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  • Ellen Pope

The Truth About Freelancing: The Non-BullCrap edition

I’ve read these type of blogs before. 



So before we dive right in, let me make a few things clear. I am not going to tell you how to be successful, or indeed how to freelance. I am not on an #ad writing spree where I will upsell you some apps that will “totes sort your life out”, and I am not about to tell you that getting up before 6am will make you a billionaire (or whatever other tripe is out there). 


I am going to lay it on the line, as I see it, so expect some swearing (and if that is not very “business-like” for you, I’d stop reading about here, because you will get yourself all worked up). 


So, background. My little self-employed business baby is now over 2 years old. It is chatting, starting to dress and is being clingy one minute and fiercely independent the next. It is basically a toddler. 


My business baby was unexpected. I’d been dumped. It was unplanned. (I was made redundant without actually having any redundancy pay, ‘cus that is all cool and fair, right?). 


There is no higher motivation than knowing your mortgage provider still wants payment, even though you have no income, and you had lost that income practically overnight. It is like rubbing noses with an angry lion. So, when faced with the furious lion, rather than just Eskimo kiss it, I went full throttle, and french kissed the hairy beast of self-employment and lack of income.  I had decided “fuck it, let’s go solo”. Wise, right!?


It has been a whirlwind, and one I rarely look up from. But when I get a free 1-5mins a week, I sometimes browse the various blogs out there, and unfortunately, I feel there is a little bit too much bullshit about freelancing kicking about, so I thought I would write my own. 


I understand their purpose, I work in marketing, I am no fool.


Whether it be the excellently written listicles rambling on about tips for being more streamlined to the several “freelancing and travelling the world, isn’t this the perfect life” Instagram accounts being flashed in front of us. Maybe it is the blogs about how self-employment brings freedom and more money than a Kardashian that makes me feel like we are setting ourselves up for an almighty fall. For those of us grappling each day to survive, it gives us anxiety. For those wanting to step out into the world of freelancing, it is providing an unrealistic view. 


To my fellow freelancers, I hope you relate. For the ones wanting to fly solo, I hope this gives you a more realistic view. 

How I See This Shizzle


It is NOT an Instagram Flat Lay


Nope. If there is one thing that makes me do a “breath in and count to 3” instead of punching through a wall,  it is freelancers who spend their time faffing the fuck about with Instagram flat lays. 


1) Why are you not working? How have you got the time to position a rose gold pencil sharpener, next to notepad with an inspirational quote on the front (which I would bet a pastry on, has bugger all in it), and your pristine MacBook pro. With the tags #remotework on it or #livingthedream on it. If you have all that free time on your hands head to the pub or volunteer or something. You’re not 12. 


2) If you were freelancing and trying to strive to keep your business moving forward, most freelancers Instagram flat lays would involve the following: a MacBook with dents, scratches, paint all over it. Half a cup of coffee. Receipts - fucking everywhere. A to-do list with sod all crossed off on it. And a random pic of your jogging bottoms, because you haven’t got dressed since starting work at 7 this morning. 


3) Just BORE THE FUCK OFF. 


Less of the rose gold folks, more of the cold scummy mugs of tea. 


You’re naked, on a stage and the whole world is watching (including your mum)


The only way I can describe absolute fear. So, you’ve decided to go feral, and I am proud of you for it. But being feral means you are out there alone, with no safety net. No pants. You are reading a monologue to the world with unshaven legs and dodgy fake tan.


Be prepared for every decision you make being precisely that. Yours. From the first words, you type at 4am on your very first personal website, to the first contract you write - all the way through to you very first pitch meeting. All eyes are now on you, and you alone. There is no manager, HR department or pot plant to hide behind. 


For the extroverts reading this, this might be a piece of piss. But if you are an introvert or highly sensitive, this is a whole other battle to face. It is beatable. Trust me from someone who has feet in both camps, when everything is all yours, you find an inner warrior that you’d never find believed existed after probably being shouted down to in your highly extroverted old office. Your voice is yours. But don’t overestimate the sheer amount of calories and energy it will take to put yourself in the spotlight. And don’t beat yourself up if it goes a bit wrong sometimes. We all balls things up. 


You’ll be broke, and people will forget to pay you


If you scroll through LinkedIn, you’ll find countless blogs on how to make money freelancing. The golden rules, knowing your worth, playing the game. All that. What you won’t see is many on actually getting clients to remember to pay you. If you have been in the freelancing game for a while, a “payday” will be a distant memory. If you are still employed, that day when you wake up with money in your account on a day that has been agreed between you and your employer? Yeah, that? You can kiss that goodbye. 


I have found getting paid is a weird emotion as a freelancer, you are delighted and almost baffled it has come in. It is the same feeling you get when the tax man rebates you and think you have won the lottery because (hold on) you have been paid the money you are actually owed. It is your cash. The dream scenario of being paid early and not having to chase. BLISS. 


Most of the time, especially as a soloist, your invoice appears to get lost under much heavier suppliers, and you spend most of your time sending numerous emails to account departments which start off nice, but usually, end in “JUST GOD DAMN PAY ME” as the subject header. But if you like to be paid sporadically - this is the job for you.


Day rate: It is like measuring a single portion of spaghetti


I’ve yet to meet a human being on this planet (and I know some snazzy chefs) who can master the art of a single portion of spaghetti. This wizardry can also be reflected in the freelancer day rate. Maybe it is a British thing, perhaps it is a confidence thing, but nobody talks about day rates. 


If you take up as a freelancer, you’ll always charge way under on your first few projects - and not because you are nice, but because you don’t know any different. You politely pick an hourly rate after punching some numbers into a calculator and be delighted when they say yes. 


As I said at the beginning I am not here to give you advice, but, if I did, I would say double what you are on - and account for some form of “account management” cost. You might charge for a job, but all those billions of emails/phone calls/research/late night therapy sessions with a client add up to hours. And hours mean food on your plate - or a rose gold pen or something. 


You’ll feel so empowered, you could floss, or something.


This is the best bit. We got there in the end. When you win at something, you’ll fucking win. You’ll feel untouchable. You will peacock around your living room, because you, all by yourself, have smashed a project, won a project, told a client to kiss your ass. That feeling will never go away. Enjoy it - turn Spotify up loud and dance about - and phone your mum to tell her (Mum’s are ALWAYS proud). 


One day, you’ll realise you’ll do it your way


If you survive HMRC, insurance payments, sobbing because the wifi is “so fucking slow in here”, figuring out what to put on an invoice, building your own website or realising that this freelancing lark wasn’t as flashy as some idiot said it would be on a LinkedIn post - you are in the club for life. 


You’ll build your business and  (can I say without a mouth vom) “personal brand” your way - and nobody can take that away from you. I am proud. You should be proud. It takes so much to be here, and we fight every day, but we are building a revolution in the way people work and get paid, and it is incredible. Love it. Just don’t bullshit it. 

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