So you want to be a freelancer?

Let’s explore what freelance life is really like.

When I was in-house and having a bad day, I’d dream of becoming a florist. It was my escapism dream.

The reality is floristry is not a job I could handle – it’d be more a nightmare for me than a dream. I mean, there are qualifications I haven’t got, flowers make me sneeze, and I’m never going to get up early enough to buy the best blooms.

For some people, freelancing is that escapism dream. They imagine life on their terms, with no office politics or bad bosses, no 9-5. They imagine infinite riches doing only the things they love.

It’s a dream. It’s not really reality.

But freelancing does have its upsides, obviously. I wouldn’t still be doing it if it didn’t.

This month, I’m going to be delving into the reality of freelancing. If you’re dreaming of joining me on this side of the corporate world, it might help you work out if it’s really for you. And, if you work with freelancers, I’m hoping you’ll learn a bit more about our reality.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

A quick aside

People often think there’s no office politics in freelancing.

I love this. No more mind games and competing over each other to get ahead. No more falling in line with managers’ ambitions, or choosing sides to try to clear your path to promotion. No more colleagues undermining you or people arguing the priorities of their project over others.

But it’s not true so if that’s your reason for thinking about freelancing, stop right there.

Politics does exist in freelancing, it’s just experienced a different way. You’re not involved, and you don’t (or at least I don’t) get caught up in it, stewing over it and letting it interrupt your sleep. But it’s there. It’s there between colleagues of your clients. It’s there between clients’ various projects. And it’s there in your own world as you weight up the cost/benefit/priority of each client you’re working with and each project you’re working on.

Dip your toes or jump right in?

I see a lot of people dipping their toes into freelancing, thinking when they have enough clients and are set up, they’ll make the leap and quit the day job. I’m sure this works for a lot of people. But it doesn’t seem to work for most.

When you start freelancing, you need to jump out into the unknown. If you’re still working full time, it’s extra work you don’t really have time or energy for. It’s not just a matter of someone handing you a small project you can work on for an hour or two each week. You need to chase the work, and then be available (and energised and motivated enough) to do it.

With a full-time job behind them, a lot of people don’t have the motivation to properly invest in their business. And without the security of an established freelance business, those people are often too afraid to give up the day job. They still dream, but it’s like a treadmill they never get off.

I recommend leaping. But it’s not for everyone.

I started after my old role had been made redundant, so I had some cash to tide me over for a couple of months. Had that not been the case, I wouldn’t have made the leap. But then again, freelancing was never my dream until it became my reality.

Building a brand

As a freelancer, you need a brand. Whether it’s under your name or a business name, people need to be able to recognise who you are and what you do.

Your brand building should start well before you make the leap into your own business. I spent years building mine as a smart, high-quality, fast and reliable copywriter and content strategist. This means I have my whole network of past colleagues to call upon as potential clients, and they’re happy to recommend me to others too.

But as you look to grow, you need to think about who you are and what you stand for and build a brand that reflects that. That’s led me to start creating Coffee. Content. Repeat. My brand is all about education, mentorship and helping others find their feet in the world of content.

Setting up

As well as the well-known hassles of getting an ABN and registering for GST, there’s a lot of other adminy things you need to get sorted to set yourself up for success.

Think about things like:

  • Registering a business name (if you don’t plan to trade under your own name)
  • Securing your domain name (and email address) and building your website
  • Investing in bookkeeping software, project management tools, and all the other apps and software you’ll need
  • Setting up contracts, NDAs and other legal agreements
  • Taking out professional liability insurance (and maybe public liability insurance too)
  • Finding the people, groups and organisations to support you

And the thing is, you’re never done setting up. As you learn and grow, you’ll find you need new tools, processes and support systems.

You’ll never stop learning

When you’re in-house, there’s always the potential to get a bit stale. If you’re in a great organisation and role, you’re continuously learning something new. But when you step out on your own, your learning curve will get super steep, super fast. And it’s not just the learning of running your own business. You also have to learn about every new client and their brand (voice for writers, design systems for designers, etc.), and you’ll take on new projects that will stretch you every day.

There are lots of webinars, blogs and courses that will teach you what you need to know. I hope you’ll find this blog and my social feeds a source of inspiration too. But a lot of it you’ll learn by doing.

So you’d better love learning. Because it never stops.

You’re on your own

Literally. At home, in your office or the desk space you’ve carved out in your bedroom or lounge. You’re going to need to like your own company.

There are times where I don’t see another person for a week or more, unless you count the checkout chick at Woolworths. I talk to clients most days via Zoom or email, but not every day.

It’s not like in an office where you can just turn to your colleague sitting beside you and shoot the breeze about the latest series on Netflix. It’s just you. You can go out and rent a desk in a co-working space, but you need to work out if it’s a cost you can afford.

You can build your online tribes and find people to talk and connect with, but it’s never going to be the same as catching up with people in real life. When I first started, I used to try to schedule in lunches with friends, but that came with a cost – it’s more than just nipping out to lunch because you have the travel time too.

So like your own company. You’re going to need to.

Your time is not your own

The big freelancing myth that you own your own time is just that – a myth. You can set up your office hours, work 9-5, but when you start working with international clients, expect calls in the evening or early morning. You can say no, of course, but when time is money, and they’re paying a lot for your time, clients like to know you’re there.

When you have repeat or ongoing clients, you need to figure them and their project schedules (if they know them – does any business have an actual project schedule they actually stick to?) into any plans you have for holidays or days off. Holiday planning becomes next-level, which is something I struggle with as I’m a “Oh, I think I might go to Thailand next week” kind of person (pre-Covid, obviously).

And that’s just the beginning

Want to learn more? All this month I’ll be talking the ins and outs of freelancing so come back each Thursday for more.

And while you’re here, subscribe to my newsletter for monthly roundups and fabulous finds.

Before you go…

What’s your freelance life like? My story isn’t the only story, so I’d love to hear yours too!

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