Blog,  Editing,  Freelancing,  Journalism

9 lessons I learned freelancing in 2018

While you book your spot in the upcoming very cheap Writers Victoria webinar on freelancing that I am running ($20 tickets and 20% off before Feb!) and get excited about Rounded offering a deal for attendees, here is a list of lessons I learned about freelancing in 2018 that will be useful for you to know if you have just started or are looking to start freelancing yourself.


A bit of an intro first for those who came in late

Moving into a new context for your work and your career means that invariably you learn something new.

I moved from Perth to Melbourne last year. Despite my business being a movable, mobile, digital nomad like kind of set up where you would not think moving or changing cities would change anything, there were changes.

In Australia, there is a weird attitude towards the cities on the East Coast. It’s an attitude I don’t like that I think can be detrimental. But the fact is that even those on the West Coast buy into this idea so much that it just continues the cycle.

And that idea is that somehow the East Coast cities are the best to work and live in, that that is where opportunity is. This plays out in federal and state policies – some policies focus on developing opportunities in all sorts of industries on the East coast first or solely, other policies at the state level ignore the importance of creating opportunities and support for people in certain states because in the policy creators minds, everyone in that field goes to Melbourne or Sydney.

And I see it in the corporate sector and in my twin industries of media and publishing and in the general public’s belief as well.

Because when I moved from Perth to Melbourne, despite the fact that I have yet to do any writing or editing or journalism work that has required me to be based in Melbourne, I have had more interest from potential clients and collaborators from both sides of the country than when I was based in Perth. It was like everyone was waiting for me to make the move first.

And it is annoying because I have already been here, with these skills. Moving to Melbourne should not have made a difference and people should not discount those living and working in other areas of Australia as somehow being less valid, less dedicated, less skilled or knowledgable than others. It is a horrible attitude to have towards fellow countrymen. It’s a horrible attitude to believe of yourself and the others around you.

But long story short, this was one of the reasons I learned a lot last year. I learn a lot every year that I freelance but I had to acknowledge that the move to Melbourne had a big impact, if not for the reasons everyone else thought of.


Lesson 1: Set monthly goals

I have been using Rounded for awhile and I cannot remember how long it has been but it has significantly freed up my time and energy.

I am only on the basic plan and that’s all I need since I don’t charge GST.

But it allows me to set monthly goals.

Monthly goals weren’t always a thing. They were a new feature that turned up about a year and a bit ago and at first I wasn’t sure what to put in as a decent amount to aim for.

As your invoices get paid, it tracks how close you get to your monthly goal. There is nothing more fancy than that involved.

But what it does better than me trying to keep track of a running total by hand or on a chart somewhere, is that it just automates it. I don’t have to do the addition, I don’t have to write something down.

And it gives me something to aim for that I can quickly check on my mobile because there is an Android App for it.

And monthly goals help. Weekly, daily – I am sure they might help if they were ever introduced by Rounded but I think my work is a bit too sporadic for me to aim for a weekly or daily target of income coming in. But monthly works great.

And it is a good incentive to keep moving towards achieving that goal. And to see if it could in some way move beyond that so that maybe from June onwards I could increase that monthly goal and meet it.

It also means I find it a bit more streamlined in thinking about important decisions like spending money on something or taking time off work or taking another bit of work on. I can look at what I have for the month so far and decide.

And instead of me remembering only a few bits of work throughout the year, it helps me to remember that I met income goals and made a living and that yes I am being a damn good professional at this. I think that is always important to keep in mind.


Lesson 2: Start small and scale up

This ties into the monthly goals bit.

In my freelancing, a repeat client is amazing but they aren’t easy to come by.

So even with things like the monthly goals, I started small. I started small to get into the change in mindset of thinking actively about a target I could achieve instead of worrying about what the whole picture looked like over a year and other such things.

I started small with other things as well like how much I was saving or putting away into my super.

And I started getting up at four am to write in the last few months of 2018. And it was only a few hundred words a day but slowly a whole book was coming together.

And the main aim was to make it enough of a habit and pattern and routine that it became almost second nature to wake up at four, write, go for a walk and so on.

I am not perfect at it and there are days when I miss out but if I start small, I am not trying to achieve a goal immediately and I am training myself to keep being better at said action.


