Back in June 2011, I shared some big news – I’d quit my job and had decided to go freelance. Seven months later, my freelance business is going well, and I often get asked about my work and, well, how it works.
Today I posted about a copywriter job on Twitter, which led to a few discussions about getting into freelancing and the best way to do it. After seven months I don’t think I’m an expert on the subject. But when I first started out I found it really helpful to hear others’ perspectives and experiences, so thought I’d share my own.
So You Want To Be A Freelancer?
The question I’m asked most is ‘how did you do it?’. And my answer is really simple – I quit my job. Taking that first step was the hardest, scariest, most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done in my career – I wasn’t forced into it through redundancy, it wasn’t a necessary move, and I left a full time, well paid role behind. But all that turned out to be an excellent driving force – I had to make it work, or live with the knowledge I gave up a secure job to bum about watching CSI: NY reruns all day (which does still happen, sometimes).
With that drive behind me, I pulled in every contact I could think of. After working in a range of advertising agencies I had a fair few entries in my little black book and I’d remained on good terms with them all. That’s another thing about freelancing – you can’t burn bridges, ever. In an industry like marketing, everyone knows everyone and word will soon spread. When it comes to social networks, I have a strict ‘don’t talk about work’ rule – unless it’s something positive, I just don’t say it. And maintaining those strong relationships meant work was soon coming in.
For the first few months, I had no idea what I was doing. I swung between sitting rigidly at my desk from 9-5.30pm to taking three hour lunch breaks and coming home laden with bags to working ’til 1am, hunched over my laptop. Managing my own time has been the most difficult part of freelancing – there’s no one to tell you work starts at 9am, no one to stop you spending all day on Twitter, and no one to tell you to go home when you’re still working at 10pm. I’m slowly adjusting now though – I’ve realised I can go swimming in the morning and start work afterwards, or take a day off in the week to see a friend. The beauty of freelance is in creating your own schedule and not having to adhere to a traditional working week.
I love my work and enjoy being my own boss (no one can tell me a leather skirt isn’t ‘appropriate office attire’), but freelancing is hard. I’ve seen it described as ‘feast or famine’ – some months I’m up to my eyeballs in Word documents, and others I’m twiddling my thumbs (well, not quite). Saving for and paying your own tax is hideous. Working from home is lonely (although Twitter helps, and I’d thoroughly recommend a cat). After five years of working in close-knit creative teams, I miss having people to sense-check my ideas. But it’s all a learning process, and every day it gets a little bit easier.
The other thing people often say to me is ‘I really want to do it, but I’m too scared’. Most days I operate in a state of managed terror – I check my accounts constantly, calculating and recalculating my figures to make sure I’m earning enough. Every conversation is an opportunity for work, and I take the chameleon approach – not every offer is the perfect match for my skills, a well-known brand or a big payer but if I can help, I will.
Going freelance hasn’t been simple. I still hate Excel and I miss wearing shoes every day (slippers are a freelancer’s best friends). It was a bold decision, but one I don’t regret and one I hope will continue to work out for me. For anyone thinking about taking the leap, I’d recommend hunting down fellow freelancers on Twitter, reading everything you can (especially this fab post by The Dexterous Diva) and making sure you really understand the tax stuff. Those HMRC guys mean srs bidniz.
Have you ever considered going freelance? Are you a freelancer yourself? Share your thoughts, tips, advice or concerns in the comments.