Blog of a first time freelancer

Prospective freelancers often want advice and reassurance on making the leap to full-time freelance work. In my experience, reassurance is pretty hard to come by but here’s a different take on the usual cautionary tales…

Being relatively new to the freelance ‘game’ myself, sitting down to write this blog got me thinking about how I started out in freelancing. Ever since I worked at a book publishers as a first-jobber and farmed work out to freelance editors I have wanted to work freelance. Pretty much everything about the idea of freelancing clicked with me. Not having to look busy when there is no work to do – check. Taking on work for a variety of different clients – check. Not launching myself outside five days a week on cold winter mornings – check and double check!

So with my freelance dream in mind, I took it and almost killed it by researching the details of freelancing to death – often as I fantasised about the décor of my little home office whilst at my day job (sorry ex-boss!). Cautionary tales abounded. I read that if I even thought about jacking in the day job without at least six months’ salary in savings I was insane. I would need to prepare for a financial rollercoaster and periods of months without work. I read that the market was already saturated with freelance writers and that competition would be prohibitively fierce. People advised that I really should wait until I had some regular work before making the leap. It was enough to put a girl off.

Well, it didn’t put me off but it did make me think that I needed to wait for that golden era when I had a cushy six months’ salary in the bank and a nice, regular freelance gig to tide me over. Guess what? In surprise news - that golden era never came. While I waited for my ducks to get themselves in a row, time passed and I was still daydreaming of following my freelance dreams but seemingly getting no closer. As frustration and 9 to 5 despair grew, frankly, something had to give and anyone who lived in close proximity to me then would attest to that!

The mind was willing...the finances were weak

In January 2008 my new year’s resolution was to become a self-employed writer that very year. From January I emailed around like a mad woman and got some bits of freelance work on evenings and weekends. The work started picking up and I was having to turn freelance work down due to time restraints. At the end of March I jacked in the day job and became a full-time freelancer. I didn’t have six months’ salary in the bank (between me and you I doubt that I ever would or will have!) or any definite work lined up but I had the momentum and I felt the time was right even though the finances were not.

With £123.16 in the bank, half a pay cheque pending and a credit card with two thirds of the balance available, I set out freelance. I really had so safety net and I knew I could be facing an absolute disaster. I also knew, though, that I had to give it a whirl. I was terrified but I quelled the rising panic by telling myself if I had to pay the rent with the credit card then I would chase some temp work or stack shelves to get by and keep plugging away with the freelance when I could.

I gave it my all (I had no choice!) and almost eight months later, that savings account is growing (for the first time ever I might add) and I have actually shrunk rather than added to the credit card debt. I haven’t called my local Office Angels up yet either.

I wouldn’t advocate such financial recklessness for everyone thinking of freelancing. However, my point is that despite all the horror stories and well-meaning cautionary tales out there, only you will know when the ‘right’ time to go freelance is. If freelancing is your dream, take the caution on board but don’t get bogged down in it to the point of standing still. Sometimes you really just have to take a well-reasoned chance and have faith. It won’t always be easy but it’s working out so far for me (touch wood!).

What do you think? Have you also freelanced by the seat of your pants? Did you have a back-up plan that didn’t involve six months’ savings? We've opened up a discussion on the forum so you can tell us your experiences too.

Sarah Wray


11th December 2008

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