Things I wish I had known when I started freelancing

  1. You will gain 10 lbs.
  2. You will shower only if you have to go out.
  3. You will work even harder.
  4. You will do your own professional development.
  5. You will find deductions for maid expenses.
  6. You will wish to control the slow periods.
  7. You will talk to yourself.


More on these points:

You will gain 10 lbs

For one, the fridge is too close. For two, you lose that natural activity in your day that helped to keep the weight down. You don’t have to walk between offices, you don’t even have to walk to the car/bus to commute anymore.


Pro tips: Only use the bathroom on another floor, and move the printer or anything else out of reach, so that you have to stand up and move occasionally. Also, don’t buy snacks.



You will shower only if you have to go out

This one creeps up on you. Before you know it, you are “saving water” and only showering when you know you will see people—and hiding from the courier.


Pro tip: Plan to go out.


You will work even harder

That work sits right where you can see it all the time. It calls to you. You’ll be sitting there thinking “boy, am I hungry” and realize that it’s already 3 p.m. and not only have you not eaten, but you now have to leave and pick up the kids.


Pro tips: Put a door on your office and close it. Use a different email address for personal mail. This will keep you from noticing clients’ urgent messages in the middle of the weekend or stumbling back into the office blurry eyed after putting the kids to bed. Not your best work, admit it.


You will do your own professional development

No boss is going to send you for training. Do this yourself. And do it regularly. If you wait for a slow period, either it will never come or it will not come when you have time. (See the next point.) Suddenly you will find your skills and knowledge out of date.

Pro tip: Attend a conference or seminar in your own profession or one adjacent. For editors, that might mean something in your subject area (such as science) or your market (such as education). Or, do something completely different. I am always surprised how I find links to my work in diverse places. (Such as at the crime writers’ festival.)


You will wish to control the slow periods

Ah, the lure of being in charge of your own time. No. The slow periods never coincide with planned vacations. Unless you work in that mythical industry with a seasonal rhythm. Let me know what that is.

Pro tip: Either deal with the extended down-time or deadline stress that planned vacations bring, or become a fan of the “last minute” club. Either way can work.


You will find deductions for maid expenses

Nothing bad about this. They clean your office, this keeps you healthy. Paying them creates a job and even helps combat all the isolation and reminds you to shower. Plus, if you go for a walk when they’re there, you’ll combat the weight gain.

Pro tip: Keep receipts for everything and let your bookkeeper or accountant decide what is a write-off and what is not.


You will talk to yourself

You always did, but now it’s creepy.

You used to covet your time alone. Others sucked your energy. They may also have stolen your joy. Now that you are always alone, it seems that you need those outsiders after all. Social media helps—serving the role of virtual water cooler. Do get out of the house.


Pro tip: Get a cat. This helps combat the other points, and makes your talking out loud just slightly less crazy. At least get a headset—so you can fake talking to someone else. If you get a dog, this will also make you leave the house more frequently than the cat food supply runs alone.

To see people in real life, connect with a neighbour. Or, join a local professional or social group.


Why this list?

My colleague Elizabeth d’Anjou teaches a seminar in starting out and thriving as a freelancer. Sometimes she presents “ten things I wish I had known.” She includes very practical advice such as “You are running a business. If you don’t invoice, you won’t get paid. And: some of that money belongs to the government.” Meaning, remember to set aside money to pay your taxes.


Mistakes will be made. If you learn from them, life will go on.


After discussing such useful advice, Elizabeth and I started musing about the other things we wish we hand known. Some of what we discussed appears above.


Recently, I read a few blog posts about the freelance life that were funny and insightful. (Aug 1, 2012 post)


What surprised you about freelancing?

7 thoughts on “Things I wish I had known when I started freelancing

  1. I think I’ve gained more than 10 lbs.. ugh. Allow me to share 2 more things that I’ve learnt about freelancing:

    1. Customers aren’t buying your skills, they’re buying *you*. There are thousands of people who can do what you do, many of them perhaps better. But you customers choose you because they like working with you, they trust you and because it works for them. So don’t mess things up by getting caught up with ‘work’ and forgetting the human element that drew your customers to you in the first place.

    2. I wish I had known how to keep my books in order. After pulling my hair out the first few years, I’ve now worked out a system which I’ve documented on my site if anyone’s interested –

    Good luck with your freelancing Adrienne!

    1. Thanks for sharing those points, David. Working alone in an office, intensely focused on the task, it’s easy to forget #1 entirely. I often exchange little more than contract terms and FTP details with my clients (publishers). I exchange a lot more with the authors, of course, but they don’t get my invoices.

      Your blog post about #2 is useful for most freelancers – even here in Canada those general categories for expenses are useful. The tips on your blog would be good for most freelancers to follow.

      At the very least, keep ALL receipts. Stuff them into envelopes labelled in the 9 categories enumerated on your blog. Let the accountant figure out which expenses do or don’t qualify.

      Best wishes with your “micro” business, David.

      1. I have been a freelancer and wtierr for 15 years and I have never had a website and I have been able to get work.I don’t think having a website automatically equals work unless you are writing out of state and nationally. Since I work largely locally, I like to meet with editors if possible and show them my work.However, Iam considering putting up my resume and clips at some site since work has slowed to a crawl this year for me, the biggest drought of my career thus far.

    2. Okay, so I am still in college .2 years into my four year dergee. I am majoring in English and am interest in freelance writing as a career option. Should I wait till I am through college to pursue this job? I want clients to take me seriously and recognize my talent. When you say writing samples do you mean previous job writing experience ( like work put in the paper or on a web site) because until I get a job I don’t have samples like that, just general writing i have done on my own.

      1. Start now.
        That way, when you graduate, you will have a portfolio of published pieces. While in school, you will have to start slow, on the side. Every writer everywhere had to start by finding ways to generate samples. We used to do that by writing letters to the editor, even – just to get _something_ in print. We volunteered services to clubs and nonprofits, we self-published (small items). We networked.

        Today, you have even more opportunities. Write your own blog. (Many people have turned such unpaid posts into paid work, and it will help build your name.) Comment on other people’s blogs (as you have done) – this builds relationships (a.k.a. networking).

      2. Ok so i am a 14 years old writer, and i am inseeettrd in the writing market books i orderd 2 one for kids and another for just regular..I am not sure what i should do, like for a little push off or start..If anyone could give me any info or something on what would be a good way to start a writing life! Remember i am young so i dont know what my open choices are or anything this is my first time actually looking into what i thanks and please help!!

Leave a Reply