Saira MacLeod is an uber creative freelancer with multiple strings to her bow.
Saira MacLeod is an uber creative freelancer with multiple strings to her bow.
From photographing celebrities such as Anna Wintour and Winnie Harlow, to filming Toyota and Hugo Boss executives, this videographer, photographer and art director has produced powerful content for a wide range of reputable brands.
Having worked on projects across the globe, over the past eight years Saira has established a strong reputation for her original content, relentless work ethic, straightforward approach and for her unique ability to create a compelling narrative.
We sat down with Saira to learn about her ambitious rise from green freelancer to experienced creative and why she’s a big believer in working with other freelancers to bring her creative visions to light.
Going out on her own
Ever heard of the saying “don’t wait for the opportunity, create it”? Well, that’s exactly what Saira did when she decided to leave her former job and go out on her own.
“I decided to go freelance after being fed up of waiting for other people to give me the opportunity to direct my own projects.”
Having spent several years gaining valuable experience in various roles, Saira became frustrated by the lack of full-time art director positions available to creatives like her.
“I had been in the industry for 6 years and wasn’t seeing any full-time positions for an art director role so after a stint in Sydney, I moved back to the UK and took the leap to become a freelancer. “
Going out on her own meant that Saira had to quickly reassess which of her available skills were most in demand by clients. Up until that point, most of her career had been 70% photography, 30% video. However, demand had grown for video content, so Saira decided to double down on further developing her videography and editing skills both on the job and in her own time.
“I spent a lot of time learning on the job, watching video tutorials, looking at other work and really following my gut,” she explained.
After an initial flurry of work, jobs started to die down and Saira soon began struggling financially. Again, she had to pivot. She quickly reassessed the market, identified the services that were most in demand and altered her services accordingly.
“Another change had to happen in my branding, moving further away from photography (which despite the video work, was still my primary career goal) to a holistic, one stop shop approach.”
The change of direction worked.
“My USP now is my ability to bring creative briefs to life using a vast network of various talents. Since this shift, I now find myself busier than ever with a growing business.”
Photographer: Sara MacLeod
Learning from other freelancers
Saira spent the beginning of her career learning key skills from an array of experienced freelancers. This period provided her with a solid knowledge base, which she’s since built on.
“In my early days I learnt a lot working as a photography assistant. This is where I really cut my teeth in the workings of a set. I learnt from art directors how to put a shot together, how to hero a model and what framing says about a scene. From grips and assistants, I learnt what lighting is needed for a desired effect, the logistics of crew and a set, how to properly store your media etc.”
Learning these practical skills from fellow creatives on set also helped Saira develop important soft skills that have really stood to her.
“The teachings from these early days really built a solid foundation that I still use today, which definitely contributes to my confidence on set with new people.”
Photographer: Saira MacLeod
Collaborating with other freelancers to create standout content
While Saira’s vast experience, expertise and knowledge and incredible work ethic are at the core of her success as a freelancer to date, she heaps a lot of praise on the vast network of talented freelancers who she regularly collaborates with in order to create some seriously impressive work.
“In order for me to deliver projects, I need to have talented people in my back pocket.,” she explains.
“I’ve hired sound engineers, sound recordists, animators, retouchers, graphic designers, videographers, photographers, make-up artists, producers, web designers, voice-over artists, actors etc.”
“With these connections, I’ve delivered short docs, corporate videos, social media content, POS material, explainer videos, and various visual projects.”
When asked what she’d say to fellow creatives who are apprehensive about attending a test shoot or a Freelancer Club event with fellow freelancers, Saira’s advice is blunt, but in our opinion, exactly what new freelancers need to hear.
“Do you feel nervous, apprehensive or even scared? Get used to it. Get used to the feeling because it never really goes away and to be honest, it’s not something to be afraid of.”
“In the beginning of my work in videography, I felt physically sick at the thought of doing some jobs. I’d say yes to them and then freak out with my friends about how I just couldn’t do it.”
While she acknowledges that she is someone who does get nervous on occasion, Saira hasn’t let these nerves stand in her way. Instead, she’s embraced them and got on with the work at hand.
