Eight years ago, I become a freelance writer. For the first 11 years of my professional journalism career, I'd chosen the nine-to-five (well, add on a few more hours because of the commute) route, but for various reasons, I opted to take the plunge and go it alone.
By the looks of things, I'm not the only one. For example, a quick glance at the Caunce O'Hara website yields some interesting statistics. The article claims that according to Recruitment International, 63% of UK employees are considering freelancing. In the past decade, there has been a massive leap of 66% of 26-29 year olds going freelance. It's also estimated that in two years, half of the workforce in this country could be freelancers!
But it's a career move that hinges on a number of issues. I've come up with some things to think about, on both sides of the fence. So without further ado, here are some freelancing factors!
The obvious one. Being a freelancer brings plenty of sleepless nights about how much money is in the kitty. There isn't a guaranteed wage packet at the end of each month. There's no pension, meaning that you also have to think about how you're going to plan for those future years when you've retired. The unpredictability of being a freelancer means that you may be facing good months and bad months, wage-wise. One month, you may get some great, well-paid work. The next, not a snitch.
Another problem to consider is chasing payments (feel free to wail this to the Adele tune, Chasing Pavements). I've been fortunate in that the clients that I work for do tend to pay on time. Meaning that I don't have to constantly be on the phone bellowing at some hapless finance scamp, “WHERE'S MY MONEY???!!!” But make sure that when you agree to take on work, that you get paid for your troubles. Put some terms and conditions on your website, saying that the money must be paid into your account by a set timeframe.
Oh, and make sure that the potential client is actually on the level. Read up on the client and do some background research. Don't do a shedload of work and find out that they never intended to pay you in the first place.
Maybe you're lucky. Maybe you have enough money in the bank to not worry about where the next meal's coming from or how you're going to club enough cash together to pay for the rent or mortgage. Freelancing is a financial gamble, so make sure that you've got enough to survive on, even in the bleakest of months.
The aforementioned statistics are encouraging but they throw up a problem at the same time in that the competition is greater. If more people are going it alone, it's up to you to come up with a Unique Selling Point. What is it that makes you stand out from the crowd? What particular areas of expertise do you have that can put you ahead of the queue?
Providing your own website is key. List your employment experience and your speciality sectors of work. If you can, add some recommendations from past employers or clients to add that extra bit of credibility.
As well as this, try and add a blog. Even if you're not choosing a writing career, blog about your chosen fields of work. It adds that extra personal touch. If you started your own business, blog about your background, your reasons for becoming a freelance businessperson, what you hope to get out of the business... so many things to write about, which will help more people to take notice.
Most people will experience two sources of rejection in their lives: Dating and employment.
In a sense, employment rejection is even more brutal than being told that you're too short, too speccy, too weedy, etc... because of the ongoing nature of finding work. In the freelancing arena, you'll be sending out emails to a wealth of possible people to work for. I can't tell you how many emails I've received back either saying “No” or “We don't have anything at the mo, but we'll keep your name on file.” It's crushing to think that you haven't made enough impact to get yourself a freelancing gig. Mind you, a worst case scenario was reported yesterday (at the time of writing) when a supermarket magazine editor (and snooty guest judge on that never-ending telly cooking contest) dashed a vegan writer's hopes of working for that publication in the cruellest fashion possible.
Luckily, I've never received feedback quite as harsh, but be prepared for a barrage of “No”s.
On the upside, I can tell you that from my experience, persistence does pay off. I'm incredibly lucky to work for a good number of clients who have been kind enough to take me on. Hang on in there, and the same should happen for you.
Too Much Or Too Little Work?
Being a freelancer requires a fair bit of self-discipline. Some days, you may not feel like doing any work. But mooching over to the sofa to watch endless repeats of Four In A Bed ain't going to bring home the bacon.
On the other hand, being hunched over the laptop non-stop, all day, isn't the way to go either. Even if you've got deadlines coming out of your ears, break-free work is only going to cause irritability, fatigue, and more mistakes. Arrange your day so that you get enough free time to eat and drink. I can't tell you the benefits of going out for a quick 15 to 30-minute walk to clear away the cobwebs. Get the balance right so that you get enough work done without getting square eyes.
If you do achieve the juggling act right, then freelancing can be a big benefit in that you get more of an equal work/life balance. In today's time-intense society, something's got to give, and for many, that means having some sort of life. Deadlines in a 9 to 5 job need to be met, but that means that you may have to stay late or get up extra early. Less time for hobbies, socialising, or in my case, spending time with...
It's a notable advantage, which I've found since becoming a daddy. Being a home-working father means that I can be there to pitch in with cooking, cleaning, changing nappies, reading stories, playing games etc.
On a more sobering note, being a freelancer has meant that I could be there for my youngest daughter who was born with a hole in her heart. The last year has seen a string of hospital visits and enough worrying to make Mr Worry look like a chilled out dude. Fortunately, the hole seems to be closing a little, but I've still needed to be there to look after my eldest daughter when my wife had to take my youngest to hospital. Being in a paid 9-5 job would have meant lots of last-minute holiday taking and working from home, which some employers may not have been too happy with.
One of the biggest joys of being a freelancer is not having to make that wretched commute. Public transport companies seem to relish making your daily commute as hellish as possible, and what's worse is that you're paying exorbitant amounts of money for below-par services.
Bus routes go all around the block, making a simple half hour drive from A to B take about two hours instead. As for the trains, whoever talked about progress in the future didn't take into account that it's a flexible word when it comes to the state of modern railways. Grumpy commuters wait ages for delayed trains, only to push and shove into about two carriages where they are jammed up together like sweaty sardines. Once in a blue moon, your train may run without a hitch – although this is with the same regularity as Halley's Comet making an appearance. I've not worked out the time that we spend in abject misery on trains, but I'd make a shrewd guess that it would equate to at least a quarter of our lives.
Freelancers, on the other hand, simply have to walk a few paces to the home office. After years of hellish commuting, it's absolute bliss.
One of the most rewarding things I've found in my freelancing career is that I've learnt a whole lot more than being in a regular 9-5 job. Because I get to spin a good number of journalism jobs, I've built up more knowledge of subjects, places and people that I would never have thought about before. Paid employment pigeonholed me in one specific area, but freelancing has broadened my knowledge and outlook a lot more.
Be Your Own Boss
I'm my own boss. Which is great! No meetings. No squabbles over pay. No grumbles about the train being late. I get to call the shots, and that's a fantastic feeling.
Out of this comes the advantage that my working life can be much more flexible. I can devote as much time as I like to my family. I can stop for a cuppa and a sandwich whenever I like. If I need to finish work early for whatever reason, I don't have to go grovelling to the big cheese. Freelancing allows for a great deal of flexibility. All things considered, I can say with confidence that I made the right career choice. I hope with these babblings, that you might too.