Becoming a freelancer part 2 – what no one ever told me
Having gone freelance over two months ago, I have had to learn a great number of lessons on my own. Before venturing to do freelancing full-time I reached out to two different people, asking for a little advice and guidance but alas, both ignored me. So I have had a difficult time figuring out just what I am doing. A lot has been by trial and error and it is still too soon to say if I have had any real success but I refuse to give up hope because this truly is my dream that I have been afforded the incredible opportunity to pursue.
I have had a lot of help from an amazing friend at a publication but at the start of the year, they stopped taking my freelance articles. This meant that right at the start of my freelancing career, the company I had been writing for part-time and had hoped would provide me with a small but steady income, was now a dead end.
Luckily my boyfriend has been kind enough to let me stay at his house temporarily until I am able to earn my own steady income (which seems like it will never happen) so I don’t need to focus on money but can instead hone in on my craft.
I really thought it was going to be far easier but I was sorely mistaken and here are just a few of the things that I have learnt upon my journey.
Hustling is not easy. It is very difficult trying to pitch to the right people, get interesting ideas and try to find someone to pay you for it. So far, I have gotten a zero percent success rate in this area.
Editors are not easy to find. I bought a stack of costly magazines to try and pinpoint who I could pitch to and was left wanting. Their email addresses are not disclosed so I have spent a large amount of time basically stalking editors on social media in an attempt to try to get their contact details.
People don’t always reply. This one sucks a LOT, because in the rare events that I have played detective well enough to get contact details, even when I try to make contact, it does not mean they are going to respond. I have emailed one editor about three or four times with no response but luckily I did take time to mentally prepare a small rejection buffer in my head. I am obviously not going to give up but after enough time, the silence is deafening and I have needed one or two recovery days already.
It is lonely. I am a loner by nature. I don’t always seek out interactions with people but I must admit that sitting at home in front of a laptop with no one to talk to during a lunch break, no minor distractions to help get you through the day is not easy. I do miss the moments of catching up on gossip in an office job. I force myself to pause every now and again but all I have is my phone for company.
For this reason, it is a good idea to go out sometimes. Whether it is running errands, popping into the grocery store or even if you take your laptop to a coffee shop for a couple of hours, it is important to see the outside world. I am having trouble in this area but I know it is vital so that I don’t chew the paint off of the walls.
As a South African, there are not many opportunities online which I why I just recently joined the South African Freelancer’s Association. After paying the full membership fee I was a little concerned at first but after a few days of being a member I do see that it has been a good decision on my behalf. They offer workshops and mentorship advice which is the biggest thing I have required in this time. I need not feel quite so alone any longer as there is a group of people on standby with advice for me should I need it. If anyone decides to go freelance, then try to find some sort of association or support group. It is the comfort you need and could come in handy when you least expect it.
I would not recommend going freelance full-time if you do not have a clear set of clients who you will definitely be able to get work from. I took a huge risk but luckily have enough of cushion to pursue it on my own. It is not a simple thing to just become a freelancer, there is far more to it that I am still figuring out on a daily basis but I am hoping that eventually I will get the hang of it.
Make your own website and pay for it. It is super easy to use normal free blogging software but that comes with glitches as well as shortcomings including not having your own domain and also looking a little less professional. Paying for a website means that you get your own domain as is the case with mine www.samsambutdifferent.net. It shows that you are serious about your work and are not just a flyby night writer. I have still maintained an air of quirkiness in mine just like my personality and writing, but I have put in a lot of time and creativity to make my website presentable to clients.
As a journalist, you need more than just words. We are in a digital age where access to information is permanently at your fingertips. But more than just writing, people want photos and videos. So as a journalist you also need to have photography skills and videography skills will work well in your favour if you want to branch into Youtube.
Structure is important. Just because you can work in your pyjamas, doesn’t mean you have to. Even though I am not in a corporate environment, I still need some sort of structure to adhere to. I wake up with an alarm every morning, do a spot of yoga and then head down to the spare room where my desk is set up. I ensure that I take a few breaks, eat and browse Facebook in between. If I am pushing a deadline then obviously things get a little tighter but stability gives my life shape.
Set yourself a goal. As a writer, you need to write. Even if it is gibberish. Even if you don’t post it. You need to always be writing or editing and of course hustling. I try for at least one piece a day with the figuring out my life existential crises squished in between.
Timeliness is what will get people to work with you again. I had done a number of pieces for PR companies and have never once been late because I understand the importance of deadlines coming from a background in magazine as well as in the modelling industry. Even in my own life, I don’t make people wait for me and in my journ, no one has ever had to ask me for my work nor have I had to make excuses. It is as simple as; in the event that you cannot do the job in time, then don’t take it.
Candidness. I have been honest with everyone I meet. Possibly to a fault but I would rather be completely transparent, than taken on something I cannot handle and lose my reputation (the little I have). It is the same with content. Sure, there is some I can fake or at least teach myself about but there is no way in hell I would be able to write about the ins and outs of structural engineering for example. I recently attended a job interview where the interviewer liked me quite a lot but when she described to me the role and future aims, I realise it was not what I wanted at this point in my life. It would have meant that I would have had to give up freelancing entirely and would have been groomed for something I didn’t necessarily want. After a weekend of thought, I came back to her and was completely honest, admitting that our end goals were not the same. She thanked me for being candid and offered me work as a potential freelancer. I haven’t heard from her but I don’t mind because I maintained my integrity which is important above all else to me.
It’s a process. It will be slow at first. It is still slow for me but I am getting my hustle on every single day and know that it is only a matter of time before I see real results.
Everything you do is a piece. I have been lucky enough to have some busy weekends and I am slowly training my brain to get into that journalistic mindset of not only enjoying the events but also taking notes and photos so that I can turn them into articles at a later stage. There is inspiration everywhere if you look in the right places. It doesn’t have to be from going out on the weekends either. It could be from a weekly grocery trip, seeing something unique occur or the ever rising prices of sugar snap peas (this is a real concern for me) or even at home, uses for toothpaste or how not to pick up weight when you have access to your fridge 24/7 (I would appreciate an article on that if anyone is looking for a piece to write!)
Take time to fine tune your craft. I am still learning. Part of setting up my business has also been participating in online courses to help better my writing because though I may have the raw talent, I will always benefit from some sort of fine-tuning. I love learning new things and I think that will also be a big part of staying afloat here when I eventually do grow buoyant enough.
Freelancing has been a terrifying journey even though at this point it is as though I haven’t even stepped out of my living room (quite literally actually). There are miles to go before I sleep but I am prepared and have loved every minute of it, even the ones filled with tears.