10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago

10 things I’ve learnt since going freelance six months ago

Hello and Happy New Year! With the start of 2018, I thought it was as good a chance as any to reflect back on my first six months of going freelance and share what I’ve learnt along the way. How it’s flown by – from those first hesitant days when I thought ‘what on earth am I doing?’, to today, when I have the confidence to know, and appreciate, that I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.

Working freelance as a creative, to me, means freedom and flexibility, open possibilities and lots of opportunities. But in the everyday, it’s a complete learning curve of ups and downs. One day you might think ‘yes, I’ve got this’, the next, questioning ‘why is it that I’m doing this?’ Slowly you realise that everyone is just winging it really and no-one truly has their s**t together – so I’ve learnt to let go a little and not take it all too seriously, to have a go and give it my best shot, to just enjoy it, because how many people get to try out their dream for real…

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago.

Here’s 10 things that have helped me navigate from 9 to 5 – from finding my confidence and helping stay motivated, to learning to switch off and enjoy some downtime. I hope it may help you if you’re thinking of making the same move or even if you’re in need of a little motivational boost as the new year gets underway.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago - light Scandinavian workspace

1. You learn on the job
Sometimes there’s only so much preparation you can do, sometimes you’ve just got to take the leap and go for it, see what will happen. I had been thinking about going freelance for a good year or so, but it was just an idea in my head to begin with, I hadn’t really taken any action to make it a reality. Until one day I just thought, I’ve got to do it now or I’ll never do it.

I took the plunge without much preparation or pre-planning – I had a couple of jobs lined up and I still had my architectural writing to fall back on for the magazine I previously worked at – but I hadn’t written a business plan or even set out what I would do over the first few months. Some people might think that foolish, but it gave me the push I needed to make it work. In a way it meant that I didn’t have time to go through all the ways it could go wrong, I just had to jump right in and get on with it.

I don’t think you can expect at the beginning, once you quit your job, that you will know everything. Plans often change, projects evolve, new opportunities come up. For me, it has only been with time and experience that I have found confidence – you get a boost from one thing going well and you feel like you can move onto the next thing. You learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago - making a mood board

2. Forget about 9 to 5
When I first went freelance it took me a long time to find my own routine. I had to learn to allow my self to break down the heavily regimented day that had been drilled into me for years, of getting to the desk at 9, breaking for an hour at lunchtime, finishing at 5 or 6 and doing the same thing the next day, and the next, and the next. To begin with I was quite hard on myself, not allowing myself to pause long for lunch because it was time when I could be working, or working late into the evening because it’s often harder to find a cut-off point when you work from home.

Once I understood that I was my own boss and didn’t have to answer to anyone except myself, I freed up a bit. If I start first thing in the morning, I can finish early in the afternoon, I can work in the evening one day then have a lie-in and not start until lunchtime the next. I mostly work normal hours, but it’s having the freedom to know that each day doesn’t have to be the same. Now I take longer lunch breaks, work when I feel productive and give myself some slack – you don’t have to work all the time to be successful.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago

3. Stop the guilt, learn to switch off
Which brings me onto my next point, letting go of the guilt that comes when we take time away from the screen. Time off can be restorative for creativity and aid productivity, it can help your business not hinder it. Not to mention our personal wellbeing, what good are we if we’re tired, stressed and working on a low battery? If we don’t give ourselves breaks and moments of rest, whether it’s an hour in the afternoon to walk the dog or a two week-long holiday abroad, we get so consumed with the everyday routine, that we never take a step back to reflect on where we’re going and refresh our minds. We can tire ourselves out and lose the momentum. But if we’re fulfilled in our lives, have time for ourselves and enjoy moments of relaxation, it might better reflect in the business side of our lives too. It’s about finding the right work/life balance, so we’re clearer headed and more mindful of the bigger picture, of where our business is going and what we want from life. You choose to be freelance, so you should choose how it works for you.

