Something I noticed when I started telling people I was going freelance was just how amazing everyone said it would be.
‘The best you’ll ever do,’ they promised. ‘I’m so jealous – I loved being freelance,’ they admitted. ‘You’ll be rolling in money,’ they swore. I couldn’t help wondering, if freelance was so utterly fantastic and I was apparently going to be a millionaire within a few short weeks (for the record, I’m not), why not everyone was doing it.
But I guess no-one is going to tell you they think you’re a complete idiot and have just made a decision that will ruin your life – well no-one I came across anyway.
So, from a newbie freelancer, who is still feeling her way, here are 10 things you should know about freelancing:
1. You will go entire days without speaking to anyone
Most days, as a journalist, you’re doing interviews, discussing ideas, speaking to editors and the like. But some days you’re just writing or researching or staring at the wall, and there is no chat-time. On these days, my husband gets the Full Force of Holly when he walks through the door after work. ‘HELLO!!! I HAVEN’T USED MY VOICE ALL DAY, WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD?! WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN?’.
While it’s lucky for me – and very sad for him – that I am guaranteed to see at least one face all day, I imagine that a freelancer living alone could easily go a couple of days without seeing anyone. It’s something you need to bear in mind; not everyone likes their own company.
2. Your ideas need to be awesome
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel under pressure to come up with original, fresh, amazing ideas for editors because otherwise why would they pay me for it? Exclusive research and case studies are a sure way to make a freelancer happy.
3. Getting your daily steps in just got harder
My iPhone pedometer app has fallen off a cliff. As part of my commute I would walk four miles a day – and that is before I had gone anywhere for lunch, gone for a run or popped out for a meeting. Now I need to build errands in to the day to make sure my phone doesn’t think I’ve lost the ability to walk, and it can be tricky to motivate yourself to go out when it’s chucking it down with rain and blowing a gale.
4. A lot of people will forget you exist
While it’s a sheer and utter delight not to be bombarded with 200 irrelevant emails every day, it’s crazy how quickly people forget you exist when you’re no longer tied to a publication they want to feature in. A bonus is that now I know that most of the emails I get will be interesting or useful in some way, and good contacts will still remember your name. Downside? This was the first year I wasn’t invited to the Chelsea Flower Show. *sulks*.
5. You have to remember to buy your own articles
When you work somewhere, there’s an entire Aladdin’s cave of back issues and supplements galore. A lot of publications send you a copy when have a piece published (thank you!), but not all. In these instances it is helpful if you don’t forget what day of the week it is and neglect to buy said publication. My bad.
6. There is a lot of admin
I like a spreadsheet as much (probably more) as the next person, but no-one got into journalism because they liked filing. Although I really am quite proud of my spreadsheets.
Tax is something of a double-edged sword for a self-employed person. It’s strange to me that you wait and pay it all in one lump at the end (for now), but I’ve been told this can be very handy – you can keep the amount in a savings account or Premium Bonds and earn interest on it, which goes some way to soften the blow of handing it all over to the taxman.
But the trouble is, when money lands in your bank account you tend to think of it as, you know, your money. So, parting with a wodge of it is going to be horrible, even if you do keep it separate.
8. You will spend most of your free time feeling guilty
Sitting on the sofa? You could be working. Sitting in the garden? You could be working. In the pub/cinema/anywhere in the world that is not working? You could be working.
You could be, but you would go insane. I’m still finding my way with this one but already I can see that, as I am more than willing to sit up until midnight working or spend a Sunday glued to my laptop, I have got to get better about taking an afternoon off in the week if that’s the part of the week which happens to be quieter. I’m making an effort to keep on top of my workload and schedule things so I do get a weekend, but you can’t always control that. Mostly I’m trying to make sure that I don’t spend all of the very limited time that the Husband is around working, because that would really defeat the point.
9. Once a Frolleague, always a Frolleague
Colleague who becomes genuine friend = Frolleague. And I am very lucky to have made at least one of these in every place I’ve worked. I did worry that I would miss my most recent Frolleague once I left the workplace but I can now see that was very foolish, because we still speak pretty much every day. A friend doesn’t stop being a friend because you moved house, and the same applies to workmates. And already my Frolleague has coached me through some tricky situations, as well as still talking to me about the crucial events of the day, such as what she’s having for lunch.
10. Ride the wave
This was a piece of advice I was given by another Frolleague, who used to be a freelancer, and it refers to workload. You will spend most of your time (when you’re not feeling guilty) panicking. You either have too much work or not enough.
When you have too much, you’re also worried you have no time to pitch so you soon won’t have enough, and when you don’t have enough you’re also having heart palpitations flashing back to those times when you had too much and dreading re-living it.
Don’t panic – ride the wave. It’ll all work out in the end, hopefully.