Working for yourself or freelancing is not as easy as it seems. There will be many challenges and difficulties you’ll face on your journey — but fear not. In Part 2 of this Freelance Series, I’ll be looking at navigating life now that you’ve got your first few writing gigs. If you haven’t already, go back and read Part 1 which focuses on how to get started as a freelance writer. So let’s dive straight in:
Find a work-flow
It’s impossible to only write when you feel inspired, or even motivated — you’ll never get anything done. Create habits and routines that are conducive to working; a dedicated work space, minimal distractions and frequent breaks are all ideas that can help your workflow. You could even set aside a dedicated time when you’ll write — 2 hours in the morning, for example. This will help you to be more disciplined.
To make sure I work as efficiently as possible, I have set up a desk in my room where I’ll always write. I work best without distractions, so I either listen to instrumental music or nothing at all and set a time frame wherein which I’ll work. I’ll begin by splurging ideas on the page — even if they sound stupid — and then I’ll continue to refine my writing.
Network like crazy
How successful you’ll be as a freelancer is as much about your attitude as it is about your network — talent really only plays a small role. Expand your network and connect with writers, freelancers and other creatives in the industry — this could also lead to some cool collaborations. Community-led organisations like Lecture in Progress, M&C Saatchi Saturday School, AllBright (specifically aimed at women) and Out The Box (specifically aimed at black creatives), host webinars (and in-person events) where you can meet, network and interact with other people in your field — all these platforms also provide a plethora of resources and advice for creatives and freelancers navigating the industry.
If you’re shy or anxious about networking, use social media or emails to reach out to your peers — you’ll be surprised at how friendly people are and how willing they are to help. Challenge yourself to speak to just one person at the next event you attend or to ask one question if it's a panel — start small and grow from there. Networking is a skill like anything else that takes time, effort and practice.
As a freelancer, it’s the small actions that have the biggest impact; a friendly, formal email (especially when first approaching editors), swift replies, handing work in on time, producing proof-read work — all these things make a positive impression on an editor and it’s more likely they will want to commission you again.
Keep yourself organised
In the world of freelancing, time is money, so it's important to stay organised and find ways to save yourself time on meaniel tasks. You could, for example, have a generic pitch template that you use instead of writing a new pitch each time (just amend it for each pitch), or create an email sign off so you’re not having to repeat ‘Kind Regards…’, after every email. These are small actions but they will save you time and help keep you organised. It’s always important to produce your best, proof-read work, but if you’re not being paid for a job or being paid very little, it’s unrealistic to spend hours and hours writing the piece. If you get paid £50 for a piece for example and you spend 6 hours writing, you’ll be earning less than £10 an hour and this doesn’t include time taken to perfect the pitch, emails back and forth, proof-reading and also the time you put into developing your craft. Make sure to organise your time effectively so that you’re working as efficiently as possible — limit distractions or set yourself deadlines for example.
You also need to keep track of projects you’re working on. Use a notebook, a spreadsheet or Trello (virtual organisation board), whatever you need to keep track of your projects and deadlines. It’s also good to keep
your writing ideas in one place. I find it useful to have a list of all my ideas in a Google sheet — this way I can access it from any device — with a column next to it of potential publications I could pitch it to. Whenever I’m stuck for ideas I’ll go back to my spreadsheet and choose a few ideas I can pitch.
Money, money, money
Although it’s awkward, we need to normalise conversations surrounding money as freelancers. For example, if you’ve been commissioned for a piece and the editor hasn’t mentioned fees, there’s nothing wrong with asking if the job is paid. Or if an invoice is late, don’t be embarrassed to chase it up.
When you’re first starting out as a freelancer, taking on free work can be beneficial. This will definitely help you to build your portfolio and create connections with other writers and editors. Even when working for free, remain professional, produce quality work and leave a positive impression. As you gain more and more experience you may still take on a few free writing gigs, but remember the goal is to make a living, so you can’t write for free forever — you need to be confident in the value you’re bringing to the table.
Different editors, different people
Different editors will have different communication styles and you’ll know this from the first email. Some are casual and will call you babe, whereas others are formal and more to the point. Make sure you're matching the ‘energy’ your editor is bringing. Always start off formal though as it’s the safest option; if you see they’re more chilled then feel free to reflect this tone — if you feel comfortable.
Always try to complete work at the agreed upon time, but if you find that you're not able to make a deadline for whatever reason, get in touch with the editor as soon as possible and let them know. Remember they’re human too and are very likely to understand. Don't make a habit out of it though — impressions last.
Give yourself a break
Freelancing doesn’t end at 5.30pm like most jobs. When you’re not writing, you’re pitching, sorting invoices, drafting ideas, sending emails or doing one of many other tasks. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be hyper-productive all the time. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, taking breaks to rest your brain and to give yourself time away from a screen. Take time out when you feel like you need to and don’t make a habit of staying up late to finish work — the hustle has to stop sometime. Rest allows our brains to function at their optimum level, and subsequently we’ll produce our best work.
Perfect your craft
Commit to developing your craft constantly. Even when you’re not getting commissioned, write as much as you can — this will definitely help you to improve overtime. You could also push yourself out of your comfort zone and experiment with other styles or new topics.
Although writing is the main craft, think about other areas that you can develop — time management, communication skills or productivity for example. This all contributes to refining your writing skills and your writing process. There are so many courses, webinars, seminars, workshops, talks and even podcasts available to help you with motivation, planning, crafting ideas and of course writing. Write-minded is a great podcast to check out and focuses on all styles of writing and how to develop your craft. Books I would recommend are The Sense of Style and Write Tight which are writer-specific and Side Hustle and The Creative Curve which focus on how to turn your hobby or passion into a hustle and how to hone your creativity, respectively. I would also suggest signing up to journalist Alasdair Lane’s weekly email newsletter Write at Home. It does cost to sign up but Alasdair helpfully collates lots of freelance writing gigs in one place and also offers advice for writers from time to time. The Freelance Kit post specially curated advice for freelancers via their Instagram and frequently host lives, webinars and events.
Be patient with yourself
Don’t compare yourself to other writers (regardless of how far along they are in their journey) and give yourself time. Work won’t come straight away or frequently sometimes but it’s important to continue on your journey and understand that ups and downs are a part of it all.
Look out for the next part of this Freelance series, where I’ll be taking you through the art of curating the perfect pitch.