One of the hardest parts of freelancing is not having that corporate structure in place to shape and develop your career. When you’re in a regular office job, it’s a lot easier to plot your development and make plans for the future. There’s usually a training budget and people breathing down your neck to make you hit your development targets. But when you switch to freelancing, that all sort of goes out of the window.
Suddenly, keeping yourself afloat is the main task, and you’re either struggling to find work, or struggling under too much work. (This isn’t quite the glowing review of a freelance writing career that I’d hoped it would be.) I always think of myself as being naturally curious, but for the past year, I can’t say that I’ve added to my skills in any meaningful way. With every writing assignment, I develop a greater understanding of how to put words together in a meaningful way, and every round of feedback from an editor is tremendously welcome. But beyond the bare essentials required to keep moving my career forward, I haven’t really pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
In the spirit of the new year — and because it’s what everyone else is doing — here are four ways I’m planning to take control of my freelance writing career in 2017.
1. Set time aside for learning.
As I mentioned above, setting a development course when you’re a freelancer is nearly impossible. It often feels like learning new kills is the last thing you should be thinking about when there are deadlines whooshing by, and unpaid invoices that need to be chased. This year, I’m going to put aside specific time for learning new things that will help to strengthen my writing and help me to market myself better. Or, I might just learn interesting things that will make me a better party guest. I bought a violin that I’m determined to get to grips with, and I’ve still got a coupon for stand up paddle boarding that isn’t going to use itself. Learning isn’t only about professional development, but a lifelong pursuit that we should all take more seriously.
2. Do more of what I love.
In 2016, I was in the early stages of building my career, so I felt like I had to take on anything that came my way. The result? It ended with me writing a whole lot about things I’m not particularly excited about. And believe me when I say that your work suffers when you aren’t in the least bit excited about it. Over time, this took its toll, and I started to hate certain aspects of my job. When I took some time to reflect, I learned that it wasn’t my job that I hated; it was taking on projects that I’m not completely passionate about. One of my favorite projects from 2016 was working with a private fostering agency, so in 2017, I’m going to do a lot more of that!
3. Learn to say yes.
One of my favorite quotes is that you should always say yes to every challenge, and then learn to do it later. I can’t tell you how many opportunities I let slip by because I was scared of not being good enough. I’m hoping that learning to deal with my imposter syndrome will help me to not only earn more money by taking on bigger projects, but also let me grow my career much quickly. Taking on things that you aren’t quite ready for is literally the only way you are ever going to improve and move forward, so I’m going to make a conscious effort to say yes to every exciting project that comes my way. Even if it scares the bejeezus out of me.
4. And then learn to say no.
This goes hand-in-hand with learning to say yes, and is perhaps even more important. When you are responsible for every penny you earn, saying no to projects can make you feel like you are heading for financial suicide. In reality, this isn’t the case, and learning to say no to bad projects will often save time in the long run, and free up precious time for things you’re actually excited about. Learning to say no to new projects is just as important as knowing when to let old projects go. Once a relationship with a client goes south, and stops being mutually beneficial, I really need to learn how to say goodbye. It’s like the weirdest kind of breakup, and there will probably be tears (mine) and tantrums (also mine), but learning to let go is an important step to take.
I’m not sure if these steps will put me on a collision course for failure, but at least I’ll be moving my career forward with some kind of intention. I’m sure this will impact me financially, and I’ll have to learn to strike a balance surviving and thriving — but that’s all part of the fun. As much as it scares my parents, it’s finally time I throw out the rule book and start blazing my own trail.
Rebecca Harper is a freelance writer and aspiring author living in London. After graduating with a degree in English, she job-hopped through various roles and is now settled on becoming a freelance writer. When she isn’t tapping away at a keyboard, you can find her drinking coffee or exploring the indie bookshops of London.
Image via Unsplash