Postcards from the freelance edge: a few things I’ve learnt so far about working for yourself


Cape Town Girl is a local blogger and recently went freelance. She left her job at a big advertising agency six months ago to pursue her own dreams and this is her story and some learnings. If you are planning to go freelance any time soon, we highly recommend you read below.


Postcards from the freelance edge: a few things I’ve learnt so far about working for yourself

Last year I left a very demanding full-time job in favour of working as a freelance writer. My reasons were all personal. I’d done a bout of 5-year planning with a psychiatrist, (something I highly recommend, by the way – to every few years sit down with someone objective and take stock of your life and where it’s going and if it’s direction is what you actually want). After looking honestly at where and how I spent most of my time, I realized some changes were due, and took the difficult step of walking the formal employment gang plank and plunging into the great ‘ocean of uncertainty’ that is the life of a freelance writer.


I went freelance because I realised that the further into a career I climbed (by career I mean a formal advertising one that includes increased responsibility, pressure, the awards whirlwind, hours and hours behind a desk or in meetings) the less I was doing of what I really love doing, which is writing, and coming up with communication ideas for brands. What time I was able to spend writing or brainstorming was often diluted or overshadowed by a myriad of other responsibilities related to sustaining a profile within a company or industry, not to mention the fact that I spent 90% of my time feeling stressed out. And while outwardly it would appear to be progression, inwardly I was becoming less and less fulfilled with what I spent most of my days and energy doing. So I made the nerve-wracking decision to go freelance.


It’s now nearly 6 months down the line and here’s what I’ve learnt:


The extra time to focus on your own interests is wonderful, but you must guard it jealously. Once you’re freelance, people think you have ‘free time’, and often they will try and fill your time with their stuff. I set aside two days a week where I do nothing but my own writing and work, and if I don’t, I would never get it done. This includes not replying to emails and taking every call that comes along. This ‘age of access’ has created the illusion that we should all be replying to everything immediately, but I challenge that. There are few things in this world, barring open-heart surgery and share trading, that absolutely have to be dealth with right this second. So I have learnt to work at my own pace and not feel terrible about it.


Some people think that ‘freelance’ means ‘at your beck and call’. I’ve received quite a few requests from clients who call me at 6.30 in the evening to book me for 8am the next day. I understand urgency, but I also understand basic time management and planning. If an admin-challenged person like myself can organise my life so that I’m not calling the bank at 6pm demanding an out-of-hours raise on my credit limit otherwise I will not be able to pay for medication I need RIGHT NOW which means I will die, I have little sympathy for people or companies who find themselves with last-minute staffing needs over and over again. While I used to try and ‘help’, I now respect my own time enough to offer them a more realistic solution, without feeling terrible about it.


Being freelance does not mean chilling. It affords you the very real and wonderful opportunity to decide what to do with your time, most of the time. I’ve made a point of putting one day a week aside to educating myself, because I reckon without the constant challenges of a workplace one could become complacent. I’ve been recently looking at doing some of the courses offered by GetSmarter, since they are shorter courses and can be done as and when needed. This feature writing short course is the next on my list.


Get a lawyer on retainer for your collection purposes. This is totally standard, but you’d be amazed at how big, high-profile companies will absolutely fail dismally at doing something basic like paying you on time. Even when you work out your own efficient invoicing system, so that when a client signs off on a quote which effectively acts as an invoice a month before delivery of the work, you can easily find yourself unpaid 3 months down the line because THEY didn’t read their paperwork properly. You’d be amazed at how many people simply DO NOT READ what you send them, and then will stroppily defend their right to do business unethically. You don’t want to be at the mercy of a chain of bureaucratic inefficiency, and having someone with a legal brain to point out their errors for you will help you immensely.


You are now responsible for your own happiness. That colleague who used to drive you up the wall with their weird gum-smacking in meetings? You can’t blame him for making you angry and unhappy anymore. Your crazy boss who used to throw high heel shoes at your head? Well, no more bloody gashes to the skull to nurse and blame for your dark depression. You pretty much can’t blame anyone. Which is fine, because if you use your time and energy wisely, you will probably be happier than you’ve ever been in your life. I know I certainly am. Being freelance means I am able to really focus on each and every job, to research ideas and inspire myself, and to work without the social pressure of an ambition-filled workplace.


You need to be open to everything, but you also need to know when to say no. I’ll take on anything – whether it’s proof reading a lengthy financial report or writing a brochure for a tiling company or writing start-up company strategies or writing the copy for a new iPhone application or refining the description of a new wordpress theme (in fact copywriting for technology has become a newfound passion of mine) – you name it, I’ll give it a go. This means I am working across ever-changing disciplines, and I love this. The only time I turn down work is when the time expectations and attention demands exceed what the client has to spend on the job. I’ll make the odd exception for a loyal client, but working for yourself teaches you to get real about money and how much time you spend on the work you do. You simply cannot give your energy away for free. Usually, when a client has unrealistic expectations for what their budget can get them, you’ll find it’s because they have a limited understanding of what you do and what is required from the job. This is often a harbinger of doom – the job is unlikely to get easier if you cannot come to an equal agreement of what your time is worth upfront. Sometimes it’s worth more to walk away than to commit to something that you will invest a lot of time in for little return.


Read more from Cape Town Girl here.


Reposted with permission.


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