Going freelance means giving up a steady income, sick leave, holiday pay and the security of knowing where you’ll be or what you’ll be working on tomorrow, next week or a month from now. But it also means more creative freedom, flexibility, independence – and being able to nap during the day. We asked four freelancers – a graphic designer, a writer and editor, a consultant and collaborator and a creative director – for some advice on how to make the transition into working for yourself.
Jo Hoban, freelance editorial consultant and creative collaborator
"I made the shift to freelancing when I had young babies, and it suited me—I knew I wouldn’t have a wealth of time to work anyway, but I managed different projects when I could, and now that the kids are a bit older, I’m finding it more natural to increase my workload.
Starting to freelance is like bungee jumping—it’s scary, but you know you’re tied to something, so hope for the best! Exhilaration aside, you need to be practical. It’s sensible to know that you have a ‘bread-and-butter’ client or two who will flick work your way (thanks, old employer!). And if you share your finances with a partner, you need to know that they’re in a position to shoulder your financial responsibilities should your work contracts be on the lean side. Once you’ve got the basics covered, you can learn as you go, and slowly grow your business. I’ve found that if you just keep chugging away, gradually you’ll start to gather more momentum.
Some useful advice I’ve received along the way has been to stay calm and make time for everything, even if you feel like a job is consuming you. Be organised with your admin and allocate some time for your marketing, or seeking future work—how much depends on how busy you want to be and how many existing clients you have. It’s worthwhile to do some kinds of work for free, to help build your portfolio and feed your creativity. And you never know what other opportunities might come from it. Gather testimonials as you go and connect with your collaborators and clients through social media sites. And finally… once you’ve made the decision to go freelance, back yourself! If you know that you can provide a valuable, high-quality service, be prepared to summarise that when an opportunity arises."
Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the work shows up, too.
Madeleine Dore, freelance writer and editor, Extraordinary Routines
“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” - Isabel Allende
"In the beginning of building a career as freelance writer, I think it’s important to put your hand up for as many things as possible. Find an internship that will sharpen your skills, build your portfolio and give you a valuable contact in the industry who can vouch for your writing. Ask friends if you can help write content for their website, short bios, or press releases. Pitch features to your favourite publications and volunteer to write the first one for free if the editor is not familiar with your work. Start a blog or writing project to showcase your writing. Make your name known. Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the work shows up, too."
Take naps often.
Lara Stephenson, creative director, The Grazing Elk
"Something I have learned through being a freelancer and now owning my own business would be: take frequent naps. If you’re tired or frustrated – just check out. Have a nap, watch a movie, read a book, go do something nice for yourself, have fun... and come back to your project, your business, or your work when you are feeling better, inspired and uplifted from the good things you have just done.
It is only recently I have heard this from other people, but I have found it is one of the easiest and nicest ways to feel good again, get inspiration (my website idea came to me in a dream), and you feeling good, confident and loved is the first step of everything. Being a freelancer, you have this freedom to take time out, have a nap and do something fun.
You will return to whatever you were doing before on a completely new level and fresh inspiration."
Jodi English, freelance graphic designer
"Recently, I've been constantly coming back to some advice from Andrew Denton at the recent Semi Permanent conference in Sydney: “Be busy. Be Hungry. Be silent. Be bold. Be prepared to fail. And persevere.”
Over time I've come to realise it's so much more important to stay busy, not only on commercial work, but personal projects. This allows you the freedom to explore different mediums, different ideas, learn different skills and gives you a platform to continually experiment. Whilst freelancing offers you a degree of freedom, you are responsible with your time and it's important to stay organised, be proactive and explore new and exciting opportunities that keep you motivated.
For me, being hungry is having a constant curiosity, not only about design but about travel, people, food, ideas and the world around us. I believe we can gain inspiration from the most unexpected places so it's important to always be a sponge!
I find it so easy to constantly be thinking about your current projects, next week's plans or getting caught up in your Facebook timeline or Instagram feed. Recently, I've been making a conscious effort to just sit down, relax and enjoy some quiet time away from my phone/computer and read my latest books and magazines. Surprisingly, some of your best ideas actually come when you don't intend!
I believe being bold is about being confident in your own abilities, believing in yourself and having the willingness to put yourself out there. At times, I think we all struggle with this and often compare ourselves to others. It's important to believe in your work, embrace your individual style as a freelancer and remember the real value of your work. Be open to meeting new people, getting involved in your local community and collaborating with other creatives.
More than anything else, work hard, stay humble, hopeful, patient and never give up! Oh and make sure you keep money aside for tax!"
Lizzie Stafford is a freelance writer and editor and owns and runs Künstler, an independent magazine and bookstore based in Winn Lane, Brisbane. She is the Brisbane events coordinator for CWC.