4. It’s not all about the money
Unpaid work or tasks that aid your personal development are as important as the jobs paying the bills. Whether it’s taking an hour or two to experiment and play around with photography, going on a short course to learn a new skill, spending an afternoon seeing a new exhibition, sitting down and listening to a podcast or simply setting a day aside for the mundane tasks like invoicing and accounts, they all help push you further.

There’s a lot of admin as a freelancer, I’m simultaneously a writer, photographer, stylist, editor, my own PR manager, social media manager accountant and PA. When I first went freelance I thought everyday would be dedicated to paid client work, I thought I’d be churning out the blog posts, but what you don’t realise is how much time is spent on everything behind the scenes. I could spend all day just answering emails.

Now I’ve learnt to balance the paid jobs across the month, and time manage them, so I can have a couple of free ‘me’ days, perhaps one or two a week, for ‘unpaid’ work. Planning each week ahead and mapping out one key task for each day – photographing and editing shots for a sponsored blog post one day, interior design services for a client another day, brainstorming blog ideas and planning ahead on another – stops me from feeling too overwhelmed by an endless to-do list and helps me feel less guilty about unscheduled tasks. Once I tick off those things that really need to be done, the rest of the time is mine.

5. You’ll say you’ll work remotely in cafes and abroad, but you most likely won’t
Often it’s more hassle than it’s worth – a cafe’s WiFi might be terrible, there might be a screaming kid on the next table, you have to make that one flat white last all afternoon, sipping the cold dregs. One of my favourite things about being freelance is that there’s no commute, I can get up and at it. Once you find where you work best – for me it’s at my dining table – you’ll most likely stick to it.

There’s also a luxury to working from home, you can put on your own music and make your tea just as you like it. I love that I don’t have to bother with makeup in the morning or pick out a nice outfit – who will see me except the postman and the dog. I never work from the bed and I’m always out of my pyjamas by 9am, but there’s still a bit of novelty around being able to work from the sofa.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago - light, Scandi living room, IKEA sofa, striped rug

6. No one will really understand what you do except you
I always stumble when I’m asked to explain my job at a dinner party or wedding. Not to mention when you’re at an airport and have to fill in a landing card with one word for your occupation. What shall I say this time… that I’m a writer? a blogger? a journalist? a stylist? an interior designer? Most of us in the digital or creative industries are juggling different roles, many simultaneously, so it leaves us harder to define and put in a box. Once I got asked, ‘so how’s the Instagram thing going?’ I wanted to say through gritted teeth that it was about a whole lot more than a few squares on a social media app, but in reality I probably just said ‘it’s going fine, thank you’… You just have to accept that you know what you’re doing and the value of your business, but not everyone will.

Conversely, having a business in this new-found territory also breaks down barriers and opens people up in ways they would never ordinarily speak. I’ve often been asked, ‘so does that earn you money?’ or ‘so how much do you actually earn?’ It’s great that it broadens conversations and helps the understanding of these new roles, but I have also found myself turning the question back on to them, and that can put them on the spot…

And if you do come across someone who is not as supportive as you would like them to be, it’s probably because you doing what you really want to do is making them reflect on where they are in their lives. It’s them not you.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago - coffee table style

7. Reach out to other freelancers
It was only when it was December and I realised that for the first time in years I didn’t have a work Christmas do or drinks, that I understood why freelancers need to reach out and connect with each other more. It’s something I’m hoping to do better at this year.

Being freelance and working for yourself can be very isolating. There’s no rule book and certainly no one there to tell you how to do it. I’ve learnt a lot about pricing and valuing work, marketing and self-promotion, photography skills and editing apps by chatting with like-minded creatives online, taking meetings from the screen to a cafe, and sharing experiences.

