8th April 2016 was my last day as a full time employee, with me starting my first freelancing gig on 11th April. I already shared a lot of what I’ve learned along the way as a freelancer a few months ago, when I reflected on my first 9 months. To celebrate my 1 year anniversary I wanted to share the things that warm the heart of this freelancer. So, for today, I’m filing the challenges away in a drawer, and am focusing on the sparkly things I love about my freelancing life:
(1) I get to prioritise my time. I don’t have people telling me what is important, I get to decide based on my own ambitions. Sometimes my priority is making money, but only sometimes. More often than not it is about structuring my week so that I can deliver against my freelancing commitments while also making sure I stay on track with the novel I’m writing (or whatever other writing commitments I might have, there are so many opportunities for me to hone my craft in London)
(2) I get to design my work week. Back when I worked an office job, I resented it when work leaked into the weekend, which happened all too often in the world of advertising. Now that I get paid a day rate for hours worked (not being at a desk between 9-5+), I relish the flexibility to look at the full 7 days ahead and work out when I need to focus on different (paying & non-paying) projects. As a writer, you never really get a day off anyway, and this way I get to manage my time to ensure I’m delivering against all my commitments.
(3) PJs are acceptable work wear. Now this isn’t always the case, obviously. But more and more of the companies I work with are taking advantage of remote working. They don’t want an extra body taking up precious office space. I can come in for briefings, meetings and workshops, dressed like a grown-up woman, as needed, but the rest of the time I have the freedom to decide where I work. More often than not, it’s at home in my office, and yes I tend to rock the PJ leisurewear with a bit too much enthusiasm. As a freelancer I’m finding the people I work with trust me to be getting on with a project, even if they can’t see me doing it. As a result I find I’ve never been more committed to doing the best work I can. Trust is a big motivator, because you don’t want to lose it.
(4) Repeat business feels like winning an award. Working in an industry that loves awards, I don’t need statuettes in my office to feel like a winner. The feeling I had when I got my first repeat customer beats any of the awards I’ve won over the years. That they were soon followed by a second repeat customer was probably the best confidence boost this insecure freelancer could get. There were times in 2016 when I felt like I was barely finding my feet, and sometimes the water felt too deep to navigate with any certainty. In 2017 I’ve started to carve niches for myself. I’m still a fledgling freelancer, but I’m haunted by fewer “what have I done” moments.
(5) I get to do new things. I thought my old job as a strategist was varied. But in the last 12 months the most satisfying projects I’ve worked on are the ones that took me out of my comfort zone. There were days I couldn’t even locate my comfort zone to send it a postcard, even if I’d wanted to . But if someone expects you to get something done, I find it’s best to get on with it, and get it done. Not to stop and ask yourself if you can do it in the first place. That tends to be a waste of precious time. I start a new project tomorrow, and I look forward to a fair amount of discomfort. I’ve picked up more new skills by being out there doing different things, than I ever did in a year as an employee, even with the workplace funded training courses.
(6) I’ve learned to respect myself. We all have our own inner dialogues. As I have an on-going struggle with depression and anxiety, my internal conversations can get quite vitriolic. Having a voracious inner critic did not help me when I was getting worn down by the relentless pattern of full time work. I’d get sick, I’d get tired, I’d hate myself. Now that I have more flexibility in my life, I’m doing some of my best work while also prioritising self care. If, because of a deadline, I’ve worked into the small hours to send a document over, I will give myself a bit of a lie-in to recover, and it’ll be no great drama. The sky never falls and I’ve started having much more constructive and respectful internal conversations.
(7) I can work in places that inspire me. No open plan office has ever inspired me. Distracted me, yes. Inspired me, no. I always hated that sense of being on display and interrupt-able. Now I’ve already mentioned that I work from home a lot, as I’ve created a wonderful space for myself there. However, it is good to get out of the house, and I’ve discovered that London is full of wonderful, wifi-ed up spaces that you can work in. As a theatre lover, I tend to gravitate towards theatre spaces (Battersea Arts Centre, Soho Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Young Vic etc..). There are people, there is chatter, but it doesn’t distract me because everyone is getting on with their own thing. They don’t care about what you’re doing. We’re all working in our own companionable bubbles. Some projects I exclusively do from home because the content is confidential. But on my writing days, I can usually be found haunting a theatre bar, at least the ones that have been set up to be a hub within the local community. I prefer it to spending money on a shared working space. In theatres I pay my way through the consumption of drinks and snacks. The joy being that most of the places I go to don’t care how long it takes you to drink one pot of tea. Of course once Summer comes I’ll be dusting off the red parasol and hitting the garden..
(8) My family and friends have all be unanimously supportive. This is a wonderful note to finish with, because I can’t express how important it has been to me to have the support of those I love most. None of them ever questioned the wisdom of my decision. They all repeated that I could do it. Even in the post-Brexit fog, a time when contracts curled up and choked to death, I could feel they supported my decision to go freelance. I know from talking to other people who also took the plunge into self-employment, that I’m unusually lucky in this regard. So, as my family and friends make up most of the readership of this blog,* I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for being so positive, and supporting me in the belief that, even on my darkest days, it is possible for me to carve out the work life I want.
*Actually that’s not totally true, I have no idea who a lot of my readers are, and have been pleasantly surprised as my stats indicate a fair few genuine strangers read my ramblings. I welcome you all, you lovely folk from near and far.