Freelancing: it’s no fairytale

Many people know I started out freelancing and I surprise myself sometimes because I actually know quite a lot about it. This so-called ‘gig economy’ seems to be the career choice of the moment but for me it was entirely by accident and not design. I don’t know if that made it tougher or easier.

Everywhere you look there are digi-mums and marketers-in-transition (yes, apparently that’s a thing) – people with no marketing experience jumping on the digital marketing bandwagon for whatever reason (flexible working, easy money, be your own boss, work from home, mega-bucks – you’ve heard it all before I’m sure). Come aboard, they said. There’s room for everyone, they said.

Well, there was but these days I’m not so sure. Freelancing is tough and I defy anyone who says any different. In many cases you are juggling not one but two day jobs – homemaker and marketer being the most common – and living with the uncertainty of where you next pay cheque is coming from.

Don’t get me wrong, when it’s good, freelancing is great. I can make my own hours, command my own rates, have lunch with friends, take a day off and pick my kids up from school every day. But it’s been a hard slog to get here and it’s not for the fainthearted.

Yep, freelancing’s no fairytale. If you don’t believe me, read on.

Most clients will pay for straw but expect gold

And just like the miller’s daughter you will probably be writing day and night to make ends meet.

If you join a freelancing website you will very quickly become aware of two things (a) you are a small fish in a big pond and (b) most clients opt for quantity over quality. It’s for exactly this reason, sometimes things get a bit… well, silly.

500 words for $5? Write 10+ articles a day!

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out the client’s expectations or the quality control on these. Or does it? In most cases, it’s poor quality, plagiarised, error-riven drivel but some clients pay for straw and expect gold. You’ll be surprised by what clients demand (usually after you take a job): keyword integration, HTML formatting, unique content, paraphrased quotes, to name but a few.

Unfortunately, you are at the end of a long line of associate workers – starting at the marketing agency handling the business you’re writing for (don’t ask, they will never tell you), moving down to the associate PR company, then down to their in-house copywriter, then to the copywriting agency, then you. That’s a long line of people waiting to be paid out of one monthly retainer fee.

Sadly, the $5 gigs are far more numerous than the $5o gigs (it’s less than 1p per word, in case you were wondering) but, remember, you have a skill, they do not have said skill. Do not undersell yourself.

Set a rate in your head that you’re willing to work for and pitch at that rate – stick to it. When you’re starting out I’d advise putting proposals in for as many jobs as your subscription allows, you’re under no obligation to take a job and many clients briefs are vague at best. If it sounds interesting or within your skill set, it’s worth a punt. If a client likes the sound of you, they’ll get in touch and this is when you’ll really uncover the scope of the brief. Speaking of briefs…

Well, you know every good fairytale has a beginning, a middle and an end? Your freelance jobs should be just the same but your story should be written on the holy grail of copywriting, the brief.

More on that next time.

If you’ve got any questions about freelancing, drop me a line or a tweet and I’ll be happy to share my experiences.

(Image courtesy of Brian Holland via Flickr)