Think of other freelancers as your colleagues, on a different path but with many of the same goals. Community not competition. You shouldn’t guard what you’ve learnt as a secret, fearing someone might copy it – each person will take their own interpretation, and by opening up and sharing we can help each other get collectively better.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago

8. Avoid the comparison trap
The phrase Sara Tasker (Me & Orla) coined in her podcast Hashtag Authentic – comparisonitis – is so apt. I often suffer from bouts of comparisonitis, as I’m sure we all do, we see someone online with better clothes, better skin, a better job. For instance, over the Christmas period when I gave myself some time off, if I saw someone on social media working late, I’d suddenly feel this cold sweat of guilt, shouldn’t I be working too? Was I missing out? Falling behind? Of course I wasn’t, we’re all at different stages, on different paths. No one was there, stern like a teacher, saying to me, well where’s your work?

By comparing ourselves to other people, we put an extra weight of unnecessary pressure on our shoulders. Remember social media is just the edited highlights, the best bits. We all have a pile of washing up in the sink, messy corners in our homes and lazy habits, that’s just real life.

Learn to switch social media off every now and then, turn away from seeing things which are making you feel bad about yourself, unfollow if you need to. Focus on you.

9. Ebb and flow, staying motivated
Sometimes motivation and bursts of creativity come and go. The way to stay inspired, for me, is not to force it, but embrace the ebb and flow of ideas. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you get stuck, that may just be a route you need to take to find inspiration again. If I’m having a bad day and the words aren’t coming to me or the photographs I’m taking aren’t working out as I hope they would, instead of getting more and more frustrated, I put down the camera, close the laptop and try to distract myself with something else. More often than not, the next day or the next week, something will naturally come to mind and I’ll think of a better idea (more often than not when I’m in the shower or just drifting off to sleep!). Don’t be too hard on yourself, just try again another time.

10. A word on self-doubt and confidence
My self-doubt often stems from worrying about what other people think – you’re not good enough, no one likes what you do, no one really cares. But once you realise that you can’t possibly please everyone, you learn to concentrate on doing what you’re good at well and finding your audience. Then slowly when you do find your right people, and they respond positively and support what you do, you feel a little boost and realise you can do it. 

Rather than seeing self-doubt and a lack of confidence as something negative, perhaps we should see it as a push towards a better version of ourselves and our businesses. I try to turn the other way, tell that little niggling voice I’m not interested and try to prove it wrong. Instead of listing things we can’t do, we should learn to concentrate on things we can do well. It’s harder in practice but it’s worth remembering that that doubting, draining voice is just one half of the story. If you were to put it to a court and weigh up the evidence, I’m sure there would be a counter argument too. Funny how that positive voice cheering us on is so much quieter.

10 things I've learnt since going freelance six months ago

So there we have it, a few of the things that have helped me stay sane and level-headed in these past, whirlwind months. That’s not to say I have it all sorted and know what I’m doing, I’m still learning and growing, taking it day by day. It’s an adventure and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

I would love to know if you have any tips or advice of your own, if you are freelance, how have you found the transition? Or perhaps you’re thinking about starting your own business – what has helped you start to make that dream a reality?

All images Cate St Hill

  1. Loved this post Cate,it really resonated with me. I left 9-5 work to bring up my three kids at home but now they’re all st school I’m trying to build my own interior styling/design business and keep an interiors blog going too. People don’t realise what you actually do and I would agree with the others above that I dread that question at parties, “so what do you do?” Which is ridiculous as I think following your dream is a pretty amazing thing to be doing! Keep up the good work, love your writing and sense of style x

  2. Hi Cate

    Wonderful thought provoking but above all honest post! I feel your pain and share your joy at being a new full time freelancer!

    I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Ashley x

    PS If it wasn’t for my blogging girlfriends i dont know where I would be.

    • Thank you Ashley, apologies I didn’t reply sooner, I was on holiday. It would be all too easy if freelance life wall all positivity and joy, you need highs and lows to urge you on and motivate! Have a lovely Monday x

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  4. I absolutely loved this article – thank you for writing it! One of my goals for 2018 is, like you said, to reach out to other freelancers. Especially in the blogging industry, so much success can rely on things like social networks. Do you have any advice for how to reach out to people you don’t know, perhaps how you yourself did so? I look forward to reading more of your content.


