A friend once told me that I was "living the dream" as a professional freelance writer. When asked what they meant, they simply said: "Because you're your own boss, you work the hours you want and you get to see your children."
It's an interesting set of assumptions - because they're all completely wrong.
While I am (technically) my own boss - I'd argue that a boss (in the conventional sense) has been replaced by the fleet of customers I have on my books. They're all my bosses now. I suppose the one advantage is that the tables have been turned. I can choose whom I work with and "fire" any one my "bosses" if I want to.
And, yes, I do get flexibility in my hours. But I just worked for most of the bank holiday weekend as I listened to my children playing outside. So, that's points two and three of my friend's statement scuppered too. But, to be completely objective, I do get to pick my children up from school every day - I just have to work until 1am most nights to make up the hours.
Now, please don't think this is going to be a big rant about the woes of freelance writing. If you're thinking about a career as a freelance writer, I ABSOLUTELY recommend it (I even used capital letters to emphasise this point, which means I'm REALLY serious about this).
The best and worst part of my work is: I love it. Why's that a bad thing? Because I can't say no to the flurry of fascinating work that comes my way - so I always end up with too much on my plate.
Boo hoo. Poor me. What a chuffing first world problem.
I could write a very smug and self-indulgent piece on why I LOVE my job. (Yes, capital letters again. I know you noticed.) But I don't think you'd want to read that. And I don't think I'd want to write that. (Which breaks the golden rule about only writing stuff you'd want to read.)
Anyway, the assumptions people make when I say I'm a freelance writer are intriguing. (My favourite question so far from someone I'd only just met is: "Are you writing the next Fifty Shades of Grey then?" No. I'm more geek than grey.)
So, I was particularly fascinated by this white paper on The State of Freelance Writing in 2017 by the bods at Freelance Writing. It gives a fascinating insight into life as a professional freelance writer. Here's a synopsis of the findings:
The full infographic is at the end of this post if you want to see all of the stats.
Why a specialism matters
I was quite disheartened by the findings of this white paper. It seemed, on first inspection, to paint freelance writers as a struggling bunch of workers with a below-par income.
But, the middle sentence, really stuck a chord with me: Most writers gained specialised expertise in previous jobs. This expertise then allowed them to be better freelance writers.
And I think that may be the thing no one tells you about freelance writing:
The secret is in the specialism
I'm quite flattered when people ask me for advice on following a career as a freelance writer. I'll be honest, it's more luck than judgement that has led me to "living the dream".
But the one bit of advice I give time and TIME again (see, capital letters, this is important) is to (drumroll please): HAVE A SPECIALISM.
I've touched on the importance of a specialism before, and it's absolutely vital if you want to thrive and survive as a professional freelance writer.
Throughout my 10+ years as a writer, I've always focused on science and technology. After all, I have two degrees in physics, I've worked as a research scientist and software developer (amongst other things) and have an unhealthy obsession with Brian Cox. I write about the stuff I love and know about.
That's not all.
If you really want to succeed as a writer, you need to give your clients real value in everything you write. No one wants to read another listicle about the top 10 ways you can do XYZ - people want real insights from real people.
So, make sure you find your niche and work hard to become an expert in this area.
Before I came up with the (dubious) tagline that "I'm the freelance writer who gets tech", I was part of the below $10K salary demographic identified in the Freelance Writing survey.
As soon as I started shouting about my expertise in science and technology, the work snowballed.
So, if you want to "live the dream" - you have to invest the time in that dream. You have to work out what you want to write about. Then, work your socks off to achieve that dream.
And try hard not to punch anyone in the face who claims you're "living the dream" as a freelance writer as you work until the wee small hours to make another ridiculous deadline.
After all, you're you own boss, right? And you can work your own hours, right? And when did you last see your children?
The real truth about freelance writing is: it's a tough job.
But it rocks.
