I love being a freelance writer. I’ve been doing it for nearly two years, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
But, I’ve not always been very good at it.
When I started freelancing, I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I recently wrote this article about the steps you should take before you start freelancing- I wish I could go back in time and give past me my own advice. I can’t, though. A lot of freelancers find it tough at the beginning, and I was one of them. So, for a brief period, I stopped. Here’s what happened the time I quit freelancing.
My hasty beginnings
I’d been working in a job I hated. A retail job, incidentally. I saved enough money to keep me going for a few months and quit, absolutely delighted with myself. I knew I wanted to be a freelance writer and I thought I knew how it worked. It took me a while to realise I was wrong.
As I worked, I had some ups and downs. Some months were fantastic, and I was making enough money to top up my savings. Other months, I had to dip into those savings. All this time, I was trying to figure out how to run my business. What should my day-to-day look like? How do I find new clients? How do I make my income more consistent? I was learning and improving, but the process was exhausting. I was becoming drained, and that started a cycle of negative job performance and mental health.
I could see things were going downhill, and I wanted to get ahead of them before it felt like I was stuck in a situation I couldn’t escape. Christmas was coming up, and that meant I’d have added expenses on top of my normal bills. Presents, nights out, travelling… I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover my costs if I didn’t make a big change. So, even though it was the last thing I wanted, I quit freelancing.
Going back to retail
I started applying to temporary retail jobs. In the run-up to Christmas, lots of shops were looking for workers for about a two-month period. My last retail job had ended disastrously, so knowing that my job would end so quickly made it much easier to get through it. I got a job in a large retail chain I won’t name, working part-time in the stockroom. The work was incredibly boring, but I preferred it to being yelled at by a manager with a superiority complex on the shop floor. Small blessings.
The whole time I worked, I wondered if freelancing was a viable career option for me. Was this a sign I should quit? Was I not cut out for this? Maybe, once the New Year came around, I should apply for a full-time position. The thought filled me with dread. I knew how miserable it would make me, but happiness doesn’t pay the bills. It felt like I was going to have to choose between an enjoyable daily experience and being able to look at my bank balance without having a panic attack.
I decided I didn’t need to choose. There are tens of thousands of freelancers in the world who are able to support themselves. I’m a smart person and I’m good at what I do. This wasn’t a case of me being in the wrong career, it was a case of me not working the right way. Work smart, not hard, right? I needed to plan a New Year’s comeback.
Finding the right path
I looked at what I was doing wrong and how I could do those things better. A big problem for me was that I had almost no business knowledge. I hadn’t studied business in school, and I didn’t know much about self-employment. I’d thought, because I was working as a writer, I just needed to know how to write. Not even close. I wasn’t just a writer, I was a businessperson. First and foremost, I was running a business. It was time I started acting like it.
Previously, I’d just been applying for jobs online and crossing my fingers. I didn’t have a business plan, and I didn’t have a back-up plan for when my job proposals were rejected. While I worked part-time in the shop, I worked out how I was going to move from thinking like a writer to thinking like an entrepreneur.
I wondered if there was a middle ground I could find. Could I work two part-time jobs; one in a shop and one in a freelancer? This seemed like a pretty sensible idea to me. I’d have the stability of a regular paycheck, but I’d also be leaving myself enough time to build my client base and earn through writing. The reality of a part-time retail job made me realise I couldn’t manage that. My hours were inconsistent and the work was tiring. When I had a day off, I was just catching up on housework. Working two part-time jobs would be so much more work than one full-time job, and I knew I’d just burn out. No, if I was going to do this, I was going to need to fully commit to it.
I went back to full-time freelancing at the beginning of January, five months before writing this post. My business has grown hugely, and I work in such a different way. I have new goals and new ways of achieving them. Everything I do is more focused and I think like a businessperson, not a writer, when making business decisions.
I’m still learning and I have a lot of work to do, but I won’t quit freelancing again any time soon.
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