    • Thanks Dani! Yes, I think first connect with them online, get to know them, like and comment in a genuine way and then go for it and ask them if they fancy a coffee or if they’re in a similar circle whether you can meet them at an event. Most people will be happy to make the connection 😊

  5. Interesting post, Cate. I’ve been freelance for almost 12 years and it was the best thing I ever did – I’m sure you already feel the same! Yes, it’s easy to let the self-doubt creep in on the days when there’s no work but I’ve learnt now to use them to my advantage and do something for me because something else will always come along. I feel fortunate that I do something I love and I’m not getting stressed out with commutes and working long hours for someone else. It’s a great lifestyle! Good luck with it 🙂

    • Thanks Kerry, fantastic you’ve been freelance for 12 years, what a brilliant achievement. It sounds really obvious but you do have to make everyday work for you, it’s such a turn around from in-house jobs where everything you’re doing is for other people and companies – I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself! x

  6. Wonderful Post Cate! I find it so admiring that people are able to go into business for themselves. Although I can’t relate to the challenges, I can imagine some of them. You are doing exactly what I wish for myself. I find it more challenge if knowing how to begin and feel everything else will come into place. Good on you with your endeavors and learning! I’m so looking forward to your progress and successes!
    Gros Bisous,

    • Thank you so much Jeni, there are some challenges but there’s also so many good bits too! It is always scary taking that first step. Happy 2018 and I hope you achieve everything you wish for xxx

  7. Wow, what an inspiring and beautifully honest read Cate!
    As a fellow solo creative, I can resonate with everything you have written oh so succinctly!
    Whole heartedly agree on finding likeminded creatives who are willing and able to share to enrich, having someone to bounce off when you are a solo creative is so imperative.
    Will be bookmarking this read for future reference to re-read again and again!!
    Hope you have a fabulous year
    N I C K E L . N . C O

    • Thank you so much Nik! I’m so glad it resonated with you, it’s so nice to hear other people are going through similar experiences. Have a wonderful 2018! x

  8. This is a great post Cate – I’ve done the same this last year and learning to manage workload is probably the hardest thing I’ve found so far! And I too can spend a whole day answering email I know exactly what you mean 🙂 Plus the constant explanation of job role to others! Hope it all goes well for you this year and have a wonderful 2018 x

    • Thanks Lisa! Yes, it does take a while to learn how juggle work and find a routine that works, in fact I’m still learning! Wishing you a happy 2018 x

  9. Fabulous post Cate and some great advice like realising that nobody really has their s**t together we’re all just winging it! So very true we are all just humans after all.

  10. Hi Cate!

    Brilliant post that proves you can be successful working at the dining table and don’t have to be glued to social media. Really inspiring post! Funnily enough I just asked my brother yesterday for tips on how he made the leap from 9-5 to freelancing. Keep the great content going and happy new year!

    • Thank you Janine! There’s all sorts of amazing things that can be done from the corners of your own home. I can get so absorbed in social media but after having a break from it over Christmas, I’m going to try and do that more often. It felt so good 🙂 Happy New Year!

  11. Brilliant post Cate. So relatable for me and I love what you said about social media, it’s so important to switch off and unfollow anything that makes you feel bad about yourself. Cheering you on for 2018! J xx

    • Thank you so much Jessica, and for all your support. I had a lovely break over Christmas where I didn’t post on social media and it was so restorative, not to mention freeing up time for reading books and things! Going to make 2018 all about self care, cheering you on too xx

  12. This is a great post Cate, thanks a lot for sharing!
    I’ve just gone freelance so I can relate to most of your words. I’ve been happily reading your blog for some time; discovering what’s going on behind the curtains it’s inspiring. I really appreciate you making the effort to open up and write it!
    I love what you said about reaching out to other freelancers: that everyone will take their own interpretation, and we can help each other get collectively better. That’s the main reason why I left my 9 to 5: I thought I could be a better person and professional if I followed my gut, without the constrictions of a corporate job. If we do this with real motivation, our work will be related to our personality. And I love to see what like-minded people do!