Here's the full infographic from Freelance Writing:
Oh crumbs. Did I just agree with Theresa May on national radio? Should freelancers stop whining about their rights?
Today, a government review of employment practices (the Taylor Report) called for all work in the UK economy to be fair. It focused on the gig economy in particular and recommended such workers have the same rights as permanent staff in terms of holiday and sick pay. And that the self-employed should get paid maternity and paternity leave.
Theresa May responded by acknowledging that it was important to have a "flexible" approach that didn't "exploit workers", while the unions slammed the report for its "spectacular failure" to deliver on promises.
I think I may agree with, um, May. We need to introduce flexibility into future legislation so that every worker is protected from exploitation and is paid a fair amount for their time.
Today, I spoke to the BBC Radio 4 show You and Yours about the report and my life as a freelancer. When asked how fair my pay and conditions are, I have to admit that they're more than fair.
Self-employment is, to me, a huge opportunity. I chose to work this way. I chose to leave permanent employment with its protection and rights for workers because, as the freelance writer who gets tech, I can command a higher income and achieve a better work/life balance.
So, do I have the right to ask for extra rights? Does the very nature of self-employment not mean that I am already compensated for the lack of maternity leave, pension or sick pay?
Should all self-employed workers just be grateful for what they have?
No. The real problem is that no two self-employed workers are the same. It's the lack of definition around the way I and others in the self-employment sector work that is dangerous for the future of work and, ultimately, the British economy.
The lack of clarity around defined worker roles is the real problem that the Taylor report failed to address.
What the heck is a "dependent contractor" anyway?
The Taylor report introduced a new "dependent contractor" category that sits between fully employed and self-employed status. Dependent contractors would be eligible for certain rights and companies, like Uber and Deliveroo, that rely on these workers would not be able to dodge their obligations.
However, I am not a dependent contractor. I do not rely on the gig economy. I use it to fund a small fraction of my income as and when I need to. My working situation is a world away from a zero hours contract. I'm not an Uber driver.
So, what am I?
I'm self-employed. I'm one of almost five million British workers that count themselves as self-employed and, arguably, prop up the British economy.
Ahead of the Taylor Review, a survey by PwC suggested more people would consider gig work or a zero-hours contract if they had better guarantees around pay, job security and benefits such as holiday and sick pay.
Surely, more employment in any guise means more wealth and should be widely encouraged?
Yet, the Taylor Review has deemed it necessary to introduce a hybrid "dependent contractor" category, without first providing a statutory definition of self-employment. And this is a huge oversight.
Whether you're a permanent employee, self-employed or somewhere in between, we first need to be clear about the boundaries between different worker roles so we can give all workers the rights they deserve.
Speaking in a statement, Chris Bryce, chief executive at self-employment association IPSE, said: "Any changes to employment status should bring clarity and not add to the confusion around how government treats the way people choose to work."
"When people talk about the gig economy, there is often the mistaken assumption that the services operating in it are all the same. Each relationship has to be judged on its own particular merits, and it would have been a huge error to simply place everyone in the gig economy within the revised worker status. This is why it’s essential to enshrine what it means to be self-employed in law," he added.
If the ultimate goal of the Taylor Review was to protect all workers' rights, then it needs to first give the self-employment sector the recognition it deserves.
As Theresa May takes the summer to flick through the report and plan her next move, I sincerely hope the self-employment sector is not left on the sidelines.
We all have the right to a fair deal at work.
Freelancing is a famine or feast existence and, recently, I've been feasting so much I felt like fitting a gastric band on my business.
Deadlines came in daily waves and all-nighters were starting to feel like the norm instead of a one-off occurrence. It's not a sustainable existence, and I'm grateful for the influx of work - but I'm equally grateful to kick back and go back to working the usual 9-5, not 5-9.
There's a problem with the famine period of freelancing though. I find it really difficult to stay motivated.
