My best advice for new freelancers

Are you being pushed or pulled into freelancing?

In my last newsletter, I gave my best advice for student journalists. Now, here's the second instalment in my back-to-school series, my best advice for those new to freelancing or thinking about taking the leap.  

Are you being pushed or pulled into freelancing?

The most important question to ask yourself before you go freelance is whether you want to do it for circumstantial or fundamental reasons. Are you being pulled towards freelancing because the idea of it truly resonates with you, or are you being pushed into it because you're not happy in your current work situation?  

Perhaps you have a bad boss, who is eroding your confidence and making you doubt your abilities. It might very well be the case that you need to get out of that situation, for both your professional and personal health. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to quit AND go freelance. The truth is, making the jump into self-employment is always going to be scary (it's supposed to be scary!) but it shouldn't feel like the last resort. 

Change your money mindset 

For most freelancers, the vast majority of what we worry about comes down to money. Be that late or no payment, or just managing daily cash flow, money is the biggest cause of stress for the self-employed. I've found over the years that more often than not, that worry isn't always founded. Yes, far too many companies pay shoddy rates and do so late and the consequence of that can be dire, but I've also worried about money when in reality, I just didn't know where my finances stood. And when I actually checked, my situation wasn't as bad as I had built it up in my head.

Overdue invoices and companies exploiting their freelancers are unacceptable practices, but there are practical ways that freelancers can create financial security for themselves in spite of that. The best way to do this is by finding a system for managing the freelancer finances that actually works for you. I only do my invoicing once a week because it drains too much of my energy to be constantly chasing overdue payment. If you don't like spreadsheets to track your expenses, find an app instead; if the idea of filing a self-assessment breaks you out in hives, hire an account. It doesn't actually matter how you're managing your money, just that you're managing it. 

Pick your colleagues (and be kind to them)

I've made more friends since I've been freelance than I did when I was at uni. Working for yourself can be a lonely business, but there are so many of us striking it out on our own now that it's easier than ever to find a community. 

New freelancers sometimes worry that talking to other freelancers is fraternising with the enemy. I call BS on that! Be collaborative and collegiate because there really is enough space at the top for all of us. Go out and find your people. Forget WeWork, find a local, affordable co-working space. Or join a virtual community (like my Slack group for freelancers!) and make the best colleagues you've ever had. 

Work how and when you want

I'm not in the business of telling new freelancers to wear shoes or to get dressed every morning. The whole point of going freelance is to finally work in ways that actually work for you. That might mean writing in bed, not wearing a bra at your desk or working in the middle of the night.

There's no boss anymore to tell you off, so just work however you actually want, rather than the way you've been told is the “right” way. The biggest shock I've had since going freelance is realising how many toxic habits I absorbed working for other people and the misguided ideas I've formed about what work "should" look like. 

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries 

Freelancing is a constant negotiation – with both clients and yourself.  Clients will try to get you to work for less than you’re worth and you’ll try to convince yourself it’s ok to do it. The only way to stop this happening is by setting, maintaining and protecting your boundaries. The sooner you learn to say no (including to yourself), the better. 

Don’t scrimp on the small boundaries, either. If you told yourself that evenings and weekends are work-free times, don’t take on that extra assignment “just this once”. If you really want to start writing features, stop accepting op-eds. Saying no to the things you don’t want to do is easy, but the real test will come when you have to say no to things you do want to do because they don’t quite fit with your biggest goals.

Actually enjoy it!

Freelancing is hard, but it’s supposed to also be fun. There will be times – countless, in fact – when you find yourself questioning why you started down this path in the first place. In those moments, it’s good to have an answer already clear in your mind. I’d wager a bet that if you responded to my first question that you’re being pulled to freelancing, you already have your answer anyway.

Happy freelancing, professional freelancers!
– Anna, FJ&Co Founder

The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
If you're new to freelancing, download First Aid for Freelancers, my free e-book on handling the early days of self-employment. You need to put your email address in to download it; you won’t be signed up to the newsletter twice. Also, check over the archives for past issues.
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