How it all began
It wasn’t long ago that I was fresh out of university, sitting in a London office and repetitively dialling numbers to people who had absolutely no interest in speaking with me. I was selling. I was disillusioned. Like many graduates, I had decided that money was the most important thing, and that after three years of being overdrawn it was about time I found myself some cash and joined the fabled real world. It’s safe to say that it was a pretty miserable period in my life, but I definitely learnt an awful lot about myself as a result of it.
Why do people do it?
I think that the vast majority of people see work as a means to an end, and accept that 40 of their precious hours a week will be spent doing something that isn’t particularly enjoyable. The end is money, but surely there comes a point at which the misery of a monotonous work life outweighs any amount of money you can earn. I think it’s important to challenge these societal expectations. What if I don’t fancy being driven down the bleak path of a tedious 9-5? What if I want to spend the majority of my time doing something I enjoy, not just shuffling by so that I can splash out on the occasional weekend of excess? I want more than that from my sixty five years on this planet, and I definitely don’t need ten years of sitting behind a desk to come to the realisation that money doesn’t equate to happiness.
That may sound pretty naïve, but I am realistic. Many people have no option but to work doing something they rather wouldn’t. They need to pay bills, put food on the table, provide for their dependants and generally continue in their own search for happiness. At the moment though, I don’t have those kinds of responsibilities, and I hope that even when I do, I can still get by whilst working at something I enjoy. What I enjoy is writing, using my words to entertain and inform, whilst (hopefully) making a positive difference. And with that conclusion there seemed only one way to go…
I am of course talking about self-employment, or freelancing. Since September last year I have been working as a freelance copywriter, and so far it’s going much better than I’d anticipated. I have had plenty of interesting projects- mostly revolving around travel writing- earned a decent amount of money and seen my work exposed to thousands of people every day. Whilst freelancing offers the potential for flexibility, it’s nonetheless predicated on plenty of hard work and an even greater amount of self-discipline.
Here are a few things I have learned from the experience so far…
What do you need?
In three words: Persistence, drive & ability. My skill, I hope, is with words, but you might be an incredible artist, musician or linguist. Whatever, there is a market for all of these and more. If you are good enough and willing to put in the effort, you can find work. However, persistence is needed to deal with those initial rejections. If, like me, you start out using a freelancing platform – I use Freelancer.com – then you will immediately be connected to hundreds of potential employers, and have to bid for the right to work on a project. This isn’t a bid in the Ebay sense, but an offer of how much you will do the work for and how quickly you will do it, alongside a short covering letter to convince them that you are the right person. Drive comes in when you get a job. Obviously you need to stick to deadlines and complete tasks to a high standard. Reputation is important, and there is nothing better than being approached by someone who wants to work with you for a second time.
How to get started
As I mentioned, I used the Freelancer.com platform, so I can only really speak about that, although I imagine the template is pretty similar for other sites connecting freelancers to employers. First you have to create a profile, probably adding details of your relevant experience and some examples of your work. This is all easy. The next part is where it gets more difficult; when it comes to actually going for projects. I think there are generally two ways that you can go about this. The first is that you can bid for jobs en masse, and do them fairly cheaply, in order to build up some recommendations and good reviews. This will undoubtedly help you win better projects in the future. I instead went for a more targeted approach, putting a lot of time into a few bids for projects which really interested me, and that would guarantee a decent financial return for my efforts. Maybe I was lucky, but the second way definitely worked for me. Think about it, as it could easily be the difference between writing product descriptions for a host of Chinese vegetables and helping put together a travel guide for distant paradise you’re hoping to visit in the future. After all, the whole point of freelancing is that to an extent you choose the projects that interest you.
- Rehire – There’s nothing more satisfying than pleasing an employer to the point where they offer you further work. They have faith in your ability and reliability, whilst you have the assurance of work in the future.
- Long term offers – I have been lucky enough to be offered a more permanent position from one of the employers I have worked for. This can be ideal, especially if you still want to work from home/ while on the move.
- Flexibility – This goes without saying. The most obvious upside of freelancing is that you can, to an extent, work when you want. I’m a bit of a night owl, so that flexibility is important to me.
- Portfolio progression – If, like me, you are looking to build up a portfolio so that when that dream job does come up, you have the experience and contacts to go for it, freelancing is a fantastic way to get a broad range of experience under your belt.
- Flexibility – I have found this to be a downside on occasion. The fact that you don’t finish, or indeed start, at a set time every day (although you could if you wanted) means that when others have left the office you may be just getting started. This can be difficult to adjust to, unless like me, you have just come out of university, where working late into the night is the norm.
- Insecurity - Not knowing when your next job is coming can be a little unnerving, but I find that the insecurity pushes me to work harder and be more disciplined.
- A lonely workplace – For a lot of people, work is only bearable because of the people you spend your time with. Freelancing on the other hand, is definitely a lonely business, often requiring you to spend much of your time isolated when deadlines are looming. Having said that, what you lose out on through having a non-social workplace is more than made up for in the flexibility of your working hours, meaning you can do much more of the things which make you happy, which is the whole point right?