Happy National Freelancers Day to my fellow freelancers and anyone who dreams of a different life, To celebrate, I'm sharing some experiences from my first 16 months of going alone. First off, it’s not all lie-ins and long lunches. In fact it barely is at all. But I do spend quite a lot of time in my pyjamas.
After many years in an office, the freedom is amazing. Granted, I now spend most of my time in my living room office. But I can go elsewhere if I want to. Indeed, I could be anywhere I can get an internet connection, and sometimes, I am. I can (theoretically) work with whoever I want. As long as they want to work with me.
But this amazing freedom is balanced by a total lack of uncertainty - where’s the next big job coming from? Where’s the next paycheck coming from? Where should I look for work? Where should I advertise? What should I say?
So what have I learned? I knew quite a lot about being freelance before I started, so I thought, having commissioned freelancers for years. I knew there’d be ups and downs. I expected it to be a lot of work. I thought I’d love working for myself and for a variety of clients and causes, and I do. I knew I’d need a thick skin to deal with the rejection. I expected to often be paid late, and I am. But there are things I didn’t expect too.
Most work comes from people I know. That’s brilliant, being approached by someone I’ve worked with before or on a recommendation is a fantastic feeling. On the flip side I can't say I've completely sussed how to find work with people and organisations I don’t yet know, so far at least.
You can’t please them all. Clients aren’t all the same. When it works, it works really well and everyone’s happy. But it doesn’t always work. Some work and ways of working just doesn’t suit my style and skill set. It’s okay. You can’t win ‘em all.
I’m learning. I’m a better editor than when I started. I pick up tips from different projects that I can apply elsewhere. I read more than I ever have, while I’m editing and about my sectors when I’m not working (which is considerably more often than it ever was). I often have time to study and am refreshing old skills and learning new ones in things I love.
Tax is not that taxing. The overwhelming advice is to use an accountant to submit your tax return. But for me it wasn’t that complicated and I did it myself. Perhaps it seems more complicated than it is and that puts people off. I would say to give it a go.
Roll with it. Sometimes I work for 10 days in a row. Sometimes I barely work for a week. I can get more work, in the end, if I’m able to be flexible. Of course not everyone can be and there must be plenty of well-established freelancers who don’t need to be. But at the moment I do and that’s fine. The biggest lesson is learning to roll with it and not stress when I don’t have work and, just occasionally, to enjoy my time off too.
I must invent my way. From what I've seen so far, there’s no one way that works for everyone. Some things might work for some people and not others. Everyone has different ideas and advice. It's up to me to find my way. If one thing doesn’t work, I can try another. It’s a big old creative challenge.
There are also plenty of things that I haven’t learned yet. How can I find those clients who really need me? How can I use my varied skills instead of just the obvious ones? When should I speak up if I think a client really does need advice (they haven’t asked for)? Where should I advertise? How can I break into working for a new type of client? The list goes on. Any advice from fellow freelancers, commissioners or impartial bystanders gratefully received.
And to finish, here are some of the things I’m proud to have worked on in my first 16 months as a freelancer. This batch celebrates clients/causes completely new to me; they certainly make the uncertainty worth it.