Suddenly, I find 101 things to do around the house. I start raiding the fridge with alarming frequency - and then going to the gym to work off the 14 Crunchie bars I've consumed in one hour*.
But I still have work to do. I just can't seem to get my bum into gear to do it. It's been a difficult and chocolate-heavy week - so I wanted to share a few productivity tips I've stumbled on during quiet times:
1. Tomato timers top the list
The Pomodoro technique is a regular on many productivity posts - but it really has worked for me so I had to give it a mention. The idea is that you work on one task for 25 minutes straight, take a five-minute break and then repeat that cycle four times, before taking a longer break.
This method doesn't work for me when I'm writing a long feature article and need to immerse myself in a topic - but it's a Godsend when I have lots of little jobs to do. And taking regular breaks really does boost your productivity - here's the scientific proof.
2. Get on top of the backlog
Not too busy? Now is the time to sort out your website, write a backlog of blog posts, clean your desk and clear the decks.
I write a weekly Sunday Science blog series that (you guessed it) comes out every Sunday. So, I'm using this period of downtime to write as many posts as I can before I'm busy again. I've set myself a target of writing one post per day and put more topic suggestions up on my editorial calendar.
If you have similar tasks on the horizon, your future self will thank you if you break the back of them now.
3. Reflect on your work
I'm not one for navel-gazing - but I'm currently completing a self-assessment on my business. I know it sounds a bit mad, but I hope it will help me to identify what's going well and where I need to make more improvements.
This post from Rosalind Davies gives some great advice on completing a freelance performance review. If you're more of a small business - then check out these business assessment analysis tools.
4. Stand up!
A couple of months ago, I fitted a standing desk in my office. I originally wanted to improve my health, but I've only just started to realise how it has helped my productivity. I find it easier to retain focus and get back to my desk after a break, for example.
You don't have to fork out for an expensive desk either - I constructed my own desk using a few boxes and some spare IKEA shelves. It's not a long term solution, but it's a good way to trial a standing desk to see if it works for you.
If you're not convinced by a standing desk - here are another 15 office design tricks to boost your productivity.
5. Cut yourself some slack
I use Toggl to track my time. It's a great tool to analyse my working week, including the clients and projects that are taking the most amount of time.
During peak times, I can work up to 60 hours a week. So, does it really matter if I only work 30 hours this week and take some time off? No. In fact, taking a break could be a very good idea if you want to avoid the dreaded burnout.
Taking of which, I'm going to take the afternoon off now to do a spot of gardening. And tidy my desk.
Please feel free to share your tips for retaining focus during your downtime in the comments below!
* Slight exaggeration. It was 12 Crunchie bars.
This morning, I spoke on the BBC Radio Five Live's Wake Up to Money programme about the gig economy, which is the working practice of picking up chunks of work on a flexible basis.
As a freelance writer, I've used sites like Upwork to top up my income in this way. Such sites provide a link for freelancers who want some extra work and companies who need a little extra manpower.
For me, this has worked well. But there are downsides to the "gig economy". Workplace rights are coming under increasing scrutiny. And quite rightly so.
New research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) shows that one million workers now use the gig economy.
The To Gig or Not To Gig: Stories from the modern economy report said: “Despite the typically low earnings reported by gig economy workers, they remain on the whole satisfied with their income, with 51% saying they are satisfied and 19% dissatisfied with the level of income they receive. This is significantly higher than the level of satisfaction with pay reported by other workers, where 36% are satisfied and 35% are dissatisfied,” according to The Guardian.
This is an interesting contrast. How can more than half of those using the gig economy be happy with their earnings, if they are typically low?
The CIPD report, and my own experience, may provide the answer. According to the report, the most common reason for taking on gig work is to boost income, according to almost one-third of the 5,000 respondents.
I am, most definitely, in that bracket. I am completely satisfied with my level of income as a freelance writer and sometimes gigging writer.
