Today is my seven-year freelance anniversary! That means that it’s been SEVEN YEARS since I took the plunge and became an independent journalist.
On my four-year freelance anniversary, I shared 20 things I learned the hard way—and they’re still just as relevant, especially if you’re looking for tips to stay afloat financially (without losing your sanity). The following year, I wrote about defining success for oneself, and how even unpaid work that feels meaningful can be more fulfilling than high-paying work in odds with your own sense of integrity. Last year, I focused on the underbelly of hard stuff about freelancing that people don’t often talk about.
This year, I’d like to focus on seven things I’m thankful for.
When I first started freelancing, I was not at all selective about clients. Over time, I developed pretty stringent standards for the type of people I like to work with. Still, it can be hard to drop high-paying clients offering steady work even when their values don’t align with mine and they’re draining to work with. This year, I finally broke the curse and can say that I truly love every one of my editors and clients.
Editors that have your back when companies push back against accurate reporting are worth their weight in gold. How clients react when you negotiate contracts will tell you everything you need to know about them as people. And, interestingly enough, some of your dream publications may not be all that. Some have poor working conditions, editors that are consistently late with revisions (but don’t change your deadline), unreasonable expectations, toxic power dynamics, and scope creep. Others are everything you’ve ever dreamed of. I’m thrilled with all of mine.
Having clients that you’re super stoked to work with makes all the difference in the world.
Amazing Writers And Sources
I’ve had the opportunity to edit dozens of writers over the years, and am always impressed with their creativity and expertise. And being able to pick people’s brains–whether on the record or on background–has not only improved my work but given me an increased understanding of the world.
Strong Support Networks
Having friends to connect with to discuss freelancing challenges and goals has been invaluable. I have two amazing friends (waving to Elina and Susan) who I connect with regularly over email and we talk about our struggles and our goals. I call them my Jedi Council. With their support, I’ve dropped awful clients, negotiated for better contracts, and gotten a handle on balancing non-work goals while maintaining the quality of my work. They are also quick to offer a bit of tough love if I’m about to make poor choices.
I’ve also connected with local freelancers at various meetups and in my coworking space, over countless Slack and Semaphor channels, and at conferences across the country. And I’ve networked with hackers and privacy experts and some of the smartest minds in the fitness industry over the years, which is a nice job perk.
Whether it’s online, in person, or a combination of the two, finding support outside of harried/overworked editors is crucial.
Making My Own Schedule
For many years, freelancing to me was about staying up until I could barely keep my eyes open—2AM or so—and then waking up and hopping on my laptop before even thinking about breakfast.
But this summer, I realized my health was beginning to suffer from my insane schedule. After an injury kept me from swinging by evening classes at a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym (as I’d intended to do), I joined an amazing gym and started training three days a week—during prime time. Between the driving and the training and my dilly-dallying, I probably spend 3 hours during the day on each of these days just focused on my own fitness.
The surprising thing for me was that switching from working 60-80 hour weeks to around 40 hasn’t really impacted my income. I’ve also noticed that I’m far more productive during the hours I do work if I’m not burning the candle at both ends. And I don’t mind working a few evening and weekend hours if it means I get to block off time to go to the gym or even attend events during the day.
Freelancing allows us the luxury of making our own schedules—good to take advantage of it!
Apps & Tools
I don’t know where I’d be without Basecamp, my favorite project management tool. Freshbooks is a god-send when it comes to invoicing (and even sending out reminders for past-due payments). Strict Workflow helps keep me on task. I just started using Grammarly, which can be really helpful. And I’m very grateful for free tools (like Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere, Do Not Track, Signal, and even PGP) and paid tools (password managers and VPNs) to help me keep my information secure.
A lot of writers I know don’t read the comments on their posts, which is a shame—sometimes there are corrections in there. In fact, many of the sites I write for have turned off comments since they can be a bit of a cesspool (and since everything’s moving to social media anyway). I’m one of the writers who reads every single comment, and I sometimes even scan Twitter and Facebook and Reddit to see what people are saying. At some point, I stopped caring so much because I ran out of energy to care. (I call it “Better living through exhaustion”.) Now I can look at comments in a more detached, objective way—which is probably a lot healthier.
The Opportunity To Remake Myself
A few years back, I decided to move away from health and fitness writing and towards investigative reporting on technology (specifically, privacy and security). This year, I’m moving a bit back towards fitness. I also decided I wanted to balance heavy-hitting work with stuff that’s less exhausting, including a bit of brand work. And I started a podcast. Sometimes I don’t approach events as a journalist—I’ll go to a hacking conference just because. Sometimes I’ll come across something that’s not in my beat and report on it anyway, because it’s fascinating. Being able to remake myself at whim is one of my favorite things about freelancing.
These seven years have been an amazing ride! Here’s to seven more.