Six Things I’ve Learned from Six Months of Accidental Freelancing

Two weeks ago, I asked for feedback for this newsletter. Many of you wrote back and said very nice things about it and some of you were kind enough to take the time to send me extensive notes. I was really inspired by the suggestions, so much so that I’ve decided to give Cod Philosophy a little revamp and focus it on my journey since becoming an accidental freelancer.

While the media might seem like an uncertain industry right now, my experience so far has been that it really is possible to make a sustainable living as a freelance writer. Cod Philosophy is going to be a space where I share tips and insights I’ve learned from the frontline of freelancing, I do hope you stay along for the ride.

To kick things off, here are six things I've learned since I started freelancing just over six months ago.

1. Going public was the best decision I made

A couple of hours after I was made redundant from my job at Vice, I tweeted and posted about it on Facebook. This was probably the best thing I could have possibly done. Those posts, in which I literally told the internet I needed work, led to me landing commissions in my first week. Looking back on it now, I realise those commissions were exactly the confidence boost I needed and put me on the track I am now, which is regular work and a steady income.

2. Routine is king

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt really off my game and I couldn’t work out why at first. It was because my dog, Dolly, wasn't at home with me. Dolly is the cornerstone of my routine; her morning walk gets me out of bed at the same time every day and her evening stroll signals the end of the working day for me. Not to mention, on any given day I know that I will be out of the house with her, so I never really suffer from cabin fever.

3. You have to sort out your finances

Something you will hear about the downside of freelancing is how unsteady the income can be. I don’t think that’s a helpful way of looking at it; instead, I think about it as just a different payment schedule to what most people are used to. Yes, never being sure how much money is in your bank account on any given day can be unsettling, but there are ways around that. About a month in, I decided to open a second bank account: one to receive all my income and the other one for my day-to-day banking. It took a while to set it all up, but what I now effectively do is pay myself a monthly salary.

4. Don’t be a snob

Don’t be fooled into thinking that media is dying, there are writing opportunities everywhere if you’re willing to look for them. I recently found a regular gig by responding to an ad I saw on for a startup looking for freelance contributors for its blog. While I regularly write for big titles, a big chunk of my income comes from writing for other types of clients. Everyone wants “content” these days, and while I don’t do anything I don’t feel comfortable attaching my name to, if you look outside of the mainstream media, a lot of doors open up.

5. Always negotiate rates

Unlike a salaried position where you get one chance to negotiate your pay when you take the contract and then maybe others once a year at your annual review, the opportunity to raise your rates can happen daily when you freelance. Always ask for more money, especially if you think you’re being lowballed. It’s daunting at first, but after a few goes (which for me have usually always resulted in higher fees), you get the hang of it.

6. You have the best boss

Someone asked me recently whether working from home ever tempts me to just watch daytime TV all day. It really doesn’t. That’s partly because there’s a difference between working remotely in staff position versus full-time freelance (the latter meaning that if you don’t work, you don’t eat). But for me, there’s something else going on. Just knowing that if I need to have a lie-in because my dog woke me up in the middle of the night to be sick in her bed (it happened), I can do it without having to ask anyone makes me very productive. Dictating my schedule brings me a feeling of respect I’ve not always felt I’ve had in office jobs and I like to think that's because I have the best boss out there.