But, I would not say the gig economy is the sole reason for this satisfaction. The gig economy only makes up around 5% of my total income. Like the vast majority, I supplement my earnings by logging into Upwork and finding a bit work when needs must.
I do no rely on gigging. I use it as and when I want or need to.
Yes, the gig economy gives you another route to find work. It gives you the flexibility to find projects that boost your portfolio. It gives you the opportunity to access projects that you would never find through your own network. It opens doors.
That's the bit I really like. If I want to branch out and write about something different, I can. If I want to earn a little bit extra, it gives me a plausible way to do this.
The gig economy and freelancer lifestyle are natural bedfellows because both offer you flexibility in your work.
Low pay? No way
This flexibility is a double-edged sword. And this is the crux of the issue. The companies tapping into the gig economy have flexibility too in terms of when they hire and what they pay workers.
The majority of those I have worked with in the gig economy pay freelancers a fair rate. You can report businesses that are asking you to work for free on Upwork, for example. It's an important step to ensure the skills of the freelancer community are not undervalued - and a core reason why I support the #nofreework campaign.
But there are also less scrupulous sorts who want to pay freelancers the bare minimum for their skills. Quite frankly, being offering 1p per word is not going to pay the bills. For a 500-word blog post, which can take up to four hours to research and write, that's £1.25 per hour.
This is why Labour MP Frank Field's call for Theresa May to guarantee a minimum wage for self-employed workers is so important.
It is vital that the self-employment lifestyle is not undervalued. Look at the recent debacle surrounding an increase in national insurance on self-employed workers. Before the U-Turn, Theresa May said the shift towards self-employment was "eroding the tax base" and making it harder to pay for public services "on which ordinary working families depend".
On a personal note, I am in an ordinary working family. The suggestion that I am eroding the tax base is laughable at best (I am now much more highly paid and, as a result, more highly taxed compared to my previous life as a permanent employee) and dangerous at worst.
It's dangerous because if you start to tax the gig economy and budding entrepreneurs then you will stifle innovation.
The gig economy gave me an entry point into freelancing. I used it to supplement my income when I was working full time as a software developer. Before I knew it, the supplementary gig work snowballed and I was getting so much work as "the freelance writer who gets tech" that I quit my 9-5 and writing became my full-time job.
I took a chance. I continue to take chances every day as a freelancer because I do not have a guaranteed income every month. The gig economy gives me a speck of reassurance that I can find work every month if the proverbial ever hits the fan.
But, is the gig economy fair for freelancers? If you tread carefully and choose work that pays you a fair wage, then yes. If you use it to supplement your income, then yes.
If you pay me 1p/word? No.
We live in difficult times where many people need to supplement their income using the gig economy. And some workers rely on the gig economy. It is not fair to exploit those working very hard to make ends meet regardless of whether they gig, work or do both.
A fair wage is a basic working right for everyone.
Love or hate it - what are your views on the gig economy? Please let me know if the comments below.
Life as a freelance writer can be frustrating. I spend hours coming up with article ideas; find exclusive and clever lines; track down interviewees and my pitches seemingly disappear into a black hole from which no communication, either positive or negative, ever appears.
The event horizon of the editor’s inbox sucks in my pitches and imprisons them. My story goes stale and my chances of seeing my piece in print disappears. Worse still, there is always a sneaking suspicion that the lead I've given away in my email is now being worked up into a news story by the publication’s own staff.
OK, I'm exaggerating now. Idea theft, in reality, does not happen very often. But the reality of pitching to numerous editors is part of the freelance writer life. I just never appreciated how big a chunk of my time it would take.
I've been incredibly lucky with my pitches and the editors who I've made contact with. But for every hundred good editors, there is a bad - or even an invisible counterpart.
The good editor
Yesterday, I nervously pitched to a rather large publication using a very generic email address I found on their website. My expectations were lower than Donald Trump's wig. Imagine my surprise when I received a response a few minutes later.
