'Tis the season to reflect
My 12 freelancing lessons from 2019
This is the last members’ newsletter of the year! There’ll still be the regular Friday email, which really will be the last time you hear from this year, but nonetheless this felt like a perfect moment for me to reflect on 2019.
To wrap up the year, I wanted to share 12 things I’ve learned this year because 12 always feels like a festive number to me. Stay to the very end as there’s a gift at the bottom for you.
A personal brand has nothing to do with Instagram followers and everything to do with purpose. A truism in freelancing is that to be successful, you need a personal brand. This year, I’ve learned that while this is, in fact, true, most of us think about our personal brands the wrong way around. To have a good personal brand just means you’re clear on why you do what you do. In other words, you have a purpose. This last year I’ve realised that my purpose is to make work better – both for myself and for others. Everything I do, be that writing features for publications, this newsletter, my podcast or my #FairPayForFreelancers campaign, all spring from a central purpose of wanting to improve work culture. This year I’ve found that once you get clear on your mission, everything flows from there.
How I think about money holds me back. I spent a lot of this year talking about money with other freelancers because of the #FairPayForFreelancers campaign. What came up over and over again are all ways our beliefs around money hold us back in some way. Being aware of this made me notice that when I land a commission with big clients or prestigious publications, I won’t negotiate my rate. What I’ve realised is that this comes from a belief that I’m not good enough to write for those outlets and that I, misguidedly, think that should be reflected in the money I’m paid by them. It’s not been easy to rewind that mindset, but I’m slowly trying to break out of it.
Asking for help was hard but necessary. As someone who came to freelancing as a result of redundancy, I’ve realised I still hold a lot of resentment about that experience. What drove me at the beginning of my freelancing journey was a need to prove I don’t need to work for a big company to make it, that I was perfectly capable of striking out on my own. Completely on my own. I now see all the ways in which I’ve held myself back by not asking for helping when I needed it. There are big projects I have no chance of pulling off alone, admin tasks I can outsource and areas in which the only way to improve is by seeking help.
Finding my voice took time. I’ve been writing in a professional capacity since I was 20 and writing for pleasure since I was a kid. I’m now 31 and only just feel like I’ve found my voice. I’ve written about so many different topics and beats in the last decade and only just now feel like I’ve found my groove. If you’re reading this and struggling to find your voice, the best advice I have is to just to keep writing.
Interacting with the “real” world got harder. What I love about freelancing is making my own rules. I write in my dressing gown and slippers, sometimes I work in bed, I don’t use an alarm anymore. I’m deeply grateful that I can work in the way that I do. Every time I have to commute in rush hour, which granted now is a rarity, I can’t fathom how people do it every day. What I’ve realised, though, is that bafflement has created a growing chasm between me and the rest of the working population. I bang my drum about the mistreatment of freelancers, but at the same time, it’s not okay for me to judge non-freelancers for how they choose to work.
Be clear about where you’re going, but let the journey take you on a diversion. This was one of the hardest lessons I learned this year. You need a plan for your freelance career, but sometimes things come up that you weren’t expecting. I never thought of myself as a natural speaker or a podcast host, but that’s been some of the most enjoyable work I’ve done this year and it happened by accident. When I really think about it though, this lesson ties directly back the first one, because when you know why you’re doing something, the how can suddenty start to look very different.
If you want to take time off, you have to book your holiday way in advance. I took two weeks off this summer. Two full weeks off in which I managed to leave my laptop at home. It was the first proper holiday I’ve taken since going freelance and gosh did it feel good. The only way I was able to do it was to plan well in advance for it. When I started freelancing, I thought I could take my holidays at the last minute, whenever I was quiet or when the mood took me. That’s a bit like thinking that you can save money by putting aside the leftover cash you have at the end of the month – there never is anything left over.
Working with those you’ve chosen is a joy. This year I launched a podcast with my best friend. It wasn’t until I started working with someone else on a project that I realised how great it is to share a workload with someone who gets you.
Find a source of advice that fits. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to freelancing (or life for that matter). The whole point of self-employment is to make it your own. When I started freelancing I sought advice indiscriminately, gobbling up any and everything I could read about being your own boss. Only later did I realise that it didn’t always resonate with me. For me, the best sources of advice are positive and inspiring, so now I fill my feeds and reading lists with upbeat freelancers and creative entrepreneurs.
It’s ok to describe yourself differently to different people. As a writer, I write for international publications, my own newsletter and corporate clients. This year I’ve stopped getting so agitated when I meet someone who asks me what I do. I used to try and explain everything I did to them, in what I now realise was an attempt to justify my choice of career. Now, I just try to gauge what part of what I do makes the most sense to them and that’s what I tell them. It used to bother me what other people thought of my career, I’ve come to realise the only person’s opinion of my career that matters is my own.
Big publications aren’t always better. I’ve written for some big titles this year and I’m thrilled and proud to have done so. I’ve also written for smaller, more obscure places. I’m equally as happy to have done so because those publications have either paid me better or commissioned me to write about something the larger titles wouldn’t.
Leave enough time for reflection. I’ve spent too much of this year working in my business and not enough time working on it. I do try to reflect every now and again but I’ve realised that if I don’t put time aside to do it, I don’t get around to it. One of the things I struggled with the most in staff jobs was the feeling of running on the hamster wheel. Freelancing can often feel like that too, but I don’t think it has to be that way and my aim for 2020 is take time out for reflection throughout the year and not just at the end of it.
🎁 Merry Christmas from The Professional Freelancer!🎁
If you want to reflect on your own year, I’ve got a little gift for you. I’ve made a downloadable end-of-year review printout. You can use it to help guide your own reflections as the year winds to a close. And feel free to share some of those reflections in the comments of this post.
Happy holidays to you!