The length of human gestation is 9 months. Usually, a human successfully pops out to great acclaim and happiness. My freelance ‘career’ is 9 months old, but I can hardly claim a similar level of success. I’m working and studying part-time, so it’s hardly a surprise that my freelance writing hasn’t taken off. I’m OK with that, though.
But this milestone sparked my thinking about what I’ve learnt so far.
- Part-time is fine: many freelance writers struggle with the question of whether they should try to work full-time as a writer. It seems to make sense: the time that starting a small business takes is enormous. First, you need to drum up business with coffees, pitches and emails, and there are the tasks of business finance, legal requirements, and online promotion. That’s without adding in the actual writing of pieces, with associated client communication, research, travel and interviews.
Initially, I thought that I would need to freelance full-time and without a job option, it was my only avenue. But an unexpected part-time job offer arose, and I’m glad I took it because part-time freelance has worked for me. Part-time works because writing does tire me out; I need the stimulation of other work to keep me fresh. This approach has certainly worked for others, like Pinar Tarhan.
- Write what you know: from my reading of freelance websites, I had imagined writing features on interesting topics, blog posts, maybe some book reviews and profiles. Of course, I have done none of these, at least not for money. I can do these things, but what I have actually done is write grant applications, edit academic papers, create pitches for government funds. Weird.
But then I looked at the last three years of my life, and the actual writing I have done in my job roles has been academic, reports, and grants. So, it makes sense that I would get work in those areas; people trust me to write well in these areas. I’d love to do other work, but that would require a lot more time than I have, following great advice like this. For the moment, writing government pitches for health contracts is fine, and there’s a lot of money to be made there.
- Don’t undersell yourself: In my first year, I have knocked back about 3 or 4 different projects, for example a series of blog posts and associated tweets and editing a book written by a self-confessed ‘non-writer’. I quoted on them, and was knocked back on price. These were good opportunities, and I wish I had gotten the jobs. But I’m glad I didn’t knock down my price just to catch the client. An influential idea for me is the “velvet rope” – you can read about it here.
- Learn from others: I am an inveterate learner (I am doing a PhD after all). It’s one of my greatest strengths as a writer, as I easily absorb, retain and express new information. So, I have loved reading blogs like The Freelancer’s Year, which is local to me, and I also did an online course with Make a Living Writing – there are a bunch of freelance writers making a living by teaching other freelance writers, but these guys are excellent.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed dipping my toe into the freelance world. It’s fun, flexible, and has the potential to give me a new career path. Let’s see how the toddler stage progresses.