OK, the pitch wasn't successful but the editor responded, gave me constructive criticism on the pitch, told me what they were looking for and a better email address to use in the future. And he was encouraging. It may sound daft, but it really made my day. I now have a valuable insight and contact.
Such good editors are in the majority. They respond to enquiries and give tips on the nuances of their publication. It makes sense and saves everyone a lot of time and effort.
I've met a lot of good editors and they work for a range of publications. Maybe they appreciate that freelance writers can produce value-adding and unique articles. Maybe they understand, or remember, the endless freelance writer pitching process. Maybe they're all just thoroughly good eggs.
Whatever the reason, thank you, good editors.
The bad editor
Now, to the other end of the spectrum. The bad editor. I have a little more anecdotal evidence here.
I still remember getting the following response to a pitch in my early days of freelancing:
"This is not the sort of article we would ever consider publishing. It's drivel. Please do not contact me again."
Crumbs. I was rather upset by these disparaging remarks. I'd only pitched to the publication once before, using a generic address from the contact us page and received positive feedback. It came as a shock on both a professional and personal level. Especially as the pitch later found a home in another publication, so I don't think it could have been too diabolical.
The bad editor is in the minority. I have heard further anecdotal evidence of the bad editor persona from fellow freelancers, but these tales are few and far between. Just dust it off, keep on pitching and strike that individual off your contact list. Retain your professionalism.
The invisible editor
I appreciate editors are swamped with pitches on a daily basis. I appreciate they are incredibly busy. But occasionally, I would appreciate a response from the invisible editor.
I'm not talking about cold pitches or press releases that are fired to the masses (a method I never use if any editors are reading this). I'm talking about an ongoing conversation with an editor about an article. Research is done, interviews are in place and when the pitch is made: silence.
The editor has dropped off the face of the Earth. It's incredibly frustrating. Suddenly my "great idea" is not great enough to be published. Hmph.
There are two things to bear in mind regarding unresponsive editors: it's not personal and there's nothing you can do about it. This pitch may be your big break - but to an editor, it's just another one of dozens of articles they are responsible for on a daily basis. And here's the hardest pill to swallow - it may not be such an amazing idea after all.
Life as a freelance writer is a constant education. I have made mistakes, learnt from them and moved on. I've developed a thick skin from the bad editors, a wealth of knowledge from the good editors and a theory that the invisible editor is maybe too kind to become the bad editor and let me know that my pitch may just stink.
This Valentine's Day, I received an unexpected gift. Entrepreneur and founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, Julie Deane published an independent review into self-employment in the UK.
Having now had time to read the 40-something page review, several pertinent points were raised with regards to the 4.6 million self-employed Britons. We are a diverse and motivated group, enabled by technology and form a significant chunk of the UK workforce - some 15 per cent. Self-employment figures and optimism in the sector are at an all-time high, but the treatment of freelancers and contractors is not.
Here's a snapshot of the recommendations made by the review:
So, what opportunity has this report missed? I must admit a little poetic licence here, the report has not missed an opportunity. The Government has.
Page four of the review says it all: "choosing to be self-employed should not mean that people are disadvantaged in the support that they receive from Government". I could not agree more.
Instead of Julie Deane spending her time writing recommendations that, in my opinion, should already exist; imagine this.
Imagine she had the opportunity to use her brilliant business mind to speak to fellow entrepreneurs and work out how we could help the Government dig its way out of the diabolical financial situation the nation finds itself in.
Imagine the Government listening to the small guys and girls that work tirelessly to succeed, despite all the obstacles they seem to throw at us.
Julie and the Cambridge Satchel company are one shining example of how entrepreneurs can succeed during adverse times. I applaud her review and its recommendations.
But, if the self-employment sector can thrive in one of the nation's worst financial times, surely the Government should listen to how we have found such success, instead of side-lining us?
What advice would you share with the Government, if you had the chance? Let me know in the comments below.