    • Thank you Martina, for taking the time to read and comment, it means the world. Yes, I wanted to share my experience because I was sure there were lots of people out there going through the same thing but not necessarily talking to each other about it 🙂 I think being freelance has helped me be a better person too, I’m more mindful and aware, and also I think being less stressed helps. Instead of a horrible commute, soulless artificially lit office, pressures and jobs I didn’t want to do, now I’m more relaxed working from home, have a dog to keep me company, go for walks in the park and cook my lunch from scratch. It’s those little things that make a real difference to the daily grind. Wishing you an exciting 2018 as a freelancer! Cate x

  13. Hi Cate, thanks a lot for writing about your experiences. 2018 is going to be the year of new beginnings because my parental leave ends in June. I have started working as a part time Interior Design freelancer two years ago but this year will definitely bring the change into my mind with all things like health insurance and stuff. Good to hear that I am not standing alone with all the daily struggles, doubts but ongoing passion for what I do 🙂 All the best for you ♡

    • Thank you Lena. You are certainly not alone, as freelancers it can feel like we’re the only ones going through something, but we all have similar challenges, just not everyone talks about them 🙂 As long as we continue to have passion for what we do, that’s what matters. Wishing you wonderful things for 2018, Cate

  14. Hi Cate! This specific post is just the push I think I need. I am currently writing my first cookbook and get very frustrated when I cannot translate on paper what is happening in my head, and worst yet..feeling like I need some kind of divine validation I am doing the right thing. I hold down a full time job as a financial advisor as well as Mum of two and wife of one! I feel guilty if I don’t spend every hour left after work with the kids and my husband but then feel guilty not spending time writing… although I won’t be making the plunge just yet to fully freelance you have inspired me not to feel guilt if I don’t write everyday and frustration and bumps in the road are part of the climb and journey! Thank you xx

    • Thank you Allana, how exciting, your first cookbook! The validation has to come from ourselves as well as others I think, to spur ourselves on but also allow ourselves time out. You’re doing amazingly well to juggle all of that, it can be overwhelming when we have lots of different hats and plates to spin. I’m so glad you found the post helpful xx

  15. Hi Cate
    Really loved reading your post. I am just dipping my toes into the world of Instagram and picking up some freelance work. Love how honest you are about how daunting trusting in your own talent can be. Will definitely be re reading down the line to remind myself it can be done!.

    • Thank you so much Sarah! Instagram and freelance work can be a minefield, but a bit of self-belief goes a long way. It was lovely to reflect over the past few months but think I will keep needing to come back to this to remind myself too! Best of luck for 2018, Cate x

  16. This is such a brilliant post Cate, and so much of it rang true. I also went head-first into freelancing without any business plan or financial cushion (I basically did everything you’re told not to do!) but I don’t regret it for a second. Leaving my job was always a goal for ‘one day’ – ‘when I’ve saved up enough’, ‘when I’ve got to x number of page views’ etc – but I suddenly realised that life is too short and I just had to go for it. I won’t pretend it wasn’t a big shock to the system, and I definitely felt quite lonely for the first couple of months, but I’m starting to find a routine that works for me and I’ve connected with other freelancers and creatives. And yep, I’ve had to get used to blank, confused looks when I try to explain to people what I do for a living…! xx

    • Oh yay, thank you Abi! Yes, sometimes you’ve got to throw the rule book out the window, you don’t really know how it will go until you make it happen. You’re right, life is too short, especially when there’s a chance to do something you really love, that doesn’t really feel like work at all. We’re very lucky in that respect. It’s an exciting change and wish you only good things for 2018. Looking forward to seeing you soon! x

  17. Hi Cate!,

    Am just in the beginnings of freelance work so found this very useful!! Good motivation for the NY 👍

    • Hi Jade, I’m so glad to hear that it was useful, best of luck for the start of your freelance journey, I’m sure you won’t regret it xxx

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