Reflections on my first nine-ish weeks of freelancing

First of all, the title of this post isn’t entirely accurate. I’ve been making a go of full-time freelancing for about two months. But, it’s also been my “side hustle” for over a year now. There is a big difference, though, between taking on the odd shift or commission around your studies and trying to fill a whole week with paid work. I’ve been slogging away at the latter for a while now, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.

It’s easy to overwork yourself

When I had a nine-to-five marketing job, I knew where I was going to be every weekday. My work finished when I left the building and my paycheck arrived automatically each month. And, when I was working full-time in a bar my ever-changing rota was organised by somebody else. My hours were logged when automatically when I checked into my shift, and money magically appeared in my account every fortnight. Both these jobs had similar hours to those I work now. And yet, in many ways, they felt a lot less tiring than freelancing.

Emails and accounts aren’t the worst things in the world, but they are a lot more tiring than people admit.

The issue is the admin; it takes a surprising amount of work to organise your diary, submit your expenses and chase invoices in your own, unpaid time. And, you find yourself fatigued by the constantly changing schedule that keeps you on your toes. Emails and accounts aren’t the worst things in the world, but they are a lot more tiring than people admit.

It’s hard to create a routine

Weekends lie-ins are a myth, or maybe just feel like fiction to freelancers. Staff writers take most of the load on weekdays, so it’s often casual staff who pick up the less sociable hours. Sometimes my days off are at the start of the week, sometimes mid-week, sometimes non-existent. I can go from no work at all straight into a seven-day working week.

We’re creatures of habit, us humans, and we rely on consistency more than we think.

Amidst all this confusion, whatever small morsels of routine that remain are precious. It’s not that a lack of routine is hard – in fact, the variety rather wonderful. It’s just that it is easy to lose your bearings as you juggle clients. We’re creatures of habit, us humans, and we rely on consistency more than we think.

Marking your life with repeated activities – e.g. buying a morning coffee on your way in, taking a walk at lunchtime, listening to the Today show as you wake up – helps to keep you grounded when everything else is up in the air.

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My other office, when I’m not working from my bed

Taxes are confusing

There once was a time when I wondered why self-employed people needed accountants. I don’t wonder that any more. I don’t have an accountant, I just stare in confusion at a spreadsheet once a week and hope the numbers will magically organise themselves.

The issue is that different places employ me in different ways – some process tax, some don’t – and also pay me at different rates too. It’s not that hard to work out, it just requires legwork and much more paperwork than I was aware of.

I just stare in confusion at a spreadsheet once a week and hope the numbers will magically organise themselves.

If you are also confused by the paradox of being both employed and self-employed at the same time, Crunch has a handy article on how to sort your taxes.

Getting used to rejection isn’t easy

Ah, the daily routine. Spending hours carefully crafting the perfect pitch, or series of pitches, only to be met with a polite no or a wall of silence. My more regular gigs do give me feedback, but they’re an exception to the rule. Of course, it isn’t personal, and it’s all part of this wonderful industry. But, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t occasionally taxing.

A rejected pitch isn’t a fail, it’s more like a B grade. You passed, but the teacher has scrawled “could do better” in the margin.

I once read an article that recommended aiming for 100 failures to get past your fear of rejection. The principle here is good, but I’ve got an issue with the words “failure” and “rejection”. If you think of it in terms of grades, a rejected pitch isn’t a fail, it’s more like a B grade. You passed, but the teacher has scrawled “could do better” in the margin.

If you’re thinking a B grade is a failure, you’ve got your attitude all wrong. Look over your work, tweak what needs tweaking and next time you try might get an A. The one after that might be a B, or a C, but there’s always an A on the horizon.

But, the variety is wonderful

Yes, working this way is challenging and unstable, but it also offers a level of freedom you just wouldn’t get in a permanent position. If I don’t want to work one week, I just don’t schedule any work. If I need extra cash, I ask for more shifts. If I’m not enjoying a certain role, I just find a better one. Being freelance gives you a huge amount of autonomy which can be hugely rewarding.

And, I enjoy the range of skills and styles I can pick up by working for more than once place. Everywhere has its own approach to journalism, its own systems, its own editors. This exposure to multiple areas of the same industry is invaluable for those starting out.