The Actors Centre

How I Put My Acting First By Freelancing

14 October 2016

Looking for an alternative to temp work? Here's a thought.

It’s pretty rare these days to come across an actor who is able to pay the bills with acting alone. A Casting Call survey last year found that around 75% of actors earn less than £5,000 a year - and barely 5% make a living wage. So, the vast majority of us have to look for other ways to keep our heads above water. Problem is, we’re often forced to choose between a full time day job - which means limited time off for auditions or gigs - or short term jobs. Working as a temp gives that flexibility, but it’s getting harder and harder to survive in London - where most casting opportunities are - on a temp’s hourly wage.

I’ve been working as a Brand Ambassador for Swedish start-up Universal Avenue, which seems as though it might be the perfect solution. It’s essentially a sales-force on demand, which means I get to work independently, but with training and support provided by an app. Most importantly, it allows me to juggle all the different things I do and still keep my head above water - even in London.

Flexibility isn’t the only plus. Working with Universal Avenue means I can supplement my income in a way that’s more creative than most of the extra jobs you end up doing as a jobbing actor. A lot of actors feel stifled creatively when stuck in a 9-5, but being a Brand Ambassador lets me be entrepreneurial.

Doing sales has also increased my confidence. With acting, it’s sometimes difficult to measure whether you’re doing a good job or not, but with sales you can see tangible progress. You also learn to see rejection from a different perspective. Not getting a part can feel really personal, but in sales, it may be frustrating when a business owner can’t see the benefits I can, but you learn to let ‘no’s’ roll off your back, because otherwise it could affect the next pitch.

There are other similarities too, for example every sales pitch comes with its own script which you need to analyse and prep. Moreover when it comes to doing a needs analysis on a business it's comparable to breaking down a character before taking on a role. Then there’s that sense of anticipation when you arrive for the pitch, but you have to trust in the work you did beforehand and just go with the flow. I’ve learned I can take that same feeling of control into auditions too.

When you qualify as a Brand Ambassador, you’re assigned a coach who helps you channel and polish your skills for sales purposes. It’s great because you don’t feel as though you’re on your own, and the skills you develop are useful in other aspects of life too. As a creative I can be quite scatter-brained, especially as I juggle my time between acting, running my own theatre company and being part of a sketch comedy duo. But now I’ve learned to plan and focus a lot better across all areas in my life, and that focus is definitely reflected in my acting.

Building rapport with a potential customer requires improv and listening skills, so actors are already ahead of the game. Being able to connect to people and improvise has definitely helped me to be successful with my sales so far. Just yesterday in a pitch, I ended up chatting about politics for half an hour with the customer. Being able to level with her and build trust definitely helped me to close the sale. I could never go in as a stone cold sales guy - but I don’t have to, as I’ve got acting skills to fall back on in more ways than one!

It’s more important than ever for actors to find ingenious ways of making ends meet, everyone has their own way of making it through financially, some with more support than others. I used to have to work a whole day then rehearse a whole night just to survive, and a lot of talented actors just can’t keep it up after a while. Flexible, lucrative work with companies like Universal Avenue could be the lifeblood we’ve been looking for.


Matthew Howell - Actor and Brand Ambassador

To check out Matthew's Spotlight click here

To check out Universal Avenue click here