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  • Writer's pictureNola Charkos

What's it like to be a freelancer?

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

This isn’t a blog about copywriting. Well, it kind of is since I’m a freelance copywriter. But really, it’s about freelancing of all kinds. The ups and downs, ins and outs and what I’ve learnt (and continue to!) along the way.

Woman in wheelchair sitting at a desk with a dig
Is freelancing worth it?

I’m often asked if I like working for myself after 20 years as an employee in a proper grown-up real job. Would I recommend the wishy-washy world of freelancing?

Well, yes. Yes I would.

Sure, there’s no regular pay packet to rely on. And there’s the ongoing hustle of finding clients. But it’s a great way to work. And if you stick at it, you can earn good money, find great return clients and have control over how and when you work.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re starting out. While I’m not the holder of all knowledge on this, here’s what I’ve learnt:

1. Just so you know, you don’t have to be everything

Define what you do. When I first started out, I decided not to specialise in anything. Just copywriting. I wrote whatever anyone wanted, on any topic and in any form. Sure, it gave me a great introduction to being a copywriter, but it also made me realise what worked for me and what didn’t.

Now I’ve figured out what I’m good at and what I like to do, and I try to do those jobs 70% of the time. For me, that means writing for clients in financial services, B2B and service-related businesses. The other 30% is reserved for fun new stuff in a variety of fields, like writing quirky book blurbs for clever authors. Just because I can, plus it’s a good way to learn.

And another thing, it’s ok to change direction. You probably have a business plan in mind, it might even be on paper. That’s a great place to start but things rarely go exactly to plan. After all, how do you really know what it’ll be like until you give it a go? So be prepared to flex and change as you move along your freelancing journey.

2. We work hard for the money

It’s the fundamental reason why we work, isn’t it?

How much are you worth? You can’t go underselling your value. If you’ve got experience, you’re probably able to smash out some great work at lightning speed. So should you charge an hourly rate, or charge for what you produce? Both can work. Also remember that unless you’re fresh out of college, you’re not a beginner. Your years of professional experience that led you to freelancing are worth a lot.

The important thing is to be confident in what you’re charging. When I quoted on my first few gigs, I would wince apologetically when I told them the price. One kind client noticed it and gave me the talking to that I needed. So in a nutshell, work out what you should charge and be confident about it.

On another money related note, it’s important to make sure you’ve covered all bases. That doesn’t just mean making money to pay the bills. There’s a lot more to consider. I’m a lover of checklists, so here’s one for you:

- Can you afford to take a holiday and not get paid during that time?

- What happens if you get sick and can’t earn an income for a while?

- Are you remembering to put some money away?

- What can you do to minimise your tax?

Make sure you’ve got the right mix of personal and professional insurance to cover you if something unexpected happens. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg if you break one of them. Plus, unless you want to be working until you’re 85, don’t abandon your superannuation. Make the time to learn about it, find the right fund for you, and be confident in your financial decision making. Also, you might want to find a good accountant or bookkeeper. For me, it’s peace of mind and money well spent.

3. No more impostor syndrome

This is very real and can be your downfall if you don’t get rid of it asap. While I’m no psychologist, I can tell you that it affects many of us.

If you let yourself feel like a fraud, then it can really get in the way of the value that you and others will put on your services. Not only that, but it can cause stress and stop you from making the most of good opportunities. After all, you might feel like a cubic zirconia on the inside, but nobody will know if you don’t tell them.

For me, what helped was creating a capability statement, and a killer elevator pitch. They’re simple things but they mean I have good stuff to say to people, and I can say them with confidence. I also had a great career coach right at the very start who was a wonderful sounding board.

4. Networking: hustle or hassle?

I’m one of those whacky people who actually likes to network with strangers. Online, in person, I’ll do it. I like meeting people and I like finding out about them. Some might call me nosy. I prefer curious.

Networking is not the same as selling. It’s really just a nice way to meet people and, as the name suggests, expand your network. The most important part is what you do afterwards. If you don’t follow up, then there’s really no point. But if you do follow up then chances are that somewhere along the line, they’ll refer someone to you, and vice versa. Not all networking opportunities are created equal. You need to look at the cost of your time, and what you think the return will be. After all, that could otherwise be time spent doing paid work, or developing business in some other way.

The other thing to do is call on your existing connections. Get out there on linkedIn and other places and make sure people know what you’re doing. Some of my best clients have come from my existing network so don’t be afraid to use yours. It’s also good if you can repay the favour by introducing your likeminded contacts which is easy to do and takes little effort.

5. Look around once in a while

When you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to get bogged down in your work and not stop to see what’s happening around you. The great big world is changing at a rapid pace and there are so many things to learn. Never stop learning new skills and techniques. There are a heap of quick courses, webinars and books out there that are easy to access and that offer a world of knowledge. If you have the option of joining your professional association, they often come with a host of educational and other member benefits. The other bonus is there’s a whole new network there too.


One last thing. If you’ve thought about it, and you’re ready to do it, then don’t hold back. Even if you start with a little side hustle. Hold your breath and jump right in. I know that’s a bold thing to say. It might take a while before you come up for air, but it will be worth it.

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