You've got a fantastic idea for an article. You even know which publication or website to target with your winning prose, but there's a problem.
Who should you pitch to? How can you get in touch with them? Figuring out who to contact, and finding that editor's contact details, can be the most frustrating and time-consuming part of the pitching process.
Don't despair: there are a handful of tricks to help this process. You just need to do a little detective work.
Pitching is one of the major components of my daily life as a freelance writer. I'm not claiming to be an expert - but here are a few tips to figure out which editor to pitch to and how to find the relevant contact details so you can place and get paid for more articles.
1. Be specific
Don't pitch to the editor-in-chief, unless you're targeting a really small publication. Your email will probably just get deleted.
Try to find the editor that oversees your story's beat. If this isn't obvious on the publication's website do a little digging around the site at past stories on your topic and see which name pops up regularly. If you can't find that information, go for the associate, deputy or senior editor. They will usually forward your query to the correct person.
And don't waste time bothering contributing editors or copyeditors - they are unlikely to be responsible for assigning stories.
2. Pick up the phone
I was unsure whether I should include this point. When I worked as a technology journalist and then science writer, I was constantly picking up the phone to PRs with "the best story since sliced bread". Some pitches were great, but most were just irritating noise.
So, if you're convinced your article is the perfect fit for a publication, then give them a ring. If they don't sound keen, try to get an email address and contact name to pitch to the right person in the future. But don't ring a publication constantly with "the perfect article" - they'll be blacklisting your number before you know it.
3. Ask your contacts
Try to source information from fellow writers. Facebook or LinkedIn groups can be a great resource here, as can old writing colleagues. If they're familiar with your work, they may even give you an introduction over email. They can also give pointers for other publications to target. Get involved in the wider writer community, we're very nice!
4. Use Twitter
Twitter has been a great, and somewhat surprising, pitching resource. If you're trying to find an unlisted editor, Twitter can be a good place to look as many users list their place of employment in their bios. In the Twitter search tool, type in the word "editor" plus the @handle of the targeted publication.
Some editors prefer Twitter - it cuts down the waffle and produces quick pitches. If your idea is good, an editor will continue the conversation via email.
5. Google it
It's an obvious one but try searching “John Smith email address” and it could pop right up. You could also try searching “email@example.com” to see if you get any hits. If you want to further exploit Google, don't forget to use the advanced search tools. These advanced tips for using Google search from Lifehacker offer further advice.
I'm not entirely pro this tip - but many hacks I know swear by it. I'm worried I may be encroaching into stalker territory here - and if an editor doesn't have their contact details readily available, then it may be best to leave them alone.
And this leads me onto my final tip...
6. Network, don't pester
There are various other practices I've heard of to find an editor's email address. They're sneaky and they don't sit right with me. I'd much rather approach an editor face-to-face, build a relationship and have a chat than hunt for hours to find their email address.
Freelancing and networking go hand-in-hand. My most successful pitches are thanks to a human relationship and conversation with an editor, not a shifty dig to find their email address. So network within an inch of your life, be friendly, be professional and listen to any feedback an editor gives you.
And remember this key point: editors are a freelancer's lifeline - don't piss them off with pointless pitches.
If you have any other tips for figuring out which editor to pitch to, please share them in the comments below!
Writing copy for a website’s homepage is a tricky business. There are many challenges. The copy needs to grab browsers attention, maintain interest, explain, intrigue and support a group of second level pages.
There’s no right or wrong way to achieve this. Some companies even decide to ditch content for beautiful images, it all depends on your company’s target audience and key messaging.
Here are a few tips to nail your homepage copy:
Do it last
Only approach your homepage once all the other website copy is in place. Your homepage is a synopsis of the site as a whole, so you can’t write about something that does not exist yet.
Once the rest of the site’s words are in place, grab key elements and start writing your homepage.
