It's everyone's dream. Ask your average Jo/Joe on the street and she/he will tell you they want to work for themselves, be their own boss and be in control of their money and time. Does the liberating perception of freelancing marry up to the reality?
I went into freelancing (well, contracting really) for one simple reason. I wanted to get out of the corporate machine. The day-to-day drudgery through BAU was bringing me down. I wanted to work on big, sexy projects where I could flex my creative muscles, not update pricing across a website.
And getting away from oppressive office politics, corporate posturing and yearly personal development reviews was exactly what a jaded and disillusioned me needed.
The money and the flexibility was just a huge added bonus.
Oh yeah, I would be paid better and could take as much time as I wanted off! I started to dream of earning enough to take three months off and go travelling. After I'd all the renovations I wanted to do to my house. It was starry-eyes a-go-go.
Until I got into the company formation bit. Hiring an accountant, as I don't understand tax... Or maths. Setting up business bank accounts. Getting VAT numbers. Buying public liability and professional indemnity insurance. Understanding payroll, dividends, corporation tax, VAT returns, self-assessment and all the other stuff that leaves me bewildered.
Once I ran through that minefield like a blindfolded clown, I realised I need to get clients. Ones that would help me develop as a copywriter, work on those sexy projects and pay me enough to live. I started to hound all the recruitment agencies. And I mean ALL OF THEM.
I was lucky. I got a contract straight away. Then went from that contract to another long-term contract. I'm now financially stable and I've stepped up several rungs of the ladder.
But then I pitch myself as a consultant and I work (successfully) as a "Head of".
The admin is still the bain of my existence. The constant fear of being out of work or instantly let go because businesses change nags away. And that generally, people sneer at contractors. These are all negatives that will persist.
As for the dream of being flexible and going travelling. It's still a dream. For every day you're not working, you're not getting paid. As you get paid for the privilege of not being permanent, you're under more scrutiny to get stuff done to a high standard, get results and work harder than most.
There is the option to become a digital nomad. Unless you're a travel writer, I don't see the value or respect this.
You're either exploring a country and everything it has to offer or you're working. I don't believe you can do both. Sitting in cafes on a laptop, living like a student and living day-by-day doesn't appeal. Especially if you're aged 30+. I just think you need to take some responsibility, not be constantly running away. In my humble opinion, it's a lifestyle that seems good in theory, but can an unstable life without friends, family and familiarity ever be truly happy? It's a stigma I exert on people, so I would expect that to be inflicted on me too.
And then there's the option to work abroad. Experience the country as a true local and get easy access to other territories. Again, as a contractor, this is something that's always open to me that doesn't need too much commitment.
Pitfalls for freelance copywriters and editors
If you're properly freelancing, not selling out to the corporate machine just on different terms, like me, there are a few things you need to consider before jumping in:
Working for free - you might think getting clients is easy, as you've done some stuff for free and got great feedback. This will change once to start charging a liveable fee. There's always someone willing to work for free who might be just as good as you, so don't take this for granted.
A nest egg - most people have this as a deposit on a house, a holiday fund or that speedboat you've been eyeing up. Simply, you need a buffer for when the work dries up. Just like in any company, it's peaks and troughs but the bills don't see it like that.
Become an accountant - if you can't afford to pay an accountant to do it all for you, you'll need to become a demon at keeping receipts, knowing your tax dates and knowing what it all means. Don't get bitten by HMRC, as this could cost you a fortune and even time in prison.
Your network - freelancers think that just because they worked with someone once who now works for Faber, this is a silver bullet to regular work. Getting a freelancer (or any company) on the books is a long, drawn-out process of corporate diligence checks. Have your paperwork in order and even if you get on the books, you'll be in competition with trusted editors who have been on the books for years. And don't think because you worked at a big agency or company, it'll be easy. They all budget watch and would rather do themselves, in-house, as it's quicker, easier and above all, cheaper.
Social media ain't so social - you might find out about the odd gig on Twitter or LinkedIn, but again, it's not a silver bullet. You're in competition with everyone who's seen that tweet/post. It's rare people take a risk on someone off the internet. Even personal recommendations may lead to nowhere. You'll have loads of positive meetings that lead to a dead-end.
Content mills - they don't pay enough. You'll have to churn out loads of sub-standard, bollocks articles just to make £50 in a day. Also, I know whenever I've interviewed, I've never taken anyone who cites PeoplePerHour or Copify seriously. I'm a fair old soul, but their copy tests always prove me right.