How to make it as a freelancer

November 5, 2015

How to make it as a freelancer |

I’ve been officially freelancing for almost a year now, having left my stable nine-to-five after Oscar was born. I was worried about making the leap, but so far I’ve survived, and on the whole I’m enjoying it.

My style of freelancing is a far cry from the at-home-in-your-pyjamas ideal – I mainly work in offices, and even when I’m commissioned to do solo projects, I tend to work in the library because I have to take Oscar to nursery anyway and don’t want to waste time travelling back home. Despite the fact that this set-up involves a lot of running around, I think it works for me, because I’m a naturally social person and am not sure how I’d fare if I were completely isolated all week, every week. However, it’s nice to have a bit of a breather when I do get to work alone.

There are down sides, of course: if your mind wanders while you’re commuting to work, you could quickly end up in the wrong office; you’re always toting around everything you might need for the day because you can’t leave anything on your desk; you have to be ‘on’ all the time, even if you’re hungover or having a bad week; there’s loads of out-of-hours admin and invoice chasing; and there are no staff jollies or Christmas parties (although this latter can be a blessing rather than a curse…)

But there are loads of benefits, too – not least a higher daily rate. I’ve also found experiencing different office environments and team dynamics really valuable. And I haven’t missed the endless meetings that come with most desk jobs one little bit.

So, if any of you are thinking of making the jump from salaried employee to precariously temporary odd-jobber, here are 20 tips for surviving office life as a freelancer.

  1. Don’t complain about anything. Ever. And especially not about work.
  2. Never share your opinion about anything work-related – you never know whose idea it was.
  3. Don’t microwave anything containing fish for your lunch – everyone will hate you.
  4. Never be first in the queue for cake, booze, or anything free.
  5. Don’t join in group conversations within earshot – you should be seen but not heard.
  6. Don’t use any exciting-looking mugs for your tea.
  7. Smile, smile, smile. Be the best version of yourself, 100% of the time.
  8. Always try to add value to the jobs you’re given – but be wary of using too much initiative. Nobody wants to employ a renegade freelancer.
  9. Don’t be weird: this is not the time or the place to mark yourself out as a ‘personality’.
  10. Never expect glory. You are there to do the jobs full-timers don’t want to do or have put off for so long that they no longer have time to do.
  11. Always say yes to work – as long as you can deliver. You never know when you’ll hit a dry spot.
  12. Keep on top of invoices – and perfect your ‘polite yet firm’ email tone when chasing money.
  13. Make your fair share of tea.
  14. Remember people’s names, likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, dreams and weekend plans.
  15. Expect people to forget your name, likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, dreams and weekend plans.
  16. Try to care about the stuff you’re working on (or at least act like you do).
  17. Perfect your poker face – never let on you’re under-/over-worked outside of that office.
  18. Never submit an invoice without suggesting something else you could do for that company – treat every contact you have with your employers as an opportunity for more work.
  19. Promote your brand – make contacts within each office by striking up conversations as naturally as possible. The next time that person needs someone like you, they might get in touch.
  20. Finally, remember that you are lowest in the pecking order in any office you’re working in, so treat everyone with equal respect. Teams gossip about their freelancers – and you want them all to be saying only nice things.

How about you – what tips would you add for making it as a freelancer? I’d love to hear your advice.

P.S. Why working mothers rock, eating healthily in the office, and how to network subtly but effectively.

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    Reply Sabrina November 5, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Great insight into your freelancing life – mine is completely different! Mainly down to the fact that I’m hardly ever based in-house at a client’s office. A desk in a co-working space is great because you get all the conviviality of working in a nice office, chatting to interesting people and feeling more professional than working from home, but with none of the politics or the need to constantly smile and be polite and presentable and ‘on it’ all the time (which sounds EXHAUSTING! haha). And crucially, on the odd occasion that I need to have a good moan about a client who isn’t behaving, I can do it freely 😉 Oh and the low-key, non-cringey networking opportunities are really good too! xx

    • Reply Nicky November 8, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      That set up sounds ideal. I know it’s different for everyone but I love the variety of working in different offices and experiencing all sorts of working (office) environments – that way next time I take a permanent job I’ll know what’s important to me. For now, freelancing is so much less scary than I was expecting! 🙂

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