There’s so much talk at the moment about the growing freelancer economy, the pluses and pitfalls of going solo, that it isn’t always easy to differentiate between the reality and the myths of striking out on your own. So to try and understand what it is really like, whitefox has been talking to Jill Sawyer. Jill has been freelance for 3 years, working as an editor, typesetter and project manager for a number of individual and company clients. Previously, she worked at DK and Scholastic.
wf: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Jill. First question, how easy is it for you to manage a regular flow of work? Does it sometimes feel like feast or famine?
JS: I don’t expect to have a regular flow of work with my kind of freelancing. I usually work on single book projects. I’m often asked to do rush jobs or to ‘pick up the pieces’, and they drop in to my in-box with very little notice. Work is like busses – none for ages then three come along at once. So I do the work when it’s there, even if it means working weekends and evenings, because I know there will be a quiet patch around the corner. I know that strategy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me at the moment.
wf: Has the fear of not being asked again by a particular client ever made you say yes to work where you wished you hadn’t?
JS: Not so far. I have had clients I’d think twice about working for again though.
wf: I’m sure that will resonate with others. How do you manage to keep a good work/ life balance?
JS: My husband is also freelance, but in entertainment. He works at very erratic times and is away a lot so it’s important that we can grab time together when we can. Both being freelance works very well for us in that respect.
wf: This is supposedly the age of remote working. Does it really not matter where you are based now for the majority of the work you are doing?
JS :For the kind of work I do it doesn’t matter. I conduct 99% of my work over email and rarely see my clients face to face. I could be anywhere so long as I have a good broadband connection.
wf: So how do you find work ? To what extent do you try and generate leads yourself?
JS: Most of my work comes from existing clients and by word of mouth. But if I do get a quiet period I look at who’s hiring and who uses freelancers and I will write on spec and ask around.
wf: What tips would you give your fellow freelancers about managing cash flow?
JS: Be organised with your invoicing. Expect to have to chase invoices – few clients pay before 30 days (even if you ask them to) and some take a lot longer. It’s advisable to have a bit of start-up money to keep you going until payments start coming in.
If you are used to a regular salary it can be hard adapting to the ebbs and flows of payment. You could try having a separate bank account for freelance work and setting up regular payments to your current account. I don’t do that but I do have a separate account and I’m very strict with myself about keeping money by for tax and national insurance so there are no surprises when you do your tax return.
wf: Things change so quickly, how do you manage to keep up with new technological developments relevant to your specialist area?
JS: I read the trade press and follow people in my field on social media. And I’m always learning. I have a subscription to Lynda.com, which is an amazing video learning resource. If I go through a quiet spell I use it to brush up or learn something new.
wf: What about feedback? Is it useful to ask for that or do you get enough anyway?
JS: I don’t tend to ask for feedback. I would always hope that if I’d done something wrong or unsatisfactorily my client would tell me. Most of my regular clients are good at either giving or passing on positive feedback.
wf: Finally, what advice would you give anyone thinking of going freelance?
JS: Think the pros and cons over carefully. Freelancing works well for me, but it isn’t for everyone.You might be able to make the switch gradually – perhaps going part time for a while.When you are used to a regular salary it can be difficult making the transition to freelance hours and payment and being responsible for your own finances and accounts. Try to have some start-up money to tide you over until you start to get paid.
There can be a lot of freedom and flexibility, but you are also very much on your own. Think about whether you would miss the office environment.
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