The downsides of freelance life

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Freelancing has its downsides

If you read my last post, you will be under no illusion that I am a fan of freelancing.

But working for yourself is not all a bed of roses. From filling in tax returns to being your own IT helpdesk, you do end up being a one-man band.

So for the sake of journalistic balance, here are the negative bits of freelance working and how to deal with them:

1. Juggling the load

I (touch wood) have been lucky so far in that I haven’t had any periods where I’m scrabbling round looking for work.

Where I do struggle is saying no when my plate is too full. There is always the fear that they won’t come to you the next time, or that this time next month you’ll be twiddling your thumbs.

And it is rare I for me to say no without good reason. But it is a judgement call. If you do a bad job because you have done it in a ridiculous rush, they won’t come back to you anyway.

An editor would rather go elsewhere (and it’s good to be helpful and suggest alternatives) than end up with no copy when you completely fail to meet their deadline.

If you ask, you will find there is often room for negotiation with the deadline so admitting you are up to your eyes in work does not always mean turning a job down.

2. Financial frustration

As a staffer, you at least know how much money you will have on payday. As a freelancer you get paid in dribs and drabs and although I have never had anyone refuse to pay, it can often be achingly slow.

It is a constant source of frustration that I in theory earn a very good wage, yet never seem to have any money.

When you do finally get paid it just gets sucked into the overdraft you built up while you were waiting for it.

I think two lots of maternity leave have scuppered my ability to get ahead. Saying that it all works out in the end. But if you’re a worrier, living on the financial precipice may not be for you.

3. Being a ‘Billy No Mates’

As it turns out I quite enjoy my own company. And it’s not as if I don’t communicate constantly by email and phone. But if you are a social being, the freelance lifestyle may not be your cup of tea.

Of course, many freelancers do leave their house and do shifts in offices. I tend not to because I live in Sheffield yet most publications I work for are based in London (or even overseas).

I have accidentally fallen into teaching, which is becoming more and more of my ‘portfolio’ so I do then have to get dressed and interact with the world.

It’s almost a relief some days to hang out on my own in my little study. You’d be amazed how much you get done when there’s no one to gossip with.

If you do feel like you’re at risk of turning into a hermit, then you can meet up with other freelancers, get involved in the NUJ or simply go to a cafe that has WiFi and pretend you have friends.

4. Tax torment

Every year I leave my tax return to the last possible minute. I usually (ahem) have my accounts up to date so it is just a case of filling it in and working out the expenses bit. But the sheer tedium mixed with the terror that I’m doing it wrong means I will procrastinate as long as possible.

This year I even had a man from the Inland Revenue tell me I should be filing in summer (six months before the deadline) in case any problems arose.

We were not on the same page. I don’t think we would be friends if we met in real life. I  like working to a last minute deadline, that’s why I’m a journalist. No long-term projects for me.

But he may have had a very small point. I could be more organised. This could stop it being the annual trauma I seem to have made it into.

And if you really can’t face it, that’s what accountants are for.

5. Indecisive editors

I hate being micromanaged but there is a happy medium. It’s quite hard to give an editor what they want if they don’t know themselves.

I’ve literally had editors give me a short title and that’s it. No other guidance whatsoever.

That in itself is not a problem, it’s when you file your copy and it’s not what they wanted. Then they can’t tell you what was wrong with it or how to change it that you start mentally banging your head on the desk.

At least working for a publication you get a handle on what is needed. When you work for many, it’s hard to remember who wants what and how.

The answer – ask for a proper brief before you start. Don’t be afraid to ask for more detail. It’ll save you time in the long run.

Next week… Top tips for freelance success

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