Build your homepage from the bottom up. From the heart of the page’s content to the introduction of your page and then the title. Writing a homepage is effectively a process of distilling down your company’s vision and ethos.
First-time visitors arrive at your site with a clear purpose in mind. They are looking for something.
Your headline must clearly and quickly communicate quickly the primary value proposition of your site.
In other words, you must explain why is it better than all the competing sites out there offering similar services or products.
This is a tough job and you need to cut down the waffle. Remove adjectives and adverbs. Stay focused. Understand what your audience is looking for. Communicate that promise and your value as clearly and quickly as possible.
Clarify headlines with introductory text
It is impossible to communicate ever value proposition in ten words or less. If you have a business that offers a number of different products or services, keep your headline simple and then use some short introductory text to expand your message and clarify its meaning.
Put this introductory text beneath your headline so it flows. You need to be aware of your readers’ eyepath. For example, if you want someone to read a block of text immediately after reading your headline, place it within the same column, with the same margins, one following directly after the other.
Give visitors help finding what they want
You must help visitors find the second-level page that best matches their immediate interest. It’s an obvious point but homepages are often cluttered with too many features and links.
If 90% of your visitors end up visiting two or three second-level pages first, make links to these pages as obvious as possible on the homepage.
Unless you are a globally recognized brand, visitors may feel unsure about your business.
Give them reassurance. Your copy can achieve this through the tone of your headline and other text on the homepage. Don’t be too blatant or salesy in your approach. Write in simple, clear and honest language to draw visitors in. Go for the hard sell on second level pages – not a visitor’s first port of call.
There are many other elements to writing a great homepage, but these points cover the basics. When I write a homepage, I aim for simplicity and clarity. I keep the end user in mind and want them to feel confident that they have come to the right place.
If you need help with your web copy, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can take the horror of writing a homepage away.
These two words are emblazoned on my grey matter after working with a brilliant, but sometimes rather stern, editor in my early writing career. But these words of advice have been thrown to the wayside recently as my opinion about freelancing has not remained objective.
I bloody love it. And I'm not alone. Only two per cent of freelancers want to work as an employee and almost nine out of ten are very satisfied with the way that they work, according to research from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).
But, on National Freelancers Day 2015 and in the name of objectivity, I thought it time to share some of the downsides to freelancing:
1. Money, money, money
Freelancers command higher rates of pay than permanent employees. But there are many flip-sides to such weighty rates.
There are constant money worries when working as a freelancer: there isn't a day that goes by that I don't worry about money. I worry when I'm snowed under with bylines and articles. I worry when I haven't written a commissioned word in days. I worry when I turn up the heating or switch on the lights. I worry when I feel ill, but there's no one to call in sick to.
Then there's the tax. How much should I pay? And when? Should I be a limited company? Sole trader? What the hell is the IR35? Tax is taxing and I'd always recommend getting a specialist freelance accountant to help you navigate this minefield and dodge any unexpected bills or fines, should you miss a deadline from the HMRC.
2. It's oh so quiet
I crave silence. I have two boisterous boys and an ongoing house renovation so five minutes of silence is a luxury. But it's easy to go stir crazy when you're self-employed thanks to the isolation of working totally alone, and usually from home.
There's no impromptu chat with my team, free birthday cakes or person to grab a bite to eat with over lunch. There's me, a screen and a radio.
3. Don't take this personally, but...
Losing a client is a natural part of the freelance existence, but it can be difficult to accept. The left side of my brain accepts such losses for what they are: finances are tight and I am just collateral damage in a much wider corporate picture. The right side of my brain is less logical: why have they dumped me? Was my writing terrible? Surely we can work something out?!
Clients come and go, but being dumped for reasons outside of your control can be a dent in the confidence of the most successful freelance writer.
4. Scraping the barrel
Sorry, I can't do it. I am desperately trying to come up with a fourth reason why freelancing isn't always so fabulous. The problem is, and here's where I throw objectivity out of the virtual window again, I love freelancing.
