I tend to shy away from LinkedIn. It presents me with the faces of 500 tenuous connections I barely know. Some from awful temp jobs in Sydney and London, big bosses in corporates that probably added me by accident, recruitment managers that tried to sell me the dream for a tiny salary.
LinkedIn did do something for me the other day in reminding me that exactly a year ago I started my freelance content business. I found it amusing that I was so buried in work that I completely forgot my one year anniversary as a freelance writer and editor of QoTM. When I saw ex-colleagues (and my mum) congratulating me through this platform I thought, yes, actually, good for you. 365 days of just managing to stay afloat in my first year of business is something to acknowledge.
Clearly QoTM hasn’t quite made it to the FTSE 100 so we’ll hold the Champagne and instead, to mark the occasion, I thought it might be a good idea to share the key lessons I have learned for those who may be considering a similar leap of faith.
5 things I’ve learned in my first year as a freelance writer
I’m experience rich, cash poor
In the past year I’ve sailed on a trimaran in Barbados, cycled up Majorcan hills with a professional cycling team, interviewed famous athletes like Becky Adlington, Dani King, Chris Boardman, Dina Asher-Smith, and Giorgia Bronzini, paddle-boarded down the Thames, cycled thousands of miles… and the list goes on. In one year I’ve had more amazing experiences than I had in five years of accrued annual leave. The nature of the journalism I do means that travel is at my fingertips, experiences are abundant and by the end of a week I feel fulfilled. What I haven’t quite mastered yet is how to turn these experiences into a healthier salary. This has been a profile-building year, a year of taking on ‘exposure jobs’ and a year of making great connections. I never wanted money to be my main motivator but at the same time, a girl needs to eat. This year will be about turning some of my experiences into a better means of financial support so I can grow the business and explore even more.
I know a new type of stress
Freelancing has allowed me to lead a life more balanced. I go running and cycling when I want to, I eat when I want to, I don’t spend over an hour travelling alongside millions of others, I don’t have to queue for coffee. By all accounts, I am more relaxed and my routine is 100% thermo-moulded to me. This is all amazing except now I have more responsibilities and with that comes a new stress. I am the only person that is accountable for the money coming in, I can’t moan at anyone when budgets are tight, I have long periods of staring out of the window racking my brains for a title I can pitch to an editor when a contract has fallen through, a loud monologue is always asking me if I am good enough. This is new stress, a challenging, more meaningful stress, but stress all the same. You soon learn that the toughest boss you’ve ever had is actually you.
I seek advice more than ever
There is something quite humbling about going freelance that I never really had in employment. I never used to ask for help before, my eyes would glaze over when advice was offered to me and I wasn’t that interested in learning how to do things better from someone else. Now that it’s my own business my mind is well and truly open to receive any help on offer. I frequently check the online journalism support networks I belong to, I am in regular touch with the National Union of Journalists, I absorb YouTube tutorials and find myself quoting management books. Help comes in other forms too from therapeutic yoga classes to kitchen meetings with my boyfriend where he calmly and graciously explains the ins and outs of company tax. I’m always asking my mum, my dad, my sister, my cousin Torie, my best friend Emma, my best friend Kev, my cycling buddies, absolutely anyone I trust for their perspective, their feedback, their advice and to lend their strengths. I’m learning you need to let others in to survive.
People really want you to work for free
I get asked to write a lot for free. The idea is that you write a piece for someone and they repay you in exposure by sharing it on their platform. In the first few months I did a lot of these jobs, to build up my network and to open doors into paid work hopefully in the future. In the majority of cases, this was a good move and did help me get on my way. However, one year on and I’m winding down the exposure jobs. The business voice within me is getting stronger and the reality of earning a living as a professional writer means that you unfortunately have to stop giving away freebies. Asking people for money doesn’t come easily and providing my day rate still makes me squirm! But I am a writer, and I need to get paid.
I’ve realised how much of a loner I am
Working alone comes very naturally to me. I spent four straight years on my own when I was writing guidebooks in my early career. I actually love it probably more than most people. When I first went freelance I researched shared co-working spaces in London but a year on and I can’t imagine anything worse. Some days I spend eight hours on my own, coming up with stories, writing emails, editing photos. I sit in my little office looking out onto the backs of other people’s houses and then the ideas come. This only applies to work though, I’m always ready to chat when the laptop gets turned off!
This is really only a slice of what I’ve learned – so much can happen in a year and I am excited about my second year as a freelancer!