A few years ago I decided to ditch the office 9-5 lifestyle in favour of something a little more flexible. Now I feel like I’m in control of my time, working part-time for a start-up and freelance writing.
And while life may look more glamorous (I have been known to answer emails from a towel on the beach) it’s not all fun and sun-drenched cafés. When you’re freelancing, your next pay check isn’t always secure, you can say goodbye to those sickies and there’s no annual leave entitlements to cover rent for that month in Cuba.
So here are 11 things I’ve learned about going freelance:
1. It’s unpredictable
You never know when the work will come in. One week, deadlines may all fall within days (or hours) of each other and you’re working around the clock, and the next week you find yourself sleeping ’til midday on a Tuesday and wondering what you’ll do with all those empty hours ahead of you. (This is why keeping part-time work in the beginning is a good idea). The key when it’s quiet is to stay positive. Freelance work ebbs and flows. Use the quiet times to stay on top of your craft, seek out the next opportunity and take some time to rejuvenate.
2. You need a support team
It might be your mum, best friend or partner, but you need someone on your team to encourage you, proof your pitches and drink coffee with you when you have many hours to fill in between jobs. Try to have someone in your corner who understands the world of freelancing. They will be able to answer questions like how much you should be charging for work and how to manage your own tax.
3. Don’t turn down jobs in the beginning
There is no such thing as a small job. See each job as a new experience and a way to build your profile. One of my first freelance experiences was writing copy for a Christmas appeal for an organisation for free. Nail the job, leverage the experience and get your name out there!
4. Don’t rush the pitch
Take your time to craft an excellent pitch. The best way to build a successful freelance career is to do excellent work. It’s a small world out there, and your name will get passed along if you’re great at what you do. Familiarise yourself with the brand or company you’re pitching to. What’s their style? Who has done work for them in the past? What new angle can you bring to their work?
5. Know your value
Talk to others and get to know the industry standards. If you’re starting out, you might need to charge a little less to be competitive and get your foot in the door. But once you’ve got some experience under your belt, know your value and feel comfortable to negotiate.
6. Save for a rainy day
It could take a bit of time before you can live solely off the freelance career (so don’t start without money in the bank!). There will be quiet times when you don’t have a steady income, you have to pay your own tax, and you don’t get sick leave. I set aside money in its own savings account to take the pressure off when times get quiet or I need a break. I hate the thought of a couple of bills draining my Adventure Fund!
7. Stay ahead of the curve
Particularly if you’re in the creative industry, you want to be ahead of the trends and on top of your game creatively. Whether you’re a writer, designer, photographer or a business consultant, subscribe to daily newsletters, follow bloggers and keep your eye on others in your industry so you’re always learning and being creatively inspired.
8. Plan your time
Especially if you’re working from home or you don’t have colleagues spurring you on, it can be really easy to procrastinate when you’re meant to be working, and then working when you want to be chilling on the couch with Netflix. Set times throughout the day that are focused work hours and commit to a finishing time. From time to time you will need to do extra hours just to keep your business alive, but the more hours you work, the less productive you become.
9. Maintain your personal brand
No matter if you’re a photographer, writer or web designer, it’s important to know your personal brand. People will Google you before they work with you, so it’s not just your LinkedIn profile you need to worry about. A website is the best way to showcase your work. Keep it up-to-date and give it an hour of TLC every now and then.
10. Network, network, network!
Whether you’re tweeting your articles, Instagramming your images or hustling at business breakfasts, being present and getting your name out is important.
11. Find your work space
Shared working spaces are becoming more popular, but if you can’t afford to hire a desk, set up a space at home free from distractions. I love finding a wifi-providing, worker-friendly café where I can drink coffee and eat muffins all day.
Freelancing can be a great lifestyle if you’re prepared to plan, put in the time and embrace the unknown.