It’s been nine months since I quit my full time job (read what happened HERE) and went freelance as a journalist. Wow, where did that time go?! There’s been three seasons, one house move and one wedding in that time and a whole lot of change. It’s been nine months of ups, downs and making my own rules which has been both liberating and scary!
When I left my job I had no idea how to navigate a freelance career. I knew what I wanted it to look like and what the ideal would be but I was under no illusion that it was going to be a walk in the park. And boy was I right! On paper it’s been pretty fun, I’ve written for publications such as Brides, YOU, Glamour, Tatler, The Sun and Healthy magazine, I’ve done copywriting projects for Every Second Counts, Ebay and Alex & Alexa and been kept busy with some amazing collaborations on here with brands I absolutely love.
But it hasn’t been without its lonely days, tough decisions and FOMO weeks. But, I’m learning that along with people assuming you’re unemployed, that’s the life of a freelancer and this is how I’ve been working it all out…
MAKE 1:1 CONTACTS
Without a doubt the most important part of being freelance is throwing your hat into the ring. It’s definitely best to do this throughout your career and while you’re in full time employment to get a good foundation for going freelance but making contacts is your number one priority. I’d say that 80% of my jobs I have got through great contacts that I’ve made and nurtured over the years (and that doesn’t mean just getting in touch when you want something!).
Whether it’s at networking events, social media or making email friends, touching base with people to see what they’re working on, how they are and how YOU can help THEM is key to those individuals thinking of you when an opportunity comes up. Even better, set up a meeting every now and again so they can put a face to a name and you can build a natural rapport with them. Seriously, it makes ALL the difference.
KNOW YOUR WORTH
This is a really tricky one and so many other freelancers I know are under-charging. It’s a problem. For me, it’s not necessarily about numbers / followers, it’s about what you can bring to the table. OK, experience obviously comes into the mix but take into account the time it will take you to do the job, the effort and the skills you possess to do it well as well as your credentials. Don’t sell yourself short or let self-doubt get in the way of the cold hard facts.
I was really under-charging for the first couple of months because when you start out as freelance you want whatever job comes your way, but after you find your feet, get to know what your peers are charging and how long it takes you to do each project, you can work out a better figure for your time. And the employer will respect you more for it.
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
Anyone who is freelance will tell you that sometimes you have to take the jobs that aren’t the dream but pay the mortgage. Some of the most successful self-employed individuals started (or still do) work a part-time job, have a money-maker on the side or take freelance projects that aren’t exactly ones they want to tweet about. It’s what sometimes has to be done to enable us to be able to go after the things we really love and are passionate about.
It takes months, even years to get your name out there as a freelancer and in the meantime bills need to be paid so don’t be proud or ashamed enough not to do the necessary things to keep the cash flow going.
GET USED TO DIFFERENT HATS
It’s not the same for every freelance career but as a journalist, you have to get used to wearing a lot of different hats. Pitching for different magazines requires an array of ideas and angles for different formats and audiences. It’s tough and takes practice so don’t be disheartened if you feel overwhelmed to begin with – I did too!
There have been so many times when I’ve blanket pitched (sent the same idea to every publication) hoping that one sticks. But the key is to tailor each idea to a specific mag (s), a section of the mag and the person who looks after that page. And don’t be afraid to let some go altogether. What’s perfect for Cosmo isn’t necessarily going to be right for YOU magazine and that’s fine.
SAVE, SAVE, SAVE
Along with number one, this one is key. Getting your first freelance gig is so exciting, and if it’s paid well, drinks on you! But before you blow your first pay check on a round of mojitos for the girls remember that a cut of that needs to be put aside for tax, national insurance, bills, outgoings and a little extra for next month in case it’s quieter.
The thrill and scary part of being freelance is never knowing when your next income is coming. There’s no monthly pay day and some weeks and months are quieter than others. Very quiet. That’s Ok, it happens, it’s an ebb and flow situation depending on the time of year or circumstance and you have to have faith it’ll pick up again but just in case, remember those rainy day savings.
The best bit about being freelance is making your own schedule. You can work your own hours, go out for lunch if you like, never miss a parcel and make a doctors appointment for whenever you like! I love starting my day relaxed – there’s no rushing out the door with a bit of toast in my mouth or stressing about traffic because I’m running late. I can have PJ days and eat lunch in the garden. It’s brilliant. But there are times when your own company can be a little lonely. Especially in winter when we’re all feeling those cold weather blues.
On the weeks when I know I’m not in London, on deadline or have meetings, I try to schedule one thing a day to get out of the house. Whether it’s the gym, a yoga class, going to get a coffee or do the food shop, it’s important to break up the day by being with civilisation!
SCHEDULE YOUR DAY
As tempting as it is to watch SATC on the sofa all day with your laptop on our thighs, I’m a creature of habit and I love a proper working day. It was something that takes some getting used to and in month two of being freelance I hit a wall. I missed the structure of an office and wasn’t sure how to make my own rules. But it’s important for productivity to have some kind of schedule. Every day is different but try to stick to a little bit of a routine to stop procrastination from setting in. With no boss breathing down your neck you have to be your own manager and cheerleader all in one.
I wondered how I’d feel going freelance. Would I regret it? Would it work? Could I make enough money? Don’t get me wrong, with a house renovation and wedding to pay for, there have times where it’s been pretty tough and the pressure to succeed has never been more intense. But looking back over the last nine months, it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. As someone who is super critical about their career, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to achieve.
There are days where I compare myself to others, lust after the careers of my heroes and stare at an empty notepad wondering how to get there, but all in all I don’t think I’m doing too badly. I’ve written for some of the best titles in the country and it’s important to remind yourself of your victories, no matter how small. With no appraisals or manager one on ones, you have to boss those wins and go easy on yourself for the short falls. We’re all making it up as we go…and that’s the fun of it!
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