The Truth About Going Freelance

The Truth About Going Freelance

What It’s Really Like to Freelance


I always have a small percentage of coaching clients who have the dream of going freelance. Whether it’s about getting away from the 9-5, or just the lure of a more independent lifestyle, the freelance dream is calling to them.  As I have been a freelancer for over 20 years, they are always keen to hear what it’s really like.

Well, the lifestyle can be great. I can go to my dance class in the middle of the day, work in my home office with a cat on my lap and I’m pretty much always on top of my washing other chores. It has been a lovely way to be here for the children when they get in from school (and now college and Uni) and I am in charge of the timetable for my day, which I keep fairly fluid. Although I do have  a master to do list, I often work on the basis of what do I feel like right now? Sitting in the garden or turning on daytime TV is not allowed!

Freelancing in Santorini

View from my desk in Santorini

The Downside to Freelancing

However, there are some honest truths about freelancing that I believe people should know before they decide to throw in their day job. First, you need discipline. Over the years I have honed the ability to lock out whinging children, piles of washing up or friends who text to come out for coffee. I work by lists and have to be incredibly focused. Those day time dance classes only happen if I am on track with my work, so there is a huge incentive to get it done. And, although I work best by deciding what I feel like tackling right now, I rarely finish until my work for the day is completed. If you don’t have this sort of self-discipline, you won’t last long. Yes, it will build up over time but having some degree of focus and sheer willpower is a must to give you some momentum in the early days.

Also, you need to get used to living with uncertainty. The business start up articles always talk about having a cushion of funds, and that’s a given, but you also need to understand that you will be living with a continuous low level of anxiety about money. Even if things are great you’ll probably have this. The world of freelancing is uncertain. Clients leave because of their own cash flow/change of plans. They put things on hold. Google has updates and you need to invest in a mobile responsive site that you hadn’t budgeted for. Or you realise that the networking group that’s going to bring you the most clients also costs more than a month’s previous salary to join. The money side can be scary, not to mention the amount of freelancers I know who have come undone over tax, either because they didn’t save for it, or hadn’t figured in national insurance etc. A good accountant can easily help with this though (tip: get one well before the year end).

Say Goodbye to the 9-5

You’ll probably also be working in the evenings, and over the weekend, especially in the early days, which comes as a shock for many. This is something I’ve experienced a lot recently, as career coaching often happens in evening sessions, as people are at work all day! The way to get your head around this, I find, is to make it a treat. So, if I’m working of an evening on a piece of written client work. I’ll sip a glass of wine and listen to my favourite Spotify playlists while I type. If I have client calls in the evening I’ll cook early so I don’t spend my call half thinking about how I’ve got to go and rustle up something in the kitchen when I’ve finished. However, these two things illustrate what is so great about freelancing: that you’re in charge and you can set your timetable and working conditions accordingly.

Setting boundaries is a must. This means that family and friends need to “get” that you’re not 100% available, even though you’re at home and could, in theory, go and pick up your spouse’s dry cleaning or help your friend with his computer.  What’s trickier, however, is setting boundaries with clients. Even though you may have a set agenda of things to do, some clients will call or email with “a brilliant idea” and you’ll find they’ve just added another day of (unpaid) work to your working schedule. Some clients will think nothing of emailing or calling you at all times or the day, and, that’s part of freelance life really. You can choose whether to reply or accept the calls, but I do urge you to think about how you’d like to work before you fall into a way of working that you don’t really want.

Some people find the isolation hard going. I, personally, enjoy working on my own and relish that moment when the last person is out of the front door and I can sit at my laptop with a steaming mug of Earl Grey and some hot, buttered toast, and just get going. My work is very people orientated and I do some networking, so I do have the other, more social side. I also have three children and two cats so there are always some creatures of some description around. If you live on your own though, the isolation may be a challenge. There are plenty of working hubs and members’ clubs, however, where you can work alongside others and enjoy the small talk. You may even meet possible clients there too.


Working From Anywhere

Finally, let’s address the  famous “laptop lifestyle.” This is one of the lovely things about freelancing: that ability to work from anywhere with wifi. Over the past few years I’ve worked in Mallorca, Italy, Madrid and Wales, among others. There is little (work wise)  that can compare to sitting with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the sun and knowing you’re still getting your work done. The downside is that it can slip into your holiday time and I’ve seen this actually ruin a marriage which isn’t pretty. It’s those boundaries again.

All these things that go with freelancing do mean that you will grow, both professionally and personally, You will be learning so much about dealing with people, selling yourself, budgeting and juggling, that it’s a fascinating life lesson. What’s more, even a “proper job” doesn’t have the sort of security that it used to. What I love most about freelancing is that feeling that I can make my living from my wits. If I lose a client it’s only going to be part of my income. I know how to get a new one, and it’s a lot easier than finding a new job!

If you’d like to explore what freelancing could look like for you, or have made the decision and want to get your freelance career off the ground, look at my career coaching options. We can even map out your ideal freelance career in Paris!


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