Lesson 3: Things will pay off down the track

I ran an online class in June that I had a discussion about in the previous December.

I had a two writing fellowship stays in June and July out of an entry I made in October, after being told about by a friend I had made years earlier.

I was asked in June to go present a workshop in Canberra in February.

When I started on these things, I had no idea if they would work at all. I had no idea what the outcomes would be or sometimes when they would be.

But it was nice to come into a month and realise that a significant chunk of your monthly income goal was met because you had set something up much earlier that you were going to get paid for in that month. That was amazing.

And it also helped encourage me to try to do more of this stuff as soon as I could, whenever I could. To apply for more things, to chat to people whenever I could, to follow the ideas I have for courses etc without worrying that there was no immediate payoff because there could be one down the track.

But also within reason – I need to set things up for now and for the future and I so I also need to work right now and maintain a balance between that and planning future income opportunities.


Lesson 4: Pitching will pay off even after rejections

I saw too many people who were giving up after a rejection.

And rejections suck. But they are part of the deal that you get. If you don’t have sales staff, you are the sales staff. Rejection will happen.

But rejections are not the end of the story. What you should od is go back and keep pitching.

This is what I did. I went back and kept pitching and kept getting rejected. And when they finally did need someone I got a commission and got to work in a new beat: fashion and lifestyle.

That was Audrey Daybook and if you are keen on reading more about the pitch and how I researched, wrote and reported the story, you can check it out on Patreon.

They gave me the commission because I still kept coming up with ideas and pitching even if the ideas were not quite what they wanted.

Pitching does two things: It gets your work in front of a client and it gets you yourself in front of a client.


Lesson 5: Real friends will help

I have had some weird friends in my time.

But as I moved over to Melbourne and started worrying about work, my real friends came through for me.

There were people who actively called me to see how I was faring. There were people who thought of me when they had work for me to do on a freelance basis.

There were people I was working with who didn’t freak out just because I moved interstate.

There were people who sent me work, recommended me to others, encouraged me to enter things, let me know about jobs and opportunities that were going, answered my questions and helped me decide on things.

And then there were friends from whom I heard nothing since I moved and have still heard nothing from.


Lesson 6: Diversifying income streams will help

I lived on my savings a bit for awhile. I was lucky enough to have some available.

With Rounded I can keep track of what I am earning for what kinds of work. I got some journalism gigs. I got some editing gigs. But I also got time to write and a lot of speaking and teaching gigs as well.

I made the most money from my editing work in 2018. And then it was journalism, speaking, mentoring and teaching.

If i had stuck to just one thing, it would not have been a good year.

I am not saying don’t focus on improving one facet, I am saying don’t pick one and ignore all the rest.

It’s a lesson I am trying to take into 2019 as well.

I currently have a speaking/teaching gig happening with Writers Victoria on February 4. It’s an online webinar, it costs only $20-45 dollars and possibly less because you get 20% off if you book before February.

And Rounded has just agreed to give any attendees a deal on their software. Which is amazing.


Lesson 7: There will be slow months and that’s ok too

Well, it is ok if you have other means set aside of meeting your living and business expenses.

And luckily I do. I have a savings account that I keep putting money into and that is a vital part of a freelancer’s business strategy that I highly recommend people have set up.

But the main lesson I had to learn in 2018 was not to panic too much about the slow months. Right after I moved, I had a lot of meetings to attend and a lot of trips to take but very little paid work coming in. And I had to sit with the discomfort of having that happen and yet still keep hustling and still keep hoping something would turn up.

Freelancing means that there will always be some sort of disappointing news somewhere, be it a rejection or delays or something not happening fast enough. Freelancing means uncertainty.

And you either, where you can, build up buffers of certainty to combat that or you become comfortable with uncertainty, knowing that it may be concerning and you may need to have a plan and system to deal with it but that you also cannot let it get to you so much so that it leaves you unable to act or do anything.

So in the slow months, I had to learn and am still learning to keep moving forward and doing what I need to do that will bring in income and acheieve goals and not panic too much about the slowness.


Lesson 8: Move the goal posts slowly

A friend looked at my goals list in my journal the other day and said that it seemed very busy and very overwhelming and like way too much to do.

