The rise of freelancing within digital PR

Hannah McIntosh

Hannah McIntosh

Digital PR Director

21st July 2022

~ 10 min read


In the midst of the accelerating ‘freelance revolution’, the digital PR industry is the latest trade to catch the freelance bug, and increasing numbers of digital PR specialists across the nation are taking the leap to become self-employed. 

Whilst performance marketing and user experience have been tipped as the most sought-after freelance skills this year, freelance PR search interest is up by 66%, highlighting a rising search appetite for the trade. According to PRCA’s 2022 Agency Barometer Report, there has been a 50% surge in on-demand specialists being employed by UK PR Agencies over the past year and more than one in ten (13%) of agency leaders have stated they use freelancers as a preferred business model - they even describe the level of demand as ‘unprecedented’. 

The digital PR industry provides a natural fit for freelance life and many on-demand earned media specialists offer niche expertise around specific PR skills, from newsjacking and being hot on reactivity within the newscycle, to supporting strong journalist relationships for outreach within a particular press vertical. 

As with several industries under the digital umbrella, the pandemic has sparked a freelance lifestyle awakening for many digital PR experts - and this recent buzz may be the start of a major trend. This is something that’s reflected in our Croudie network, where we’re seeing an increasing number of digital PR practitioners joining to support our digital PR service offering.

To give you a bit of insight into working in digital PR as a freelancer, we picked the brains of experts within our network who’ve embraced becoming just that. So, keep reading to find out their biggest motivators to make the jump, their industry trend predictions and the biggest piece of advice they would give to those considering the switch. Here are our golden tips for navigating freelance PR life, brought to you by our very own Aliyah Loughan, Isa Lavahun, Aneela Ashraf and Iain Ross.

Isa Lavahun, Freelance Digital PR Consultant and Strategist

Isa Lavahun

With over fifteen years’ experience across digital and PR, do you notice a difference in the rise of digital PR freelancing? 

Definitely. The rise has been steady over the years as SEO has become so competitive. As link building gets harder, there’s a bigger demand to use PR and Comms experts who have great relationships with press and online publishers. 

Digital PR freelancers are a great asset to come onboard and hit the ground running, creating and executing link building campaigns. The pandemic has also played a part in freelancer growth, due to lack of job security and burnout. Brands/agencies have also benefited as they can scale up/down their PR campaigns depending on business need, category focus or new product/website launches. 

From freelancing across the past few years, what have been your freelance PR career highlights?

Being a guest speaker at Brighton SEO has definitely been a highlight. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and had on my ‘career bucket list’ (TED Talks, here I come!). It felt great for my talk to be well received as an independent consultant. 

I’d also say that taking the leap to go freelance has been another highlight. I’ve been freelancing on and off over the years but finally made the decision to be self-employed for good last year. It’s scary and somewhat risky but feels like the best career decision I’ve made to-date.

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow digital PR swayed by the freelance life, what would it be?

Do it. You can always go back to permanent work if you don’t like it, but give it a try! I would also say put yourself out there and promote your skill set as much as you can. There’s a demand for all things digital PR these days, so be sure to put your profile and skill set in front of the right people. Also, if you have a website, make sure it’s SEO optimised!

Aliyah Loughlan, Freelance Digital PR Consultant

Aliyah Loughlan

As one year of freelance PR life approaches, what has been the biggest highlight for you since making the move?

When I was agency-side, I hosted lots of training sessions which I loved. Since going freelance I’ve honed in on that even more and started providing various different digital PR offerings, such as one-to-ones, digital PR crash courses, as well as full training days. 

Being able to say that I’ve marketed the service, provided the training, stood as a mentor for multiple different teams, and continued to better my skills throughout it all, is a great achievement and for sure the main highlight. 

I love watching people’s confidence grow when it comes to digital PR. At a time when the media has been so saturated and at times a bit heavy due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, it has reminded me of the fun and creative side of our industry again.   

From working agency-side for four years before making the switch to freelance digital PR, what have been the most positive differences you've experienced?

I really love freelancing because it enables me to fit work around my life. For example, I know that I'm better at ideation in the afternoon, I don’t like meetings on a Friday so now I ensure my diary is clear every week, and I can pick up as much or as little work as I want. I just know that as long as I do the work, and it’s completed to a high standard, that work can fully fit around what I want to do in my life now.

I was quite scared about going freelance and feeling slightly isolated, but the digital PR / marketing community is amazing. There’s such a supportive group of freelancers that are great for a shoulder to lean on, as we’re all in the same boat.  

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow digital PR swayed by the freelance life, what would it be?

I went into freelance life blind to the work that needed to be done. For example, admin, invoicing, tax, business insurance, building a website, and contracts just to name a few… but, I think that worked to my advantage because it enabled me to throw myself into everything and not worry about the long to-do list that followed. 

My main piece of advice would be, don’t be afraid to fail. Going it alone is a scary thing to do and you probably won’t ever feel ‘ready’ to do it. But that’s why freelance is so good, you’re able to learn as you go, as well as do things you never thought you would do - for me, this was hosting the full training days. 