“I just chalk it down to naturally being a nervous, anxious person. I make friends with that feeling and then see what I can do.”
Videographer/editor: Sara MacLeod
A Job That Gave Her Confidence
We often learn the most about ourselves and realise our true potential when we’re put in situations where we feel most out of our depth. Saira found herself in such a situation when working as a producer with a Sydney based graphic design studio that specialised in FMCG packaging.
Saira didn’t have experience designing packaging, but nevertheless was tasked with producing a range of POS and new bottles for Unilever’s Dove range - a tall order to say the least!
Long story short, she was solely responsible for sourcing and managing a range of different teams and individuals, all the while doing the job of an art director too, as the individual assigned to the project wasn’t exactly playing a blinder.
“I had to hire a photographer, a casting agency and production as well as working with the existing designs from our in-house team to deliver everything on budget and on time.” Saira recounted.
Fortunately for Saira, the learnings she’d acquired from her freelance work in photography, coupled with a positive collaborative experience she had with the freelance photographer on the project, helped her to get the project successfully over the line.
“Thankfully, my knowledge as a photographer and having worked on sets for so many years gave me a good insight into what was needed on a practical level. I would be on the phone to the photographer who wasn’t getting any direction from the vastly overpaid creative director in our studio, every day, talking about the concepts and how we're going to pull it off.”
The success of the project along with the really positive feedback she got from the photographer she worked with, made Saira realise that she had what it took to go freelance full-time and create content for high profile, international brands like Dove.
“At the end of the shoot, he told me that I had not only produced it, but had art directed it and gave me some great feedback on what I had delivered. It really showed me what I could do and gave me the confidence to go and make it on my own.”
Art directed by Saira MacLeod, shot by Tim Mark Jones.
Top Tips for Landing Jobs
Saira is keen to pass on her experience and learnings to other freelancers. Whether you’ve yet to create a portfolio, you’re looking to freshen up your existing one or you’re just looking for some advice around landing freelance work, we’d recommend that you consider these top tips from Saira.
1.“Only put pieces in front of clients that you are truly proud of.”
Quality, not quantity. Be passionate about the work you put in front of clients. If you want a client to be impressed with your work, you have to be impressed by your work too.
2.“Show customer reviews. Getting reviews from the client when the project has wrapped is super valuable.”
Prospective clients love reviews. Consider asking former clients to write reviews about the work you did for them (handy tip: they can do this directly on your Freelancer Club profile via the ‘Reviews’ tab).
Saira also suggests that freelancers create case studies of previous projects that show what a client wanted, what you delivered and how your work improved their overall business.
“It shows that you can look beyond your creative deliverables and think wider as to what is the overarching goal of the client,” Saira explains.
What if you haven’t had any clients in the area you want to get into?
“Then go looking for businesses or charities that could benefit from your skill, just like a test shoot - you get something and they get something.”
3. Finally, Saira believes that it helps to have a good level of trust established between a freelancer and a client in order to put the freelancer in the best position to land a job.
According to Saira, this trust can be established in a number of ways.
“This comes from referrals, networking events, getting to know people before the job arises. If they know you or you’ve been recommended then you’re more likely to be hired as a human connection has already been made.”
Photographer: Sara MacLeod
Using Freelancer Club to Find Collaborators
While she initially joined the club to try and find more clients, Saira used Freelancer Club as a convenient way to source collaborators for her client projects.
“It’s great to have a method of finding someone fast.”
As she regularly collaborates with other freelancers to bring her creative visions to light, Saira is a big believer in the importance of growing and nurturing one’s freelance network.
“Your network is your net worth!” she says.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Saira is a highly motivated freelancer who has landed some amazing jobs since starting her freelance career.
Through regular collaboration, hard work, strategic networking and an unrelenting hunger to learn, she has established a strong reputation as a dependable and visionary creative.
We’d urge our fellow freelancers to soak in the experiences, learnings and advice that Saira has generously shared in this article.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be landing the big clients next…
You can check out Saira MacLeod’s website and full portfolio here.
Want to create a portfolio for free? You can do so here. Interested in going freelance and collaborating with other freelancers? Check out How to Arrange a Collaboration (Test Shoot).