I said well yes but I am not focused on achieving everything at once. I am focused on achieving things step by step or at least I am trying to be.

So I might have a goal of finishing the writing of a certain amount of books but instead of waking up and worrying about that, I am waking up at four am whenever I can and writing the book I am currently working on, knowing that as soon as I finish it, I can start on the next one.

And that works better right now for me than trying to do it all at once while I have other worries, obligations and responsibilities.

The goal is always behind the goal posts right? And if you aim for the goal posts, you invariably get into the goal? The goal is the books being written, the goal posts are getting up and writing the current book whenever I can and as more words get added, the distance between the goal and the goal posts shortens.

I want to be a person who writes not a person who wants to write. Ditto for anything else I have in mind that I want to do. So that means I have to figure out a way of fitting everything that I want to do and need to do into my week so I become a person who does things not a person who wants to do things. And so the daily or weekly actions have to be things that work towards said goals and also be doable for me.

If I walk an hour each day, I am fitter. If I write every day I am writing a book. And each time I move the goal posts slowly. I can scale up as I complete things. Maybe I will write faster in the time I have or walk further.

But I don’t have to go 100% from the start and I think too many of us set goals and try to do that.


Lesson 9: Take time out for yourself

I spent the last week or so of 2018 and the first week of 2019 by myself in Melbourne with just my cat.

I didn’t go out for New Year’s Eve. I didn’t talk to anyone.

I ordered in, watched TV, read and did a lot of sleeping.

And it was exactly what I needed.

What happens as a freelancer is that you spend a lot of time setting up and stating your boundaries in both subtle and not so subtle ways.

There are always people who want to call you at odd times of the day, people who take up a lot of your time and don’t realise that they have, people who want to talk to you but are very (often understandably) emotionally invested in things so it comes out in your conversations with them.

And there are requests for information, requests for assistance, random messages by people sending you things you may be interested in.

And on top of that there is all your usual client communication and everything in your personal life.

This is just the sort of communication I happen to have in my life as a freelancer, your experience might vary.

And I don’t mind it at all – it comes with the territory.

But I also have to be honest and say it takes a toll. Energy is always required in communication and this is something I found I needed to plan for. Especially when yes I have boundaries but I still need to keep reiterating them.

Sometimes I overstep limits I have set for myself too in doing more than I thought I should or spending more time on something than I really should.

Part of it is that I think a lot of people assume freelancers have a lot of free time. They have the idea that you cannot interrupt people who work in house because they are on the clock but freelancers are also on the clock.

So I said to friends and family at the end of 2018: “I want two weeks off where I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

And that can be hard to say because sometimes people think that what you mean to say is that you don’t love or like them. Or that “anyone” doesn’t include them.

That’s not what I mean. I mean I need space and time to myself where I just have an obligation to myself and myself alone. I need time away to spend all my energy on looking after myself without worrying about work or others or needing to consider them in my plans, even the simple ones like what I should have for dinner and when.

Because that way I rescue my nerves. They stop being frayed. I destress, nerves, energy, resilience and patience build back up and I am less likely to be irritable with others.

And it gives me time to step back and think and reassess things in my life from a more objective viewpoint rather than trying to think of things on the fly when I am in the midst of it all and very subjectively reacting to things. I can then far more easily determine what is working and what isn’t working in how I handle things and solve problems and then regroup and plan.

And to be frank, it helps me miss people. Because I am so used to being by myself and alone, I just keep going like a wound up toy and so I don’t miss company, I don’t usually miss people. I need to stop and relax in order for that to happen.

And I don’t want to wait for the end of the year for another two weeks or a set amount of time where I get to be alone again. I need to make this happen a bit more regularly so I can recharge properly. I have no idea how to do that so I will have to think about it.

But it is important. So it will be done.


What did you learn in 2018? What are you hoping to learn in 2019? Was this list at all helpful? And do you want to do more freelancing or get started?

The webinar I am running has tickets at $20 to $45. I think it is worth it especially if you book before Feb and get 20% off and I asked Rounded to give attendees a deal because I think they are the best choice for freelancers right now.

If it’s for you, click the button below to book. If it isn’t for you, that’s cool too, leave me a comment below and let me know what else you want to see on the website.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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