6 things I’ve learnt since being a freelancer


March 3, 2014 by Sian Rowland

Any freelancer will tell you that life in the self-employed jungle is a series of peaks and troughs. One minute you’re wishing there were more hours in the day as you lurch from project to project with barely time to sleep and the next you’re in front of Homes under the Hammer wondering if it’s too early for lunch. So here are 6 things that I’ve learnt about the freelance life.

1)      You can live on less money than you ever thought possible. You spend your employed life living from payday to payday, worrying about cash flow and whether to buy spicy Moroccan topped or lemon and coriander houmous. As a freelancer you never really know where the next payment will come from and although all the advice is to have projects lined up ready to go, it doesn’t always work out like this. You have to cut your cloth according to the pitiful amount in your bank account. And never forget that the tax person will probably take all of that for HMRC coffers anyway. We shop in Lidl (when I say we, I actually mean Mr R as he does the groceries in our house) and buy our bread and milk from the corner shop because it’s cheaper.

Disadvantages: Goodbye sea bass and seventy types of French cheese. Hello lots of dishes made with tinned tomatoes and a slab of cheddar.

Advantages: We try not to put the heating on during the day too but that’s supposed to help the environment. Isn’t it?

2)      It’s amazing how flexible you become. Not flexible as in bendy- although working freelance can free you up for those daytime yoga classes- but flexible as in adaptability. There’s a freedom in freelancing which means that if an opportunity comes along you can consider it even if it’s out of the normal scope of your expertise. There’s also the flexibility of time. If I fancy meeting a friend for coffee, attending a networking event or want to get into a really good book I often can. I can make up the work in the evening or at weekends. Before I went freelance I was told that on no account should I work evenings or weekends. I should lock the door of the office (not easy as my office is the kitchen table) at home time and not answer emails after hours. But a little flexibility works for me.

Danger: freelancer at work.

Danger: freelancer at work.

Disadvantages: it’s hard to switch off and sometimes you have to take jobs outside your area of expertise.

Advantages: taking on a job outside your experience only means you add to your portfolio.

3)      Free your creativity! I’ve become much more creative since going freelance. I write more and generally think in a more creative way. I have to be more imaginative with the way I market myself and my skills, take on projects I wouldn’t normally take on and the things I can do with a tin of tomatoes and some chickpeas would astound you.

Well, hello chickpeas.

Well, hello chickpeas.

Disadvantages: sometimes it’s hard to switch on the creativity and I’d rather do something boring and steady.

Advantages: I can always do some ironing or swim lengths until the feeling wears off.

4)      Jobs can be long-term or short-term. I’m not sure what jobs I thought I’d do but I’ve taken on projects that have lasted from a few hours to a few days and one that lasted a whole year. I’ve discovered that it is possible to juggle projects of varying lengths and that some people are willing to take on freelancers for a longer term job without having to go back to PAYE. It’s always worth asking.

Disadvantages: sometimes the short-term jobs pay better than longer term but you need to have lots lined up to make any money.

Advantages: it’s possible to find something with more stability such as an interim post if freelance life becomes too nerve-wracking.

5)      I’ve learnt about how businesses work. Having worked in the public sector all my life I never had to worry about tax, marketing or IT support. Suddenly you’re cut loose and managing all your own admin, IT and self- promotion. But you learn quickly and keep learning. I go to occasional networking events to learn more and sometimes attend the fantastic (mostly free) seminars from the City of London at the The Guildhall. Well worth checking out.

Disadvantages: I could really do without the faff of tax and admin but I also like a nice expenses spreadsheet too. You’re always on the hustle for new work.

Advantages: no committees, voting on motions or ‘actioning’ and ‘diarising.’ Suddenly I understand Dragon’s Den and find myself shouting, ‘how can you not know the difference between turnover and profit?’

6)      It’s ok to fail. I’m one of life’s overachievers. I was the child who got upset if I came second in the class in end of term tests. I set impossibly high standards for myself and then worry when I can’t reach them so freelancing has done me a world of good. I’ve developed some resilience and although it’s still a setback when something doesn’t work I’m better able to pick myself up and carry on.

Disadvantages: get used to failing to win a bid, get a book deal, win a competition or being let down by others.

Advantages: It’s possible to become more creative (see point 3) about picking yourself back up. You realise how resilient and strong you really can be. And that’s got to be a good thing.

4 thoughts on “6 things I’ve learnt since being a freelancer

  1. Tim says:

    Glad you’re seeing the positives as well as the downsides! Sat on the other side of the fence, I do think that one of the biggest bonuses must be that you get to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone more as a freelancer than as a mere employee, where you’re essentially restricted to working within your own box until you move jobs and swap it for another. It must be scary and yet rewarding.

    • Sian Rowland says:

      You’re exactly right- which is what I was trying to say in the point about flexibility. In my previous job I was worried about treading on the toes of others whereas now I can market my skills in a wider way (indeed I have to!) and say yes to jobs before worrying about whether I can do it or not!

  2. PookyH says:

    OH no… I’m going to be up all night reading your blog now.. must not, must not.. have to get the 6am train tomorrow (another joy of freelancing, one day I’m free to drop my kids to school, the next I spend 6 hours commuting….) Great post, I can see I will like it here!

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