Being 31 is a difficult age. It’s the age where you’re not ‘young’ anymore. The wild years are behind you, and you should look ahead and think about settling down. You know, buy a house, get a dog, have a kid, get married, in whatever order. But at the same time, 31 is also the age where I start to feel more like myself every day, where I’m finally figuring out what I want to do with my life.
It’s like trying to decide what you want to become in high school. No one knows what they want to do when they are 16. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just picked something. In my case, it was journalism because I wanted to become a writer. Good choice? Perhaps. But in reality, it didn’t equip me with more skills than I already had. I came away from university with the sense that journalism had set me up for failure. Magazines sales were going down, and the internet was coming up. Everyone said this was going to be the end of journalism as we knew it. I had a lifelong of scrambling for a job ahead of me.
They were right. But not in the way they thought they were.
Yes, journalism as we knew it is changing. But that is not a bad thing. It took me almost ten years to come back around to journalism and writing. I took detours, got another education, worked other jobs and found myself drawn back to freelance journalism.
Truth is there will always be a need for good quality content. It doesn’t matter if it’s for print, digital or anything else. Because magazine print sales are going down, doesn’t mean people stop reading. I see people on their phones all the time. Reading news sites, blogs, watching videos. They are consuming content all the time.
I’m not saying all content out there is great, far from it. But therein lies the opportunity.
Come up with great content, get it out there. Talk to people, inspire people. Be a journalist in your own life and that of others. And I guarantee you; it doesn’t matter which medium you choose. Video, text, photography – everything goes here. As long as it tells a story that is yours, and that makes other people feel something.
When I graduated from journalism school, I knew two things: I didn’t want to be a freelancer, and I didn’t like journalism. I was wrong on both accounts, and it only took me several detours and ten years to figure that out. And that is okay.
Don’t be afraid to take a detour; they are never a waste of time. It’s the detours in life that helped me figure out what I wanted to do. They helped me find what I knew all along: writing is my passion.
You die of exposure. And freelancing doesn’t mean work for free. It’s all been said before, nothing new there. Still, there is something about writing for exposure thing that annoys me. And it’s not what you think it is.
See, when you’re starting as a freelancer, you might not have any clips yet. It can make you feel uncomfortable pitching to (high) paying clients right away. I get that. I also get that you want to practise your skills, get your work out there and build up a portfolio. So why not write for a website that gives you a good clip to use in your portfolio? (
Gasp! Yes, I said that out loud.
I’m at a point in my freelancing career that I can’t afford to work for exposure anymore. I have bills I need to pay, and I would very much like to eat. However, if there’s a publication I want to write for and they don’t pay their contributors, I still pitch them. Why? Because it’s fun.
For instance, for the past ten years or so, I have been writing for a little non-profit that helps baby elephants. I love the organisation, elephants and I really want to contribute. Do I care that I’m not getting paid for it? A little, yes, but I love them too much to stop writing for them. It only costs me an hour of my time every other month.
Charge what you’re worth
When the discussion about charging what you’re worth starts, I’m the first one to say you should charge what you’re worth. You should not work for free. But keep in mind this comes from someone in a different place in their career than a beginner.
Does that mean that if you’re starting out you shouldn’t get paid for your writing? Of course not!
Even if you’re starting out, you should charge people for your writing. If you don’t start right away, it will be hard to ask for payment later on. Always charge what you’re worth (and you’re worth more than you think!).
As a beginner, you can try to break into a new market with guest posting. Or if there’s a publication you want to write for because you think they are super cool – do it even if they don’t pay contributors.
However…. watch out that you’re not there ‘collecting’ clips for too long. Get a few clips, get your writing chops validated and then move the heck on to paying clients.
Because trust me: you’re worth it. We all are.
When I first introduced the idea of becoming a freelancer, everyone around me said: “Uhm? That’s not a stable job, right? How are you going to get clients?” And I have to admit; I was a little surprised by my freelance aspirations too.
During journalism school, we were told freelance was the best way to go. The market was too cramped to get a good staff job. Be that as it may, it had no intention of becoming a freelancer. Just thinking about the hustle and trying to get clients made me tired.
