It’s been just over four months since I set out from the safe harbour that was my stable job as a content producer for a well-respected media house into the wild waters of freelance writing.
While I wouldn’t say resigning was a spur of the moment decision by any means, it certainly was a 1-2-3-JUMP, now-or-never kind of thing. I’d felt a change in the tide of my life and knew it was time to take a definitive step instead of just waiting for the restlessness to abate, even though I didn’t have too much of a plan in place.
Apparently this isn’t an altogether alien occurrence among those about to clock over into their 30s and my friend, Leandra, even told me its name: a Saturn Return.
Wikipedia explains it as follows: “The phenomenon is described by Western astrologers as influencing a person’s life development at roughly 29.5 year intervals, though the planetary influence may be felt for a few years before the exact conjunction… These intervals or ‘returns’ coincide with the approximate time it takes the planet Saturn to make one orbit around the sun, roughly 29.5 years.”
While I find astrology to be little more than light entertainment served up among the gossip and self-help articles in glossy magazines, I have to admit that this Saturn Return theory sounded rather spot on, especially since my big decision came exactly – almost to the day – at 29.5 years of age.
There was a lot of support from those whom, I know, have found that following your gut and responding to your intuition will always serve you well. And then, of course, there was a good dose of shock, horror and concern from those who have enjoyed the life-long benefits of stability and sticking to a plan.
From further afield my announcement was met with gasps, followed by: “Oh, but, you’re going to be so POOOOOR!” and talk of “throwing away” my career, both predictions I shrugged off without a second thought. It was (and still is), however, the well-intended and oft-uttered “Wow! Ummm… that’s reaaaaallly brave of you. Reaaaaaally brave” that drops a heavy ice brick in the pit of my stomach and leaves my knees a-tingle, making me wonder whether whoever said it knows something (really bad) that I don’t.
Well, here I am 1/3 of a year (which isn’t very long, I know) into doing my own thing and so far I haven’t encountered anything unexpectedly terrible, which makes me think that there definitely is something to be said for expecting the worst (but secretly hoping for the best… always).
So, since it’s December and the end of the year always brings with it that indulgent habit of retrospect, here are a couple of things I’ve learned so far about being my own boss:
- You’re going to need at least one mentor
One of the best things about having a stable job is the fact that, more often than not, it comes standard with a mentor: someone to show you the ropes, teach you the tricks of the trade, help you overcome your weaknesses and harness your strengths. When you step out of that world, it’s easy to become isolated and lose sight of what’s beneficial to your career. Without that healthy input your chances of buckling under pressure, cowering with fear, overrating your abilities and eventually unravelling entirely are pretty good.
This is why it is of the utmost importance that you make serious work of identifying people who can fill that gap from the start – peers who have walked a good distance of the path you are just starting out on, old hands whose work and career you admire, parents, friends, siblings – and make sure that you, not only touch base with them on a regular basis, but grant them the freedom to be completely, sometimes painfully, honest with you.
- Find someone to help you with your finances
I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: get a financial advisor as well as someone to do your taxes. These people have been trained to work magic with numbers and, believe me, will do a far better job of sorting out the correct pension fund, medical aid, savings plan and dreaded tax return than you can ever dream of doing. While they can’t make the money for you, they sure can help you make the most of the little bit you have. (How’s that for a slogan?!)
- Harness the power of social media
Share your work on Facebook, tweet about funny freelancing moments, tell stories on Instagram… hell, even put a little bit of effort into updating your LinkedIn (I know) profile. You never know who’s reading your stuff and when a well-timed post could get you your next job. Also, the more you practice your art, the better you get at it.
- If you’re based in the Mother City, sign up for Freelance Cape Town
Signing up for Freelance Cape Town, biting the bullet and paying that joining fee, set off a serendipitous series of events that got me my first big job as well as a much-needed confidence boost to kick off my career. What, I think, makes this specific network for freelancers successful is the fact that founder, Marius Vosloo, is super hands on and helps connect the correct talent to the correct clients. In other words, you aren’t just entering a deep, dark cyber tunnel of vague opportunities, there’s actually a real person answering your emails, checking over your profile and giving you advice on the other side. I highly, highly recommend it!
- Embrace flexi-time
For the first three months of freelancing, I felt so terribly guilty about the fact that I wasn’t heading to the office like everyone else that I got up at 6am every morning and kept myself busy with work and related matters till well after sunset. I guess I felt like I had to be super-duper busy to earn this strange and newfound freedom.
Only in the past few weeks have I allowed myself to consider an alternative approach, shaving off an hour or two here or there to go to the beach on a beautiful day or indulge in some other sort of leisure activity that didn’t involve a screen, working in those hours again a bit later or the next day. It takes getting used to, but if you can get it right, I imagine you can get pretty close to living the dream.
- Be a Yes Man or Woman
I’m sure there comes a time in every freelance career that you have the luxury of saying ‘no’ to jobs. Well, needless to say, I’m very much not there yet. And happy about it too!
One of the things I love most about freelancing so far is the randomness and variety it has brought to my life. I’ve written copy for fertility clinics and flight booking sites, captioned images of a Formula 1 event and compiled an Insider’s Guide for a local paper. Throughout I have also been able to pursue my passion for travel writing and really hope to do more of that in the new year.
It has been invigorating and exciting and I can’t wait for the rest!
- Hustle, hustle, hustle
The most important thing to remember about freelancing is that you are indeed your own boss and therefore also the only one who can give yourself a raise, a promotion or a new direction. Opportunities are precious, don’t let them go by. If you meet someone with whom you can collaborate to advance your career and add value to theirs, tell them! Follow up and check in. If you stumble upon a great idea, pursue it with all your might and work a little every day to make it a reality.
I’ve found that almost 80% of my work is following leads, building contacts and making the most of my network. The other 20% is the physical fruit of this labour.
- Seek inspiration and wisdom
Read. Go outside. Do yoga. Run. Play with your pet. Drink wine with your friends. Work from a coffee shop for an afternoon. Chat to your parents. Spend time with your love. Follow your bliss.
Also, spend less time aimlessly scrolling through Facebook and more time reading articles, listening to podcasts and watching TED Talks that are actually going to add value to your career (and life).
Here are a few of my favourite sources of wisdom and inspiration at the moment:
Brain Pickings – a website filled with sublime thoughts and theories from an array of bright minds and souls, both departed and present.
Dear Sugar Radio – advice on all aspects of life from Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond in podcast form. I absolutely love it for the simple reason that it reminds me how everyone is fighting their own battle and we’re all more similar than we are different.
Magic Lessons – another podcast, this one presented by Elizabeth Gilbert to help people harness the power of their creativity. The advice she has given others – especially about managing your fear – has hit the mark for me numerous times.
The RobCast – a brilliant podcast by Pastor Rob Bell, exploring the depths of spirituality and examining the many facets of God. I can’t tell you how many of these episodes have brought a fresh perspective and have helped soothe frayed nerves.
So, there you have it… a few early day reflections on freelancing. Here’s to keeping the hustle alive and moving ever onward and upward.