I struggled to narrow it down to one tip, so my other bits of advice would be: 

  1. Know what you want - write down the sort of clients you want to work with, how you want your work-life balance to look, and what you want to get out of freelancing.
  2. Invest in yourself - anything from your laptop and work items to training courses and tools. It’s a long-term investment that will have benefits.
  3. Chat to other freelancers - there are many digital PR freelancers out there who I’m sure are willing to chat with people wanting to dabble in freelance life, so drop them a message for advice. My DMs are always open! 

Aneela Ashrah, Freelance Digital PR Consultant at The Outreachist

Aneela Ashrah

What was your biggest motivator for taking the leap to digital PR freelancing?

For me, I needed the freedom. Even though I was fully remote in my last role, the company wasn’t remote-first. I often felt sidelined even though I was a lead, I felt I had no real steer and because I chose to work remotely I wasn’t getting the input I wanted - not for the lack of trying. 

Also, as a brown woman in the workplace, I never felt like I was taken seriously. I felt like at times I was over performing yet sidelined. This made me feel as though my career was stagnating. Having a wealth of experience that no one was using, alongside years of frustration due to feeling unseen or unheard in the workplace, I finally thought it was time to put myself first. 

Having full flexibility of my life is something no job could ever offer me. Now all that hard work is down to me alone and if things aren’t working out, I only have myself to hold accountable. 

Since making the freelance move, what have been the biggest beneficial differences to you so far?

I have the flexibility to work when I want and how I want. For example, I now have started to go to the gym daily and always go during quiet hours - if I was doing a traditional nine-to-five this wouldn’t be possible in the same way. I’ve become way more productive and get my work done in a cleaner manner without the distractions of being pulled in and out of my work. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow digital PR swayed by the freelance life, what would it be?

Be prepared. I see a lot of stories online of people who’ve made the leap without a plan or savings. I personally think this is impractical. If you genuinely want to go freelance, my advice would be to have at the minimum one month’s outgoings saved. Invoices rarely get paid like a monthly salary and you don’t need the stress of worrying about money. Also, get clued up on tax. This is something all self-employed people should know from the outset. 

Going freelance is something I thought about for two years before making the leap in order to ensure I was equipped with the experience to deal with clients and to be able to do the job solo. It was a great decision for me but not something I took lightly. 

For anyone who has been thinking about going freelance for a long time, it’s genuinely a great time to do it, particularly when it comes to digital PR.

Iain Ross, PR & Content Consultant at Proud PR

Iain Ross

What was your biggest initial challenge when taking the leap into digital PR freelancing this year? 

For many people, the main challenge is along the lines of ‘where will I find clients?’ or ‘how will I do my taxes?’ - and don't get me wrong, these were definitely big worries of mine at first. But, the main challenge for me personally was confidence. 

As a freelancer you really just have to back yourself and have faith that you're an expert in this field and can get it done. You don't have the team around you to hype you up and that's something I always loved about agency life in particular. 

Like so many in our industry I battle major imposter syndrome every day, so it's a daily practice to make sure I'm my own biggest cheerleader at all times. 

With balancing PR freelancing and being a yoga teacher, what advice would you give for work/life balance in the industry? 

Whew - this is a biggie! On one hand, the PR world has come a long way when it comes to work/life balance (I have fond memories of regularly working until 8pm without question in my first couple of years), but on the other there is still so much work to be done. I have lots of thoughts on this but my main piece of advice would be to always remember that you work to live, you don't live to work. 

Human beings aren't designed to spend countless hours hunched over a laptop, so make sure that rest and regular breaks become absolute non-negotiables in your working life. Even machines can't function without downtime, so allowing yourself this time to fully disengage from work will only mean you perform better when you are in work mode. 

Which area of PR are you excited about within the industry currently?

I feel like we're in a bit of a renaissance period for pop-ups right now, which allows brands to have a lot of fun I think. Gymshark barbershop for example is a really clever concept, a great link to the brand and all for a fantastic cause. If you can get this kind of thing right then the opportunity to drive performance across multiple channels is huge - while it's an offline activity that many digital folks may steer away from, there's so much potential for on-site and digital PR activations.

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow digital PR swayed by the freelance life, what would it be?

My flippant advice would be: DO IT!! 

Granted it's not without its challenges and I've had a few mild panics already but I can safely say this is the best ‘job’ I've ever had. 

I would say if it's something you're swaying towards then there's likely a reason for that, so explore it a bit more and see where it takes you. I started quite simply with a list of contacts I thought I might be able to get in touch with, to see how viable the move might be for me. Turns out it felt fairly viable so I made a plan - well, a loose plan - and just went for it. I guess my advice would be that you never know until you go for it. You can plan and plan and plan, but until you take that first step you're never going to know!


If you’re a digital PR expert new to the freelance community and seeking exciting client opportunities across beauty, fashion and travel, take a look at our Croudie network to become a digital PR Croudie and join the world’s first crowd-sourced network of digital experts. 

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