Here I am, ten years later, and I’m gearing up to go freelance again. Yes, again.
My first attempt to go freelance as back in 2016. I moved in with my ex, and there were no jobs here. For a brief period, I made it work. I had clients, money flowing in and days filled with writing. I was happy.
But then the low season hit, no customers, clients and no money. By a stroke of luck, I found a staff job or two, and I dove into that. But I didn’t give me the satisfaction freelancing did. Sure I helped the companies complete lofty goals. And yes, the co-workers were a lot of fun, but I felt like something was missing. Something big.
How I got to this point…
Growing up, I was nothing special: an average student, a chubby kid not into sports and a quiet introvert. By any definition, I could disappear into the wallpaper.
That all changed when I started my book review website. I managed a team of 15 people for years as I build it up from the ground. From that moment on, I was hooked. This business thing was cool. Actually, it was awesome.
Now I’m at that point again, the crossroad between taking a staff job or becoming a freelancer again. A staff job will give more initial security and a solid body of work. While freelancing brings the thrill, hard work and opportunity to shape my job in a way that fits me.
Looking at the past few years, I discovered that I am more adventurous than I thought I was. I can work even harder than I thought I could, and I have a dose of determination that will make most people jealous. When talking to a friend she said: “I’m happy with my staff job, the hustle of freelancing scares me. But when I look at you, you thrive on adventure, and you’re so well organised you can juggle all the balls. You should go for it.”
And this is the basis of being a freelancer. Go for it. Maybe you have the right personality for it, and maybe you don’t. There is only one way to find out for sure: just go for it.
For me, it came with the idea of creating a website about books. It made me realise that I’m a person who starts things and that I’m not afraid of trying something new. Regardless of what other people think, say or do. Freelancing is the same for me. I will chip away at it until I find a way to make it successful for me.
So what about you? When will you go for it?
Sitting in a cafe with my chai latte, laptop out and writing the best articles. That’s the dream, right? In reality, I’m writing to you from the sofa in sweatpants and from underneath a comfy blanket. What happened here?
We’ve all seen them, those Pinterest perfect workspaces. Squeaky clean white, super stylish and not a speck of dust on them. Colourful matching pens and stationery and everything seems to fit together somehow. You can get so discouraged looking at your own workspace. I know I did since my workspace (and my blanket!) don’t look anything like the Pinterest perfect images.
But then, why don’t I go out more and work from a cafe or another inspiring place?
The thing with freelancing is that its hard work, and most of the time it feels like hard work too. Sometimes you roll out of your bed straight to your laptop and eat lunch with your laptop too. I know that is wrong from a lot of different angles, but hear me out. When you’re working as a freelancer, the hustle is real. It can mean whether you eat or not that month, especially when you’re starting out. So it can feel very stressful in the beginning.
There are morning when I wake up and feel like every second I’m not working is ruining chances of success. Deep down, I know this is utter bullshit, but I can’t help but feel on edge. Feel like I have to make this work or else…
So that’s why it’s easier to let dust gather around you and throw on a pair of sweatpants. As much as I love looking at those office images, I don’t get where they find the time to create that perfect picture.
Freelancing for me, is bloody hard work and at the end of the day, all I want to do is go to sleep. Not fiddling around with my pens and trying to match them up.
It’s super easy to feel discouraged seeing those stunning images on Pinterest. Seeing all the cool offices that you aspire to work in. Or to keep dreaming about working in a cafe. But the hard truth is that unless you make money that is not going to happen. And that is okay too.
We as humans put so much pressure on ourselves to do it how we’re supposed to be doing. We only focus on that picture-perfect life (especially since social media). Because of that, we forget that we’re looking at an image that someone styled to look their best. We don’t know what it looks like at the end of their workday, or how often it gets cleaned. We need to remember that social media and the internet is a place where dirty laundry gets hidden. Highlight reels are the norm.
It’s time that we’re going to be more radically honest. More honest about all the things that are not as great as we like people to believe. And then maybe we stop worrying about writing rambling articles like these in our sweatpants.