[A version of this was published by the The Huffington Post.]
This week it’s exactly one year since I packed up my things in the office on the South Bank and jumped into the freelancing pool at the murky end. I’m acutely aware I’ve only just scratched the surface, but in the new year spirit I’ve tallied up a few things I did that worked for me.
1. Ignore everybody. Several people told me I was being reckless, irresponsible and even childish when I quit my job to go it alone. Others were less vocal but looked very concerned. A few cheered me on, telling me I could do this, and these were invariably people who’d already taken the plunge themselves. Of course it’s worth considering the opinions of people who care about you, but I’ve reached the conclusion that taking advice on freelancing from someone working in an office is sort of like taking travel advice from someone who’s never left the country. Trust your instincts.
2. Don’t prepare. When I left my job I (knowingly) broke the number one rule a new freelancer should follow to avoid ending up living in a ditch in the park: to get work going before quitting your day job. I didn’t do this, and I have no regrets. Because no one (?) goes freelance because they love their life, they go freelance because they are desperate for a change. In fact, I actually tried to negotiate a day’s reduction in my work hours before quitting my job, a request that was denied even though I would have been happier and hence more productive, not to mention saving them money. Looking back, I think I was suffering a slight burnout. So on that note, one of the best pieces of advice I got at the time was to expect nothing of myself for at least a few weeks. Just take a moment to rest and recuperate. Then the most incredible thing happened: I started to want to do something again. I really don’t think I could have handled all the hard work that followed had it not been for that.
3. Prepare. But a certain amount of savings is necessary to get through all this lovely self-discovery. Three months’ worth of money is the absolute minimum, but six months’ worth will let you sleep at night.
4. Go back to basics. When I say six months’ worth of money, I mean enough to cover the absolute basics. I was never going to be able to do this if I expected to keep spending the way I did when I had an office job. So for what felt like an age I spent practically no money on anything other than rent, bills, transport, food + some pocket change to keep from going insane. It wasn’t fun, but I did it to achieve something that was incredibly important to me, and that made it worth it.
5. Why am I doing this, again? Remembering why you’re doing this is key to getting through the slumps, of which there will be many. I could go on at great lengths about how frightening I’ve found this process at times, and how overwhelming it can be to start working on a dream that means so much to you. But I’ll just say that I keep reminding myself that I left the office because I wanted more control over my days. I wanted to be able to work till midnight on Tuesday and then sleep in on Wednesday, and then maybe take Friday to explore a new aspect of my field which had nothing to do with what I’d been doing previously. Not to mention I am maddeningly rubbish at getting going in the morning, but once the outside world is taken out of the equation I seem to be able to roll over and start working without too much trouble. And the worst that can happen? That I’d have to take a full time job again, and that’s not so bad.
A year in, I am lucky enough to have work to fill my days and then some. The jury’s out on the financials, but I can afford smoothies again and my rediscovered budgeting skills means I will even be able to go on a bare-basics holiday. But a fair warning: a little freedom is a dangerous thing. I mean, now that I’ve had it, I really don’t see why I shouldn’t. Touch wood.