Honest Thoughts on Freelancing

I've been meaning to share my thoughts about working for myself for a while now, but first wanted to gauge whether there was any interest in such a post (conversations on Twitter and Instagram suggest that there is). To be crystal clear from the beginning, I only freelance part time. I also have an amazing part-time job where I get to work for an incredible company and unleash my creativity three days a week. For me, right now, this is the perfect balance.

I went freelance by accident; there was never a planned decision to leave my job and give writing a go. To cut a long story short, I left a job that I had been unhappy in for a new role with a fashion brand. That opportunity turned out to be a bit fat let down and I lost my job after only a couple of months, taking with me enough money to not have to work for a couple of months. Sat at home, bored, searching though lists of dead-end jobs online, I decided to take the plunge and try to get paid to write. I signed up to a website called Elance (now Upwork) and luckily found a couple of regular writing jobs almost straight away. I'm actually still writing for one of these clients! After a few months of freelancing, an amazing part-time opportunity arose and everything just clicked into place.

Photo | Lee Garland

Now, I love my work/life balance at the moment, especially going out to work three days a week and having two days plus the weekends at home, but don't be fooled. Freelancing isn't all lie-in's, coffee dates and walks in the park. Yes, I can manage my own time - but I still have to get my work done and make deadlines. I have to manage myself and do all the work myself, I can't delegate tasks to other people or ask a manager for support. Sometimes I'll be writing or formatting an article that I'm getting paid for, but there's also a lot of time spent on admin and pitching. I'm not getting paid to update spreadsheets, keep track of my invoices and chase up story ideas.

I wrote on Instagram this morning that I envisioned having tons of spare time as a freelance writer. I would rise late, enjoy a slow breakfast, take the dog for a long morning walk then settle down to write until lunch. After eating, I'd spend a few more hours writing or perhaps meet a friend in a local cafe for a change of scenery. This is 100% NOT what freelancing is like. Yep, I usually have a lie-in because I am not a morning person, but then I'll spend the rest of the day furiously tapping away on my laptop, barely coming up for air, let alone food or a slow stroll in the park. Some days I only manage to walk about 30 steps. That is utterly pitiful! Other days, like today, I'm still writing at 10pm at night. 

Don't get me wrong, I chose this lifestyle and I absolutely love it. But it can be infuriating when people think it's all tea and cakes. The positives do outweigh the negatives though. I love managing my own time and having the flexibility to give myself the morning, afternoon or even the whole day off - I just have to catch up one evening or at the weekend if I do this. I love that I can sit around in my pajamas all day if I want to (although most days I get dressed as if I'm going to work). I love that my boyfriend also works from home and I get to spend more time with him and our dog. I love that I can choose what I say yes to, and that I can turn down projects if they're not right for me. Ultimately, I love being my own boss.

Photo | Dave Rowe

If you're thinking about leaving your job to embark on a freelance career, the best piece of advice I can give you is to think about whether it's really the right decision for you. Are you organised? Do you like your own company? Do you work best on your own? Can you motivate yourself? If the answer to these questions is yes, than you're in a good position to work for yourself. If you instantly think 'no' in response to any of these questions, take a step back and think about whether freelancing is really the right decision. Being organised and being able to motivate yourself to find work and actually complete the work is essential. And unless you find a great work-wife/husband or a co-working space, you're going to be spending a lot of time on your own. 

One thing that I personally find hard about freelancing is the distractions. When you're at home all day, it's all too easy to put down your laptop and start doing household chores such as the laundry. The temptation is also constantly there to pick up a book or turn on Netflix, especially when your living room also functions as your office, like mine does. There's no-one looking over your shoulder to check that you're actually doing your work, and everyone that sets you a deadline is on the other side of an email and that can feel quite removed. On days when I'm feeling distracted, the best thing to get my out of my slump is to leave the house and take the dog for a walk, or to take my laptop to a local cafe for a couple of hours. Feeling trapped in the house can become claustrophobic anyway, and it definitely doesn't hurt to get those daily steps up beyond 30!

The other part of freelancing that I find hard is actually finding the work! I started off using Elance but was put off when Upwork swallowed it up and lobbed on hefty fees. When the pay is low to start, you don't want to be giving 20% of your earnings away. I did find these job board sites incredibly useful when I first started off, and if you don't have a portfolio they're a great place to start building up clients, but be warned that you won't make much money this way. I have quite a hefty portfolio of work two years into freelancing, and this helps me to command higher fees when working with clients, but I did do a lot of work for free to start building up that portfolio. I do still occasionally write articles for free, but only for independent websites or publications that I respect and know are just starting off and don't have a budget to spend. I would never write for a established site or household name for 'exposure' and think its insulting to ask writers or photographers to create work for free if a brand or publication is going to be making money from that work. I spend hours and hours pitching ideas and only hear back about 10% of the time. It's a grueling process and can be quite disheartening when you think you have a great idea but no-one picks up on it. If you do your research, pitch the right ideas to the right people and keep your eyes and ears firmly open for opportunities, you will find work. 

Hopefully this will have been useful to anyone thinking of going freelance. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments below and I'll do my best to offer advice!