Why I love being a freelancer, and why that might end

I’ve written before about the perks of freelancing and self-employment, and even included some serious points aside from working in pyjamas, but things have changed for me in the last year or so, and I felt like it was a good time to re-evaluate. I’m about to mark my third anniversary of being a freelance copywriter. In that time I’ve undersold myself in a bid to get off the ground, I’ve worked on projects I’ve absolutely adored, had some incredible clients, some less incredible experiences, and developed my skills to a level I’m now confident about – enough to tell people I can do something well and know it to be true. I’ve also eaten an insane amount of toast and biscuits. Here’s what I think are the best things about freelancing:

1)      I can sell my skills authentically

When I go to a potential client, I take my portfolio and talk through what I’ve worked on and let them use this information to decide if I’m right for the work they need doing. In other words, my experience is what sells me. If I apply for an employed role, this should be the case, but it’s usually hard to feel like it is. When I was applying for graduate jobs after uni, I’d come across sentences like, ‘particularly interested in applicants from an ethnic minority background’, and feel immediately at a disadvantage. I’m not going to linger on this point too much because I can’t claim to be hard done by in the way so many others have experienced, but at a certain point it is easy to feel you need to tick a box in order to get somewhere.

2)      I can work where I work best

With the exception of this summer, when my laptop broke and I spent the best months of the year in a dark corner at a desktop, I’m usually free to roam. When it’s not too cold or windy, I’ll work in the garden, or at the kitchen table with the back door open because I like the feel of fresh air and it helps my brain engage. When I have a particular type of task to complete – the type that means you need to get your head down and barely look up for a few hours (say, data or report work), I’ll head to a coffee shop. For some reason, the bustle of others around me works as a focus and I scarcely notice the time pass. Plus, people bring me cake. Win win.

3)      People take me seriously

For every job I ever applied to, I would talk about my achievements and skills in a way which just didn’t resonate the same way as talking about my business does. Going freelance was a financial risk. I had to work really hard to establish myself, beat my competition and sustain an income which still paid the bills. There’s something about that which lets me talk more authentically when it comes to my work history. Everything I’ve done has been for myself. I don’t take on projects I don’t want to or don’t think I can do well, and for that I’m able to say I’m good at what I do in a way that’s different to listing what I’ve been responsible for in employed work, and I think that comes across when I talk to people.

4)      I can focus on particular skills

Earlier this year, I had a client which allowed me some time to build my experience in events. Before this I’ve had clients which have let me focus on copywriting for a particular sector. At other times, it’s been press releases for a specific type of media. Whatever it is, I have been able to consider a specific skill and build upon it until I was confident in my experience and moved on to a new thing. Most employers have Continued Professional Development schemes, and I suppose this is my version of that. Sometimes it’s a conscious thing; at other times it will build naturally, but I like seeing a pattern emerge of identifying a skill, getting better at it, and adding it to my portfolio.

5)      Flexibility

The reason for everything

It goes without saying that being flexible with your time is by far the best thing about being freelance. Before having a child, this was all about preference. I wasn’t a morning person and I thought most creatively later in the day, so I’d often commit mornings to admin and emails and get down to the real work when my brain did that best. After having Maddie, it became largely about what fit with her. I worked from her being a couple of weeks old until she was five months based on her naps and bedtime (maternity pay is not one of the perks of freelancing, fyi). More recently, it’s about being able to grab some quality time with her and plan my hours and work days around that and vice versa.

This all sounds great, right? So why might this change? During the first two years of freelancing, I’d spend roughly half of my working hours pitching for new work. This meant a lot of emailing, admin, going to meetings and preparing documents without being able to apply an hourly rate. It generally makes up for itself when you gain paid contracts – that’s how freelancing goes. But once you add childcare to the mix you’re suddenly paying for the privilege to work without earning in the first instance. It makes it a lot harder, and reduces the amount of networking you can afford to do. With this in mind, I’m opening myself up to the possibility of employment again. But I’m optimistic. I’m not a recent graduate anymore and I know what I want to do. I won’t be jumping into anything for the sake of it. One thing is for sure, if I do put my business to a side. I’ll throw one hell of a leaving party.

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