I went freelance in the middle of a global pandemic: 15 tips for freelancers-to-be.
When considering going in a new direction, instinctively we look to people who have been on that route for a long time, who are experienced, who have made it work – and it’s true there is a lot to be learned from those people. For me, prior to my move into freelance life, I also found it hugely helpful to speak to, read about and hear from people who’d newly made that chasmic shift, who could tell me what those first few months might be like, and who were right there with me in the “it could all still go t*ts up!” phase.
As well as learning from the pros, it can be so beneficial to hear from people who are just a little way ahead of where you are, who’s footprints are still warm on your trail. I recently took the leap in the middle of a global pandemic, an imminent recession and a personal crossroads – and, inevitably, have plenty of learnings to share.
The freelance revolution
Last year saw a 31% rise in people looking to go freelance in the UK, and 2020 has oh-so gracefully compounded that statistic. With an avalanche of calls for more flexible working, memoirs of lockdown promising a more permanent work from home culture, and an increased capacity for people to run their own show – a professional revolution is underway.
It’s not too much to ask to be happy and fulfilled in your work, and no-one should be afraid to reach for that. I picture a world in which the children of tomorrow don’t grow up wondering what they will “be”– but instead strive to be inspired and open to opportunities which come their way, speak to their soul and allow them to flex their skills in a flexible way.
If you’re thinking of joining the freelance revolution but have some blockers holding you back, here are 15 nuggets I’ve discovered on my short journey so far.
1. Know what it really means to be freelance
Originally, a Free Lance was a medieval warrior who was free to use his “lance” to battle on behalf of anyone who paid him the most. How progressive of him! Thinking of it in those terms really highlights what it means to work for yourself – you pick up your tools and you go to bat for whichever cause you please. It doesn’t necessarily mean you work alone – in just a couple of months I’ve met and collaborated with many inspiring people, it just takes a little effort to put yourself out there.
2. There is no right time
One perspective is that the middle of a global pandemic is the worst time in history to make any kind of life change, on account of all the uncertainty. I decided all the moving parts meant it was a great time to throw myself into the pot and see if I came up sunny side. External factors don’t determine the right time for you, it’s about where you’re at inside yourself and at what point you reach the level of certainty and self-belief you need to make a change.
3. Remember your "why"
I began thinking about crossing the chasm to freelance life a couple of years ago when I first started listening to podcasts. I was hearing from people who had carved out multi-hyphenated, interesting, creative careers for themselves, careers which meant they could do more than one thing at a time, in their own time, having a great time. They were lit up, sticking two fingers up to an inflexible, soulless, and relentless working life, and feeling great in and about themselves. I was truly inspired, and I’ve held onto this whenever I’ve wavered.
4. Do what is right for YOU
Everyone’s path is different, and my idea to go freelance came at a time when I was due to be married (until lockdown said no to my wedding, wah!) and start thinking about whether I wanted to start a family. At 34, making the leap from secure and steady income to self-employment was no small thing – but my instincts were loud and clear and, as it turns out, the right thing for me was to make a career change mid-COVID lockdown at the peak of my potential child-bearing years. Sigh.
5. Trust your gut
When you’re at a crossroads, silence the thought and listen to your intuition. It knows.
6. Swot up
I read article after article about the financial, personal and practical implications of being self-employed. You will instinctively know what you need to read around to help you stay informed, and I recommend getting familiar with the impact on the big three – time, money, wellbeing – as that’s where you’ll feel it the most (hopefully in a good way!)
7. Be wary of advice
Everyone will have a view, if you ask them. A lot of people are terrified of change and will instinctively be wary of anything that makes you less secure – especially right now. That is them projecting their fears. Don’t let your own fears hold you back, let alone anyone else’s.
Be prepared to put in the time. I spent early mornings and weekends building my brand, setting my stall out, nailing my pitch, and ensuring I had a detailed god damn plan. Putting this time in upfront meant when I knocked on the freelance door, I was as ready as I could be.
9. Turn challenges into opportunity
The end of my notice in full-time employment coincided with the onset of a global pandemic and imminent lockdown. Hurray! But, I’d made my mind up, and I’d be damned if I was going to give up on my dream before I even started. Instead, what could have become a blocker became my first lesson. What better time to learn about keeping a business alive!
10. Hold back the fears
On the other side of accepting potential failure is a fearlessness that knows no bounds. When I reflected on what the worst outcome could be for me, I decided failure was something I could not only live with but learn and grow from.
11. Be sensible
Fearless doesn’t mean reckless, and although you don’t have to have the detail mapped out, it does give you a strong start if you can make your decision make sense. Research freelance opportunities in your industry, work out the impact on your resources, and make a rational decision about whether it’s right for you. If it is, tally ho!
12. Trust your own skillset
Working for myself, I’ve discovered I’m more capable and creative than I ever gave myself credit for. I’d previously attributed good ideas to the people around me, but now I’m all by myself and consistently thinking of things I can do and create. When your soul is finally breathing steadily, no longer crying to be let out, the inspiration flows.
13. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
The best thing you can do prior to any kind of change is be ready to feel uneasy. If you can stand back from those feelings and know it’s part of a journey, that will keep you steadfast, strong and unfazed.
14. Stay open
There is a whole world out there and there is no clear path and no ceiling, and the beauty of freelance life is that truly anything can happen, so keep your eyes and your mind wide open.