I just completed my first month as a full-time freelancer. I can’t believe I’m saying that. I was in my previous job for five years and never really thought I’d reach this point.
Freelancing is quite a mysterious world. It’s hard to know what to charge, where to find work, what platforms are worth the effort, and what you can expense.
It’s been a month of many lessons, and I still have much more to learn. But here are seven things I learned in my first month of full-time freelancing.
I went straight from studying to a 9-5, so I never really had time without structure. A lot of my friends took time off after studying, or perhaps were forced to due to a job search. And while this certainly comes with its own difficulties, I think it allowed them to experiment with structure and understand what works for them.
I was fortunate enough to have a remote job that wasn’t strict about clocking in and out, but even so, you end up working 9-5 due to meetings and deadlines. So when I made the jump into freelance, I didn’t know how to do it differently.
But over this month, I’ve started experimenting with my day to actually find what works for me.
While I still like starting at 9 and finishing by 5, I’ve found that moving my workout from the morning to just before lunchtime does wonders for me. It’s a great break, and ensures that my most productive hours in the mornings are utilised. It also gets me out the house and around other people, even if I’m too shy to strike up a conversation with anyone in my spinning class.
One of the advantages of working freelance is that you can design your own day, so it’s important to find out what works for you, not for everyone else.
This is obvious to many people. Before leaving my job, I knew that I wouldn’t earn the same salary after a month of freelancing. I had savings that I knew would be sacrificed for this career switch. And yet, it was still difficult to come to terms with.
I had been freelancing on the side for a while, so I already had two clients lined up, but many go freelance without anything in their books. I commend those of you doing that, as it takes a lot of courage.
In my first month of freelancing, I earned almost 45% of my salary at my old job. I also had a week off in this time, as I visited the London Book Fair.
That’s a bit scary, especially in today’s climate.
But that’s okay, as it’s part of the journey. I may have earned less, but I also worked less hours. I got to focus so much more on my writing, and have a whole week in London without feeling guilty.
Everyone tells you this, but you’ll still feel disappointed when it happens. Don’t expect to earn a full salary in your first months of freelancing, as you’re still building up a client base and workload.
Can any other freelancers relate?
For some reason, sending invoices to clients feels dreadful. I expected to feel excited at the prospect of that income. But it feels like I’m conning them somehow.
I did the work. They’re happy with that work. And yet, sending that invoice feels illegal.
I reread the invoices a hundred times. I kept gaslighting myself in my calculations. I felt like I should be apologising to them for asking to be paid.
I hope invoicing gets easier.
But a fun tip I did pick up is to make a template for your invoices. Initially, I was copying and pasting them, and then changing the information. But it’s so much easier to just save a template in Google Docs and then fill it in each time.
As mentioned, I was working remotely before I switched to becoming a freelancer. So I was used to being alone at home all day and thought I wouldn’t notice much difference when freelancing.
But it really is so different.
I underestimated the time spent in meetings or just sending Slack messages to colleagues and how much these add up in a day.
It was kind of lonely, and I found myself messaging my friends more than ever. They tried their best to keep up the conversation, but naturally they have jobs and colleagues of their own to deal with.
You need to find a community.
I was rather lucky in that respect. An old colleague of mine had gone freelance two years before me. So I reached out and we made a plan to meet once a month to work together and have lunch. We also started discussing freelance life, and it was so refreshing. She could help with my questions about taxes, and we could push each other to negotiate for better deals. It really helps to have someone in your corner who gets it.
I also found some fellow freelancers on Twitter by writing a few posts looking for them. That was refreshing, as we all have wisdom to share with one another.
Find a community, either in real life or offline. Or, if you’re just looking to work with other people, consider something like Flown, where you work together over a Zoom call. It gives you that brief social interaction and the motivation to work.
I was very lucky in that my previous two clients were referred to me. But I needed more than two clients to pay my bills. So I had to be proactive and reach out.
