Kees Posthumus has been working as a freelancer for more than 16 years. He is a print journalist, makes theatre and is a moderator at congresses and conferences. The three different domains all have a common focus: faith and the church. He reports on developments within the church community in The Netherlands and is editor-in-chief of a church magazine. He has his own business called Kees Vertelt, where he pulls all his work together under one roof. 21bis reporter Nora van der Schoor talked to him bout being a freelancer in the creative work field.
These are the five keys to being a creative freelancer according to him.
‘Focus is very important. There are sports journalists, science journalists… I call myself a church journalist. The biggest advantage of having a strong focus is that you can build a network on that focus. If you build five different networks around five different topics, it’s way more work, effort and time. But building a network around one focus area will make it easier. Now, I have a big network and I know exactly who to call when I want to make a piece about a certain topic within my focus.’
2. Know your audience
‘Knowing your audience within your area of focus is essential. From my personal office I can see the roof of the church. Every time I write an article or a theatre piece, I look at the roof and remember: “I’m writing for the people under that roof right there.”
Also know what lives amongst your audience. As a creative freelancer, you should capitalise on what you know is happening in the community. For example: it was the jubilee year of Calvin and many church communities wanted to do something with that. But a standard lecture is quite boring. So, I was asked to make a play about Calvin. (Johannes Calvin, (1509 – 1564), was a French-Swiss Christian theologian during the Reformation, after whom a Protestant Christian movement, Calvinism, is named, editor’s note.) The show went through the roof. We had 110 performances that year! Then, I thought: “Wait a minute, next year is the jubilee year of Arminius. (a Germanic commander who defeated the Romans (ca. 18 BC – ca. 19 AD), editor’s note.) And the year after that, of Menno Simons!” (Frisian Roman Catholic priest and church reformer (ca. 1496 – 1561), editor’s note.) So, the next two years I made performances about those two church heroes as well. By then, most churches could easily call and hire me.
So, when you sense something is living amongst your audience and there seems to be a market for what you have to offer, jump on that moving train! It’s easier than coming up with a topic on your own. If you already know what is going on and what the demand is, respond immediately.’
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3. Follow your heart and your passions
‘My focus is on everything that has to do with the church and theology. Besides that, I guide conferences about healthcare or for Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (Dutch scientific institute, conducts social scientific research on socio-economic topics and reports on this to the government, editor’s note). All topics that are very close to my heart. Within that focus there are countless subjects you can bring to people’s attention. It also helps to stay curious, stay inspired and find joy in your work, even after so many years.’
4. Connect to other humans
‘The idea that you work mostly on your own as a freelancer is false. Human connection is vital. I get most of my inspiration and motivation for my work from connection with other people. Everyone I interview is very important and interesting. I always learn a lot and I let myself be inspired by my interviewees. Maybe they broaden my knowledge or give me new perspectives. These meetings are always valuable and make me very excited about my job.
That’s why I love the combination of theatre and writing. As a journalist you don’t have direct contact and feedback. As an actor, you do. I would advise all creative freelancers to find a way to really connect to your audience and meet them in real life.
As a freelancer, you must be careful you don’t become too much of a one-man-band. Invest in durable relationships with colleague freelancers, rather than fleeting connections. There are fellow freelancers I’ve known for 25 years. I have frequent meet ups with them. When we need each other for work purposes, it’s much easier to contact them. Also, in theatre, working together with a musician and a director gives me lots of inspiration!’
5. Learn different skills
‘Be versatile. Nowadays, print journalists must be able to take good pictures. Back in the day that wasn’t a requirement. I can’t take pictures, so I hire others to do that. But it’s more convenient if you can do it yourself.
Additionally, you never know what will happen in a certain work field. Sometimes the market collapses. It’s good not to be dependent on just one area. During the corona pandemic, theatre was not possible. But I still survived because of my writing work.’
Tekst: Nora van der Schoor
Photo: © Kees Posthumus