10 things nobody tells you about going freelance

A freelance convert gives their insight into going it alone – some of this may surprise you...

Until November 2014, I was editor-in-chief of Creative Bloq's sister Apple titles, MacFormat, Mac|Life and more. Then I decided to go it alone, and spent the next year-and-a-half working from home as a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

That leap – from secure full-time employment to ohshitohshitohshit – wasn't one I took lightly, but it's fair to say that however much my wife and I tried to rationalise the pros and cons, and do our sums to see if it was financially viable, it really was a leap; I screwed up my eyes, balled my fists, and jumped into the unknown.

And let me tell you, there's a lot people don't tell you. I was prepared for a lot of what freelance life brought – the need for good bookkeeping, the benefits of having a dedicated office space you could close the door on, the process of pitching stories, broadening my client base and keeping myself engaged – but I've learned a lot in my time spent freelancing that I've never heard anyone say.

So if you're thinking about making that leap, let me show you where a few landing spots are – and if you have made it, share what you learned yourself in the comments below!

01. You need less money than you think

We did some calculations and worked out what the minimum amount of money I would have to make as freelance would be, to ensure we covered bills and some very basic food; it was tiny. (I am lucky that my wife works too, and so was offsetting the amount of money we needed as a household, even though I had been the higher wage earner. If you don't have a partner, though, read on.)

In the first month of freelance, I made nearly ten times my minimum. To be clear, I'm still earning less, gross, than I was when I was employed, but for all the usual reasons – self-determination, reduced pressure of work, flexibility and so on – I'm vastly more happy.

The bigger point, though, is that although my earnings have dropped, my savings have rocketed. What? Partly, that's conscious; we were understandably cautious about spending money when we didn't know how freelance would go. But also, I found I just spend less money now; because I work from home (and since there are no shops around me)

I'm forced realistically to buy my week's lunches when we do the one big grocery shop – and to make smarter use of leftovers. And because there's not the constant temptation of a £3 coffee, a lunchtime pint, a burrito treat and so on, freelancing is simply a cheaper lifestyle for me.

02. You get playtime back!

It's far too easy, both in full-time work and when working freelance, to feed the beast. But play is really important, especially for those of us working in creative industries, not just because it's rewarding but because if you're pushed for time you'll only do the things you know will work – and that leads to mediocrity.

Play, discover, explore. Build playtime, whatever that means for your industry, right into your day; it will bear fruit. (And if you try something and it doesn't work, celebrate; that's what it's there for.)

03. Made enough money? Stop working

After a few months (and by tracking your invoices even just on a simple spreadsheet, as I do), you start to get a feel for how much money you make in a typical month, and whether that's sufficient. And the really great bit? When I can see that magical number looming, I know I can ease off the gas a bit. It usually doesn't mean I stop pitching or writing or doing other ancillary stuff, but I can take a day off here or there, take a long bath, go for a walk, or better still…

04. You have a routine – but you can break it

I get up every day at 6:15am, drive my wife to the station, come home, make myself some breakfast and eat it on front of my Mac, catching up on feeds and the news of the day. Shower, dress and ready to work by 9:30am. This is good – as otherwise I know from some other freelancers that the lure of the sofa and daytime TV is strong – but at the same time I need to keep reminding myself: I don't work in an office. Bad night's sleep? Lie in. Glorious sunshine? Take my laptop to the pub. Nothing pressing today? Go for a drive and visit a town I've never been to before.

05. You get vastly more done in a day than you think

Without phones ringing, emails pinging, senior colleagues dumping new initiatives on you and junior colleagues needing help and support, you get so much more done in a day than you had been used to when you did a regular job. Especially if you've drifted into a senior position at work, you'll recognise the feeling that you spend more time writing emails and juggling spreadsheets than you do doing the creative thing you love. At a stroke, you can cut all that stuff out; for the first few weeks, I'd portion out work for the day yet be done by mid-afternoon, since all I was doing was the fun, creative stuff.

Next page: five more things you didn't know about freelance


Christopher Phin writes about retro Apple tech for Macworld, typography and design for Creative Bloq, and about pretty much anything else if someone pays him.