The Mistakes that Made Me a Better Freelancer

By Gaby Doman

New year, new successful freelancer you? Producing Editor Gaby Doman reveals the mistakes and the career hacks she learned along the way to becoming an awesome freelance writer.

girl in a crown and angel wings
That feeling when you’re nailing freelancer life

How can I make you a better freelancer?

I was a terrible freelancer. I forgot to invoice, I worked on an unreliable laptop, I’d do the minimum to scrape a living and I got really lonely with only my dog to chat with all day. Why then, you might ask, would I be the right person to give advice?

That’s a good question. Bear with me.

I got swept into freelancing out of necessity when I couldn’t get a full-time job. Soon enough, the flexible working hours got me hooked. I loved being able to write features between spin classes in my gym lounge and head off to the beach whenever I wanted. I didn’t treat it like a career; I treated it as a way to live the life I wanted to live. I was broke, but my God was I jacked and tanned.

Now that I’m older, wiser and paler, I have some advice for those new to freelancing:

deer lost in a corn field
Being a bit more brazen will get you places

Don’t be afraid to hustle

I came to freelancing after several years working as a newspaper and magazine writer in Dubai and London. I had great contacts. But, rather than fish in this pond, I cast my net much further and pitched to editors I had no connection to. As you might imagine, I was largely ignored.

It took me a lot of time to learn hustling wasn’t something to be ashamed of. I wasn’t begging; I was offering my skills to those who might need them. People also love to introduce their friends to talented contacts — it makes them feel useful and popular. Fact.

Lessons learned: Be visible. Let everyone know what you’re doing so you’re first in mind when projects come up.

sleeping in
Lie-ins > deadlines

Freelance like a boss

Nobody wants rigid working hours when they’re freelance — you want to be able to have the occasional lie-in or take those last-minute holidays. But there has to be a limit. I was saying yes to more work than I could handle, partying too hard and spending most of my waking hours in the gym. It tires me just to think about it now.

If I were to freelance again, I’d act like the CEO of my small business. I’d set up an organized, professional schedule, including time for pitching, requesting links and PDFs for my portfolio, writing features and networking. I’d even make an effort to wear pants every day.

Lessons learned: Manage your time. Treat your freelance career like a small business and earn those holidays.

manekineko beckoning cats
Fortune favors freelancers who don’t work for free

Why you shouldn’t work for free

Every writer I know has been asked to work for free in return for a byline. It makes me angry to think about it. They’re often explicitly told it’s great exposure for them as a writer. Just say no.

I worked for free as an intern at a London-based magazine publisher for over a year and wrote countless articles just for the byline. Not only did I get exploited but I made it harder for other writers to get a fair rate. Never forget that you’re providing a service and should be compensated for it.

Lessons learned: Know your worth. You’re adding value to their product, so you should be fairly compensated.

working on a computer, messy desk
A lack of organization can affect both your mood and your bank balance

Why you should keep a paper trail

I put off invoicing because it’s boring admin work. Sometimes I would put it off for so long I’d have to rummage through emails to find the rate I agreed to, only to realize half of the conversations I had with the editor were on deleted WhatsApp and Line threads. I once missed out on a fairly hefty payment because I couldn’t face the inevitable awkwardness of invoicing the editor (a friend) late and with no hard evidence of how much I was owed.

Lessons learned: Keep all important communications on email — even if you’re friends with the editor. Invoice within a reasonable time.

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