. I generally adjust my rate for small businesses and not for profit organisations.

Your contract

It's in your best interest to have a contract in place before you commence work, even if it's just an email stating an agreed start time and rate.


Formal contracts are rare when working in Advertising as a freelancer. I think I signed two proper contracts during my time in Melbourne. This should change, as contracts are a excellent if a project goes horribly wrong.


Informal contracts via email usually pertain to a commitment made via email. Always make sure you have an email that confirms your details, your rate and your starting date.

Reviewing contracts

If by chance, you get a formal contract take the time to read the entire contract. Don't be pressured into signing anything until you understand everything in your contract. Always question items that you require clarification on.

Accepting a contract

This bit is easy, sign in the correct places and make sure you make a copy for yourself. If it's an email just respond accordingly.

Your first day

First days are awkward, usually you just knuckle in and start working. That's the theory but more than likely no one has really prepared for your arrival so you'll be waiting around for a couple of hours while someone gets everything together.

Your workstation

Don't be surprised when you're squeezed between an old G4 Tower and an iMac, freelancers quite often get treated like these old pieces of ad hoc equipment. Sometimes you're lucky to even get a desk, I'm not sure why freelancers get such a bum deal in regards to desks and equipment, the amount of times I've had to clean my desk before using it is frustrating to say the least.


Unless you're the Creative Director you will get a shit chair, sometimes it's the spare chair that's exceptionally shit. Usually out of gas and has unsightly stains on it. Chances are if you get manage to get a decent chair someone will nick it.

Your immediate colleagues

You'll sit near some people, and those people will most likely will not be working on your project so you won't get to know them. These colleagues might ask you out for lunch but probably not.


There are things you need in order to start a project:

  1. Email Access
  2. Wifi Access
  3. Network Access
  4. Passwords

You'll need to speak to IT in order to get this information. On rare occasions someone has let IT know that you're here and they have everything set up. Don't count on it.

General chaos

Starting at a new agency is chaotic, there are people who are stressed about something. That stress isn't yours, don't worry about it.

Your first brief

Eventually you'll get a brief, it should like something similar to all the other briefs you get. Or is it?

Is it a brief or an email?

A lot of the times I get an email with details of the job in it. This is not a brief. If you get something like this then reject it. It's just lazy and causes problems later on when your work isn't 'getting there'. Getting a brief via email has the following effect on me:

So to recap - AN EMAIL ISN'T A BRIEF.

Is it a Creative Brief or a Production Brief?

Some people can't tell the difference, the ones that do try their luck in getting you to do both. I'm very specific about what my role is and how I fit into a project, don't be coerced into completing work that's outside your field of expertise. Even if it's just to 'help out' when they're stuck, you'll find yourself being pulled into a bottomless pit of work that you don't want to do.

The people who brief you

If you're lucky you'll be briefed by Creative Director, Art Director or Senior Creative. Half the time you'll be briefed by an Accounts person. They're the one managing the client relationship. If you do get briefed in by an Accounts person make sure you find out who the Creative Director, Art Director or Senior Creative is on the project and have a conversation with them before you begin. Always get your work approved by a Creative Director, Art Director or Senior Creative before giving to Accounts for client approval, this is very important.

Do you have everything you need?

Don't suffer in silence. Sing out if you need something, anything. I remember one project I worked on I required paint, brushes and a variety of papers. I got some cash from reception and went out and bought everything I needed.

Workplace culture

I could write a few paragraphs about workplace culture. I'll expand on this later.

Youíre a stranger

Nobody knows who your are, it's liberating isn't it?

Your project in relation to others

Freelancers quite often get 'problem' projects. Of course, you don't know this when you start but quite often these projects are outsourced to freelancers to knuckle down and get it done. That's why we rock.

Attitudes to freelancers

The general perception of freelancers is that we're money sucking leeches. Fulltime staff secretly resent the thousands of dollars you're swimming in compared to their mediocre wages. That's their problem, not yours. Sometimes you can be a threat to others who work in the office, maybe you're going to crack that project that another staff couldn't, who knows?

Agencies are very good at making freelancers seem like outsiders. It's a bit like being at high school all over again. A perfect example is Friday afternoon drinks for everybody except you, I'd bring my own beer to work if I could but it's probably not acceptable.


That wraps up most things around freelancing, if you have any questions or have any other aspects I should cover off let me know.


This article is written and intended to be a guide only. I expect readers to take responsibility into their own actions when looking for freelance work in Melbourne. If any information in this article is incorrect then please email me through the form and I will rectify accordingly. Any thoughts and comments about the article can also be made via the form.

© Alister Coyne - 2011-14


Written 2008