For every downside, there is a much brighter, bigger and brilliant upside. Worried about money? Yes, but freelancing has allowed me to build up a cash reserve to weather those rainy days. Don't understand your IR35 from your ARS3? Get an accountant. Struggling with a lack of human interaction? Start writing from a coffee shop and get involved in the freelancer community (and be grateful you don't have to attend another office party). Lost a client? Start pitching to new ones. Learn from the experience. Move on.
So Happy National Freelancers Day one and all. I will be celebrating. Celebrating the freedom, flexibility and other benefits of working as a freelance writer.
And to that former editor, I'm sorry but I will remain objective about every aspect of my writing with one clear exception: freelancing. It's my life and I love it.
To find out more about National Freelancers Day, click here.
Will Wheaton I, a humble copywriter and science journalist, salute you.
The former Star Trek star, now barrelslayer, tweeted this after a small dispute over pay with Huffington Post:
The tweet was then followed by another:
And a brilliant blog post fully explaining the situation also followed.
It's an important message in today's world where we are drowning in words. Tweets, status updates, emails and instant messages flood our screens giving the impression that words are an expendable commodity that anyone can use to good effect. To quote Mr Wheaton again: "50,000 monkeys at 50,000 typewriters can't be wrong."
But they are wrong. Good words don't come cheap. Good copy don't come cheap. I'd like to share with you a similar experience that I had.
Once upon a blog post..
A couple of months ago, I was in talks with a potential client about writing a series of blog posts for his technology start-up's website. It was a familiar scenario. He was snowed under with the usual ins and outs of setting up a business and wanted to hire in a writer with technical knowledge to establish his brand, connect with customers and boost the SEO of the website. He just didn't have the time to write the blog himself.
Then I received an email from the prospective client, let's call him Marmaduke, telling me he had decided to enlist a mutual friend who was only charging £10 per post.
We parted amicably and I thought that was that.
The other day, I had another email from Marmaduke. He was concerned about the blog posts. The writer had not captured the company's ethos, understood the technical side of the business and not thoroughly spell checked the posts. But then a competitor called to say one of the posts was pretty similar to one of their posts.
Marmaduke did a little more research on the blog and soon discovered his writer had been copying competitors' blog posts or regurgitating old news stories. The work was not original. In fact, it was downright plagiarism. No wonder it only cost £10 a post to produce.
How does cheap copy affect your business?
Bargain basement copywriting is a false economy and it can cost you and your business in more ways than one:
1. Your reputation
Readers will not realise your copy is written by a third party. They will assume it is you and your business so it's your reputation on the line. This is especially true for ghost written content. So remember, even if you didn't write the copy - your business and its values are at the forefront of your readers' minds.
2. Your business
A dodgy blog will not just raise questions from competitors, customers will notice. They will notice the typos, the incoherent messages and the dull copy. Rather than building a brand and connecting with customers, you'll end up alienating or boring them.
3. Your website
Google penalises copied content and copy that shoehorns in obvious keyword phrases. But it can get more serious than that. A site hosted in the US may be hit with a DMCA takedown notice, where the content must be removed from the website. If the owner does not comply, the entire site can be taken offline by the ISP.
When you invest in a professional writer, you don't just pay for a few lines of text. You pay for years of experience, original content, in-depth research, someone who will take the time to understand your business, brand, customers and voice, a certain level of professionalism and high-quality copy that's not littered with spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.
If your budget will not stretch to paying a freelance writer, it's usually best to write your blog posts and copy yourself. You can ask friends and family to proofread your work if you're unsure of your abilities. Or you could ask an experienced writer to proofread and provide feedback on the content for you - it will be cheaper than getting them to write a post from scratch.
Or you could take the same approach as the Huffington Post and convince writers to work for your for free. But, to paraphrase Mr Wheaton again, a writer can't pay their rent with "the unique platform and reach our site provides."
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology