5 things you shouldn't forget when becoming a freelancer

Updated: Jun 6, 2019


"Allow me to give you a sharply reasoned informative response over this fine beverage..."

A friend of mine asked me a question at the weekend. “What's it like to be a freelancer?”


He already knew how to become a freelancer in the UK. He knows the industry he's in.


He just wanted some idea of what to expect if he took the plunge.


Because starting freelancing is often viewed through some pretty heavily rose-tinted lenses...

So what did I say?

I admit, I rambled. Anecdote followed random fact and was succeeded by tangential point.


Matt, forget all that. Instead, here's some slightly more sensibly laid-out advice (and the occasional tangent) written on the back of six years' experience as a freelance copywriter.


Here are my top 5 reasons to become a freelancer (with added reasons why you might not want to...)


1) You work when you want (well, sort of)

The nine-to-five working day should no longer be a “thing” for more jobs these days than it actually seems to be.


Luckily, for a whole lot of office-based jobs, flexitime and flexible working hours are becoming the way it's done. It's easy to see why:


You want to get eight solid hours of work out of your employee. Let's call him Steve.


Now. Steve didn't get much sleep last night. Let's say it's not his fault. But regardless, his first few hours of work are not going to be very productive. If he's on flexitime, Steve simply comes in a little later and does eight of proper work. Problem solved.


One of the major reasons to become a freelancer which people cite is the ability to work when you want. It's essentially the ultimate flexitime! But is that really the case? Let's play...


Freelance fact - true or false?


It's true! You can work when you want to. Up to a point. For instance:


What if your client (perhaps this should say your current boss – I'm still never sure which way round to phrase this. They're paying you, ergo boss. Yet they're using your services, ergo client... Get inventing the right word for this, English language) gets in touch with you one evening:


“Can you do this by midday tomorrow?”


Well, can you? How much do you want to eat next month? How well will your business withstand the loss of said client when they're forced to use one of the other SEO copywriting services out there?


You really need to say yes. Whether you want to work extra or not.


2) You can stop working when you want (or possibly never)

Ahh, clocking in. It's the new clocking out.

Isn't this the same point as above?


Well, basically, yes. But there's another important aspect of it to consider:


Imagine you have a project on. You know it needs to be done by such and such a date. But you're also getting emails about other projects. Questions from other clients. Hopefully some from potential clients too. You also need to keep an eye on your website. Write your blog. And your social media marketing isn't going to lifestyle itself...


In short, there's almost always (we'll come back to this in point three below) something you could be doing. So can you really stop if you want to make a success of this?


Freelance fact - true or false?


This is oh-so-true too. Yet there's definitely a “but”. And that “but” is followed by the words “you need to be disciplined with it.”


There are probably two important aspects to keep an eye on. One internal, one external:


a) The alarm bell is always ringing

Sure, you might be able to choose to stop working at 3 p.m. and go for a cheeky pint in your local pub.


But at the back of your mind is always a tiny alarm which says:


“WORK OUTSTANDING. BE AWARE. DO NOT RELAX. DO NOT PASS GO. YOU WILL NOT COLLECT £200.”


I really struggled with this when I first started out as a freelance content writer. The solution?


Be as disciplined as possible when it comes to deciding when your working day starts and ends.


For example, I might technically be on ultimate flexitime. But there are hours when I know I get my best work done. For me, those hours are in the morning. Thus, it makes sense for me to keep my working day essentially a nine to five.


That said, I know a freelancing friend of mine who does his best work during hours which I would class as nocturnal.


In any case, outside of my set hours, I try not to check work emails. I try not to "just do a little bit" of my current project unless I've specifically set the time for it.


Otherwise, you'd just never stop.


b) Your bottom line can see you

I'm going to leave the question of freelance motivation and boosting your productivity alone for now.


But the media representation of how little work most freelancers and home workers seem to do is wildly at odds with how much work most freelancers I know really do.


How are these TV characters affording these classy New York apartments on so little work?


Get a little realism in there, Hollywood! You can't say "I work when I want" and then be surprised when you can't afford your spaghettiOs this week.


3) You work for whoever you want (when they'll let you)

"Thank you!!"

I've been very lucky with the clients who use me as a mini content writing agency (Hear that, guys? Thanks!). They generally need content on a regular basis. Or they use me on a retainer basis where I know they're going to need something every week. But I'm very aware that that's not the case for everyone figuring out how to start freelancing work.


I'm also very aware that this state of affairs might not last forever. So...


Freelance fact - true or false?


Technically, true. Starting out as a freelancer was, for me, a time of thrilling excitement. I got to quit the old day job! Yes!


But.


It was also a time of utter, purest panic. I quit the day job. There is now no guarantee that I will not be homeless this time next month.


It can be very – very – stressful not knowing where your next paycheque is coming from. Or if it's coming at all.


I know two freelancing friends – talented, hard working, great at their jobs – who recently went back into the “real world” of work. In at least one case this was because the stress of not knowing whether she could pay the rent next month was a constant source of worry she needed a break from.


4) You get well paid for your work (if you're lucky)

Okay, you've got that client. Success! The rent is paid for next month. Or is it?


This new client has seen that they could use one of the many, many content mills available online to get the new web pages or blog post they need. All for an even ten pounds. What a bargain!


You can tell them it will be useless from an SEO perspective. You can show them it will read like the quickly churned out, barely English copy it will sadly be...


But money talks. Why should they pay you more – despite you knowing that your quality is going to be far superior – when there's this other tantalisingly cheap SEO offer.


Freelance fact - true or false?


Okay, this one is entirely variable. It will depend on your industry, on your experience and whether you might have any clients who will follow you.


For some, you might hit the ground running. For other people at the first stage of wondering how to become a freelancer and work online from home, there are certain sacrifices involved when it comes to their pay packet.


Because there are a lot of people out there who will want you to give them something for nothing.


Do bear in mind your current client list and the amount you are prepared or physically able to work for when you're starting out.


5) You can take a holiday whenever you want! (but you won't get paid for it)

Let's go a bit further with the “when you can start and finish work” thing:


You deserve a holiday. Why not take a few days off this week? You can go on that hen do, stag do, sunny break, birthday party. It's not a problem. Have a week off! Go sit on a beach somewhere.


After all, there's no one stopping you...

"So, we'll meet back here same time next week?"

Freelance fact - true or false?


The technicalities are really piling up right now. This one is also 100% true. Yet the pinch of salt it comes with might be a little much for all but the most die-hard sodium chloride fans...


Holiday pay. Sick pay. We knew you well. Say goodbye to them, young grasshopper. You won't be getting those any more. It's one of the things about being a freelance writer which I really overlooked to begin with.


Some people argue that if you've figured out how to become a freelancer you're living the easy life. Not always so, my friend. Your standard nine-to-five job comes with, what? Usually three or four weeks of paid holiday per year?


That's not much. But it's way better than the zero paid leave you get when you're your own boss.

"Okay, I can afford to be ill for the next ten minutes. Then I'll get back to it..."

Plus, what if you're feeling a bit under the weather today? Got a touch of the man-flu?


Or are you actually seriously ill and in need of a doctor?


If you know your clients, they might be understanding. These things happen. But what if you're working with them for the first time?


You still need to get that work done even if you're overdosing on Lemsip to make it happen. Oh, and don't forget sorting out your own pension too.


Which reminds me. Really must do that...


Being a freelancer – tips and tangents

I love the work I do. But it's foolish to ignore the disadvantages of being a freelancer. Here's a couple of pointers which might help:

  1. Choose a set working day: your mileage here might vary. But I find that most of the problems above are mitigated if you stick to something like a set schedule. It doesn't have to be set in stone. Work out your most productive working hours and work then. Don't fall into the trap of working whenever you "need" to. You'll burn yourself out.

  2. Don't work for free: depending on your industry (I feel like anyone doing something creative is particularly vulnerable to this. There should be better protections in place) and your experience level, people may want you to work for very little. In fact, they might want one whole hell of a lot of work for nothing at all. Sometimes it might be worth it if your client's lifetime value to you is very high. But this is basically exploitation on their part. Watch out for sudden expansions in the project brief too.

  3. Remember the future: my own personal Achilles Heel. Concentrating on the immediate problems and goals you have in terms of your day-to-day projects is all well and good. This doesn't always leave you much time for growing your business though. Don't forget about it!

If you're thinking about whether and how to become a freelancer yourself, there's a lot to recommend it. But when people ask me what it's like being a freelancer, I try not to gild it.


Personally, love it.


It is, however, perhaps not quite the rose-tinted floral bouquet which people who've never tried it before sometimes make it out to be.


Need to know more about freelancing?

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You can email me at benjamindmaiden@gmail.com

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