I emailed someone I had done work for over a year ago that had just never reached out again. Naturally, my impostor syndrome had convinced me that they hated my work and didn’t want to hire me again. But I tried to stay rational, and simply reached out saying I had more availability in the coming months if they needed any copywriting. They responded a week later saying they actually had some work coming up and they’d let me know. I ended up doing 6 hours for them in April, with hopefully more to come!
Next, I went full girl-boss mode and cold-emailed someone! I had heard of this company before, and it was in a similar line of work to my old job without being a competitor in any way. I had 5 years of experience in the travel industry, and I wanted to put that to good use.
So I emailed the founder and explained my experience, offering my services in email and SEO marketing. It turns out they had been looking for someone, and a few calls later we had a deal for 30 hours of work to start with. And after that, it might be more monthly work.
It was terrifying to reach out to people, but it’s never as bad as you imagine it will be. The worst thing they can say is ‘no’. So feel the fear and do it anyway. Post a message on LinkedIn that you’re open for assignments, because you never know who will see it.
You’ve got to believe in yourself and not care about the things that don’t work out. Negotiate for a better rate because the worst they can say is ‘no’, and then you can always settle for what they offered if you need the work badly enough. But remember that you’ll be stuck on that rate for a while, so ensure that it is worth it for you.
You are the advocate of your work. You’ve got to tell them why you’re worth that amount, and it’s up to them to believe you.
I didn’t take a break between leaving my job and going freelance, as I was pretty scared about not having an income. Like everyone else, I have a lot of bills to pay.
But in that first week, I quickly realised how tired I actually was. Working for five years is tiring, even though I was fortunate enough to enjoy many holidays. I had been giving so much to my job and that combined with the stress of leaving a stable income had taken a toll on me.
So I had to slow down and also embrace the quiet beginning of freelance. I could be stressed and apply for lots of tasks, which happened some days, or I could enjoy having less to do as this wouldn’t be the case later. I would never have the same relaxed time off as I’d know those days are unpaid. So I did a bunch of admin tasks that had been sitting around, like taking my car to the garage and booking appointments.
Some days, I did work for clients in the morning and then took the afternoon off to read a book in the sun. Because I can. There is so much freedom in freelancing, so you should also take advantage of that.
You are your own employee so be a good manager to yourself. Have check-ins and advise yourself not to work too many hours. Don’t skip your lunch break! Take a walk in the middle of the day if you feel like it.
Give yourself compassion in this transition, and also once you settle.
A friend once described me as ‘organised chaos’, and I completely see what they’re talking about. From the surface, I might seem like I’ve got my shit together, at least decently so. But simply enter my little home office and you’ll immediately rethink that. Or take a look at the folders on my laptop, and you’ll run away screaming.
But I knew this wouldn’t work with freelancing. So my first day as a freelancer was dedicated to admin tasks. I named it my ‘Scary Day’, based on TikToks I saw about having a ‘Scary Hour’ where you do all the things you’ve been putting off.
I sorted out everything. I created a spreadsheet to track my income and expenses. I created a spreadsheet to track the hours I worked for each client, at what rate, and whether I’d invoiced for it. This made it so much easier at the end of a month to create my invoices and to know what kind of income I could expect.
Also, a big tip for new freelancers is to work out what counts as an expense! You’re a business, and your business has costs, even if you don’t realise that’s what they are. Anything that is spent to help your business counts. This also depends on the country you’re in, as in some places you can even declare your WiFi or coffee to be an expense. So check the rules, and talk to another freelancer for advice. If you don’t know anyone, check out if there are any freelance groups for your country on Facebook or other platforms.
For me, it was a successful first month. I signed on with new clients. I got work that I feel passionate about. I got to take a week off to visit the London Book Fair and know that no one was waiting for me or covering my workload.
While I’m still learning how to get the most out of my days, I love waking up feeling so excited to start. My previous job was great, and I worked with an amazing team, but five years had started to take the passion from me. It feels great to have my passion back, and it confirms that I made the right decision.
Now on to month 2, which will hopefully result in a higher income, and some new clients to work with.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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