By Rebecca Lees (now a full-time freelance journalist)
The email from NUJ Training Wales bearing details of a ‘How to Freelance’ workshop arrived with perfect timing, just as I was contemplating handing in my notice.
I’d already been freelancing for seven years, but for the last three had combined this with a part-time staff job. But juggling a staff post with freelance work – as well as a young family and an on-going health issue – left me frequently feeling I wasn’t doing anything properly and, towards the end of 2013, it became obvious that something would have to give. Apparently it couldn’t be the children, so I took a deep breath and resigned.
Scary stuff. But here was How to Freelance, waiting to steer me back into full time self-employment. To be honest, I felt a bit of a fraud signing up; like I say, I’d already been freelancing for seven years, so surely I knew how to do it? But my confidence had taken a massive nose-dive and, swayed by the fact that the previous NUJ courses I’d done were, without exception, excellent, I thought it worth a look. I emailed the trainer, David Thomas, to ask if the workshop was suitable for non-newbies, and his welcoming and positive response assured me it could give me a much-needed boost.
Strong ex-Western Mail and Echo contingent on the course
When I arrived I wondered if I’d walked into a Trinity Mirror reunion, so strong was the ex-Western Mail and Echo contingent. Times are indeed tough in the newspaper world and a good number of those present seemed not so much to be considering going freelance as having no option. We talked about why we were there and discussed the pros and cons of freelancing; I expected the latter to far outweigh the former but I was in for a surprise. The columns were pretty much even – and David had a lovely way of turning perceived negatives into real positives, making me realise how many ‘downsides’ to freelancing could actually give me a huge amount of control and choice in my new life.
Separating work and ‘other life’ when you work at home
As the day went on, I’m sure I felt the mood in the room rising; mine certainly did. Highlights? Well, the pie chart dividing up our time into ‘paid work’, ‘unpaid work’ (such as admin and pitching) and ‘not working’ was a revelation. As a staffer, my freelance work regularly got squeezed into weekends and evenings, and I was guilty of telling the kids more times than I’d like to admit that I’d be with them ‘just as soon as I’ve checked this email’.
As a result, I’ll now be getting a separate phone line for my business and setting up a work log-in on my laptop to make sure these new boundaries remain. And, after thinking I’ve managed my own accounts and tax returns pretty well for the last seven years, it turns out I DO need an accountant… and to become VAT registered, asap.
Proud to be freelance
But the biggest eye opener was realising just how much I’ve apologised for being freelance all this time. I used to tell people that I work at home or that I ‘only’ freelance. Now I find myself stating confidently that I ‘run a freelance business’, and I genuinely feel the response is more positive as a result.
So how’s it all going so far? Well January is a notoriously tough month for freelances but I feel blessed to be booked up until after the February half term. I have a new minimum rate and am no longer afraid to say no to jobs that just aren’t worth my time. One client has an outstanding invoice to settle from before Christmas – but that’s ok as, thanks to David enhancing my knowledge of late payment legislation, I can just tot up the interest and add it to the bill.
I hope I’m a nicer mum and have already volunteered to help on a school trip and at the PTA disco, simply because I now have the time. And I’m very firm at home about whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher and hang out the washing; not having a train to catch doesn’t mean I don’t need to start at a certain time too.
All that’s left to do now is to drum into my children that this does actually constitute a Proper Job. The last time my daughter was asked by her teacher what her parents do, she said casually, ‘Oh Mum doesn’t work, she just stays at home on the computer all day.’ Now, where’s David’s number? I must find out if he has an answer for that one.