Money tips from freelancers and entrepreneurs

Robyn Wilder (journalist, podcaster)

I’ve watched Robyn go from employment into full-time freelance. She never pretends it’s been easy but she is doing a bloody good job of it. I asked her to share her top tips and the first one is about perhaps remaining in employment while you test the freelance waters…

Tip 1: Just freelance, already

If you have the time (and not, say, five part-time jobs and a family’s needs to juggle), the best time to start freelancing is when you already have a job. If you start small you can benefit from both your steady income, and the option to build your skills, clientele and knowledge in your spare time.

I recommend setting up a work area in a corner of your home, and assigning yourself “freelance time” – perhaps half a specific weekend day, or a couple of evenings a week. Whether you begin by reading up on best practice, joining a freelancers’ support group, or sending pitches into the world, by physically making room for it, psychologically it can feel more like the first steps in a career, rather than the “fad” you might convince yourself it is during any wobbly-confidence moments. 

When I began freelancing as a journalist I was already working full-time in charity comms. Slowly, during my “freelance time”, I built up enough commissions to eventually go freelance full-time.

Tip 2: Stalk your boss

Not literally, of course. But if you are employed, or have been, keep a weather-eye on the management, keep a running tally of things they do that make you feel more (or less) secure, valued, and healthy. Perhaps they don’t pay on time and that has knock-on effects in the rest of your life. Or they are super-vigilant about corporate work-life balance, and you can’t remember the last time you actually needed to take a sick day.

This will all be important when you go freelance, because obviously you will be your own boss – and employee, and payroll manager, and budget-holder. So observe the conditions under which you flourish – and those under which you falter, and try and work the systems in early to keep you operating on your best form.

Tip 3: Work flexibly

So you have a little freelance work, and you’re still a valuable employee at your full-time job. But pulling evening shifts is wearing you down. Why not request to work flexibly in your current position? You might want to try ‘flexitime’ so you can make it to the Post Office to send client orders, or compress your hours to devote an entire weekday to your freelance career. Again, I did this in several positions without issue, although this will vary depending on the nature of your full-time job and your freelance career.

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As Robyn said, if you’re launching into a new field, it can help to keep your PAYE job (if you have one), while you trial this new work. This means you don’t have to generate income immediately from the freelance work or business and so leaves space for growing your freelance portfolio – maybe doing the odd job for free or a reduced rate; to get your name out there – and/or growing your business in a more realistic way: investing money and time but with the expectation that it may take a little while before you’re actually turning over a profit.

If you don’t want to stay in employment or can’t, or have already left, here are some ideas for quickly gaining some financial security…

  • Get part-time work to fund your freelance work or new business. This might be in your previous industry (eg. I wanted to be a journalist, author and run my own business but found copywriting and blogging paid the bills so got part-time work doing this). Or something unrelated to both your previous work and your new career but fits around childcare – shift work, evenings. Or, ideally, in your new field but perhaps working for someone else while you set up your own thing.
  • Lauren Davies, a designer and consultant, worked two days a week in a design studio while launching her own business. While Vicky Simmons, founder of Mean Mail, sells cards that she’s designed then freelances as a creative director – in advertising – and takes on branding projects directly with clients.
  • Repeat work: once you start to find clients, if you’re freelancing, try to secure work from the same one or two clients each week so that you know you’ve got your bills covered. This can also be useful if you’re launching a product business – getting a couple of freelance clients on the side (like Vicky).
  • Constantly pitching to work for other people or flog your wares can be tiring. It can help to also create your own regular gig. For example, Laura Alvarado who runs holistic education company Tomato Tutors runs holidays camps for kids and weekly events at her shop space. This boosts the income she earns from acting as an agent for the tutors she employees. You could set up a ‘real life’ meet-up or event for people in your field – even do it in your home to keep costs down. Or launch an online course (as I have), sharing your knowledge.

Working for free

This is always a tricky one. And on the whole, I advise women to always ask for a fee. BUT it can sometimes pay to offer out your services or products to the right people in exchange for a mention on social media which could lead to a load of new clients or sales, if their followers are definitely going to be interested in your product. For instance, in the early days of The Early Hour, a few ‘Insta Mums’ kindly mentioned me on their Instagram feeds and my followers shot up, as their followers were interested in parenting content. More followers meant more views on my website, which led to more sponsored content opportunities.

Just be selective. If it doesn’t feel quite right, say no. If you’re not sure – maybe offer a discounted price. And in terms of approaching people, who perhaps seem very successful or have huge followings, just remember: they are normal people, like you and me. They like free stuff, if it’s relevant to them and their lives. They will usually respond well to polite, thoughtful emails or DMs on social media. And if they ignore you or say no, move on and try the next person. Don’t take it to heart. They’re probably just busy.

Reward yourself

When you do get a big sale or an exciting new client: share your news with friends, family and online. Don’t be afraid of shouting about your successes; I love hearing about other women doing well in business, so do lots of other people. And reward yourself. It’s so important to focus on what’s going right and to move on quickly from the rejections and perceived failures, learning a lesson when there is one but not letting it define your journey. Head up, move on.

Recommended reading: You are a badass at making money: Master the mindset of wealth by Jen Sincero