“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” —Newt Gingrich
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably been gingerly or ambitiously flirting with the notion of one day becoming a freelancer; releasing the shackles of employment and the day-to-day office grind to dedicate your 9-5 to that brilliant million dollar concept you’ve been scheming up while your colleagues bore you with the latest annual report or office goss. Perhaps your motivation is more straightforward; now’s the right time to finally align your career with your hard-earned education and passions, as opposed to the plodding along in the job you landed in by chance or misfortune. Or maybe you’re tickled pink by working in the comfort of your own kitchen, in your fluffy onesie without Big Brother monitoring how many toilet breaks you’ve taken or urging you to get back to Heidi in Vienna about that shipping delay. Whatever your reason for the change may be, it seems that with 15% of the UK’s population in self-employment (2014) according to the Office of National Statistics, in comparison with 13% in 2010, freelancing is becoming an increasingly attractive option for men and women alike.
In my case, self-employment was a career step I’d been forging behind the scenes as I toiled at my desk job. For 2 years my daily routine consisted of coming home from work and well…starting to work again, beavering away on the laptop translating until the wee small hours. In short, burning the candle at both ends while the circumference of the dark circles under my eyes increased and my social life descended into non-existence, but over that period I did manage to build up a cash reservoir allowing me to make the transition to full-time translator as financially secure, smooth and fearless as possible. That said, at the time I was (and, at times, still am) scared stiff at this solo voyage into self-employment.
“It seems the harder I work, the more luck I have.” —Thomas Jefferson
Have all the toil and the tears been worth it? Well, 2 years into it, in my case I do believe the grafting, groundwork and forward-planning is paying off. The first year could be summed up as a journey into testing my personal and professional limits, learning how to market my services properly, building up a client base and pressing snooze on the 7am ringer on my alarm clock. Who knew how easily a 5 minute snooze could turn into a 2 hour lie-in when you know there’s nobody waiting for you in the office?!
Aside from acclimatising to the shiny new routine and role of The Big Boss catapulted to the helm of your own ship, evidently, and as this nervous twenty-something learnt, you will face responsibilities and concerns with which only a boss should principally be concerned, for example, (DISCLAIMER: I am about to p*ss all over your entrepreneurial parade with these realities), no new orders, late or non payment, a cantankerous customer or an impending tax return, to name but a few. And despite the Hollywood movie representation of the business owner jet-setting from London to Madrid to Shanghai for crucial sales meetings, I can assure you that It Is Not Like That. However, while there are no promises regarding success, it is isn’t all admin and angst either. In fact, self-employment incorporates a series of benefits that, depending on our business, we’d probably be hard-pushed to find else where:
- Incomparable flexibility: need to get the kids out the door before you can focus on your task? No problem. Need to finalise a project at the weekend. Knock yourself out! You can set your own working hours.
- Work from wherever you like: not too fond of plugging away at home each day? With co-working and coffee shops** endowed with free WiFi, it’s easier than ever to mix up your routine, meet real humans (other than your relatively human family members) and beat the boredom and/or distractions of working from home.
- Financial gains: you’ve no real limit on what you can earn, and I mean that in the sense that you’re at liberty to set your own rates for your work using your own criteria. Within reason, that is. You might see a few a few raised eyebrows if you try to charge a well above average market fee for half-assed work..
- Variety of work: one thing I enjoy is the variety of different projects I receive. Although I specialise in translations on travel and tourism, food and wine and on the whole I mainly receive that kind of work, it’s refreshing to translate an international development article or to subtitle an ad. A week of translating company annual reports though… not so enlightening, I’m afraid.
- Variety of people: the odd ratty or demanding customer is inevitable. We all have off days, don’t we? However, with my hand on my heart I can say that 99% of people I meet (or e-meet) through my work are friendly, sincere and considerate professionals. Some of them have become trustworthy colleagues. Even friends. Honestly!
All in all, your freelance business is like Rome: not built in a day. And not built on a whim either. It takes plenty of legwork to craft your empire; forward-planning, knowledge of your sector, experience, a proper business infrastructure (which will vary from freelancer to freelancer), and the brazen nerve to unashamedly go after clients. Not to mention the most important foundation of all: the continuous discipline required to consistently get the work done – signed, sealed and delivered – and get paid! Plus if you can come up with a strong strategy to steer clear from falling into bottomless distraction pits such as Facebook and the biscuit tin, then you’ve overcome one of the biggest challenges. How many Jaffa Cakes have I scoffed this morning? Not sure, but just another 5 mins on Twitter and I’ll get back to work. Ok?
**Always be careful working on open networks, esp. regarding confidentiality issues.