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Thinking of taking the freelance plunge? Read this…

If you want to switch to a freelance career because you fancy taking every afternoon off or working in bed, then you might need a reality check…

By Jo Dunbar

COVID-19 has seen plenty of people reassess the way they work. Research by women’s club AllBright found that 61% of women surveyed are planning a career change post-pandemic, with 1 in 4 focussed on starting their own business. I left a full-time position in a magazine nine years ago to work for myself. These days, I write for titles including The Daily Telegraph, Mother & Baby and Grazia. Before you swap your staff pass for becoming a sole trader, here’s a few home truths.

BALANCING ACT

Going freelance isn’t an instant answer for a more chilled-out life. Yes, no one is timing your lunch break. But similarly, a salary will not magically appear each month without you putting in the effort to find and deliver work. Since I went freelance almost a decade ago, I have worked harder, given up more weekends and pulled more late nights than I ever did when working for a national newspaper.

The flexibility of freelancing has worked for me, especially since starting a family, but I have had to re-educate myself in how to switch off. I’ve written copy whilst on holiday and accepted last-minute commissions many, many times. You have to work out your own work/life parameters and learn what you are comfortable with.

FEAST OR FAMINE

No matter how organised I am, the nature of a freelance career means there will be droughts with seemingly not much work coming in, then other times when I scramble to meet deadlines. This is the nature of the beast: things constantly change which keeps my work life feeling fresh, but the downside is living with uncertainty from month to month.

ACCEPT THE ADMIN

It might not sound fun or creative but before you do anything you need to work out your overheads, register as self-employed with HMRC and be prepared to do a tax return every year. Ignoring tax will not serve you well in the long run so it’s best to read up and work out what your allowable expenses are.

Similarly, it might seem dull but without an employer chipping into a pension pot you need to work out your retirement finance plans for yourself.

INVEST IN YOURSELF

Knowing your worth is key to quoting for jobs. Take your experience and strengths into account and research what the going rate is: many freelancers undersell their skills.

In previous jobs, I’d been given chunks of time to go on a course or have an away day with my team. I learned fairly early on that career development is vital if you are going to keep setting yourself new challenges as a freelancer, so I’ve paid for my own courses. I also do an end-of-year review of sorts for myself; it’s important to look back and see your achievements as well as setting yourself new things to aim for.

FIND YOUR NETWORK

Initially, I struggled with catastrophising if things went wrong, or alternatively had no-one to celebrate with if I landed a great interview or got glowing feedback. I have a couple of friends who are in a similar position and we make time to talk about work. There’s great support available on social media too, you just need to find your tribe.

 

Follow Jo on Instagram or find out more on her website.

Photos of Jo taken by Lee Gibbins Photography.

 

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