Tips for new freelancers — what I’ve learnt so far

I was late to work this morning.

It was ok, though. My boss was very understanding.

“It’s alright, you’re here now. Mornings can be hard, with little ones and school runs and laundry and bowls of soggy cereal left on the table. Sit yourself down, have a cup of tea and do something creative.”

[That was me. I said that to me, in my head. Because I’m self-employed now so I can.]

So, here I am, my first personal piece of writing in months thanks to Covid-19 and limited childcare. It came at a pretty annoying time for me (didn’t it for everyone?) as I was about to start up my own business. But well, it’s alright, I’m here now, at last.

I’m still finding my feet, of course. I can write, that’s not the problem. I can write pretty much anything for anyone if I’m given a good enough brief. But I previously spent nearly 20 years as an employee of a BIG firm and it feels like there’s so much to learn!

Here’s a breakdown of the things I’ve found are important for anyone planning to start freelancing. Let me know if you’ve got any extra tips for beginner freelancers. I’d love to hear from you (it can be a bit quiet here, working on my own; see Learning 1).

Learning 1 – find your new freelance work family

Even the most introverted of wallflowery introverts needs a sounding board, a water-cooler companion, a support network. Social media is your friend.

Whatever your business, whatever help you need, you’ll find a friendly group on Facebook or LinkedIn, a variety of experts sharing tips on Instagram, a whole host of how-to videos on YouTube and numerous useful and entertaining podcasts, like Doing it for the Kids (warning: it’s a bit sweary!).

Use social. It can be invaluable in helping you work out how to do freelance work from home, from the very earliest issues like how to go freelance in the first place to sharing tips on building great relationships with your clients.

Other than ProCopywriters, my current favourites include the Freelance Heroes group and Emma Cossey, The Freelance Lifestyle coach; and if these aren’t quite your thing, there are so many more out there that you’re sure to find some that are just right for you.

Learning 2 – set your hours

This one was pretty easy for me, as I’m restricted by school drop-off and pick-up times, which was also the main reason for me to make the leap to freelance writing.

My day starts at 6am when my alarm goes off, or before if either of my kids needs cuddles, but I don’t sit down to my work until 9.15 at the earliest, even though my desk’s in the next room.

And I finish at 2pm, to give me time to collect the littlest from nursery before the end of the school day.

In short, everyone needs space for their life outside work, even us small business owners – especially if you’re working at home.

Remember why you want to start freelancing (like the independence, the flexibility, the being your own boss). Choose hours that work for you. And make sure you let your clients know when they can contact you so they have realistic expectations about when you’ll be available; especially if, like me, you work part-time.

Learning 3 – make your freelance business visible and connect, connect, connect

I haven’t set up a Facebook page for my freelance writing services yet but I’m busy on LinkedIn, and have been since I decided on a start date for my new venture.

I aim to post once or twice a week about what I’m doing, plus share, comment and like regularly. It all makes me visible to people who might want to use my freelance writing and other copy services, and helps potential clients to understand what I’m all about.

Don’t forget to use relevant hashtags (e.g. #freelancecontentwriter or #freelancerforhire), as they’ll increase your reach.

I’ve also connected with people I used to work with, would like to work with or who might be able to help me, both via LinkedIn and email. So far it’s got me:

  • one B2B blogging project from an ex-colleague
  • a handful of enquiries about potential freelancing jobs
  • and a proposal for teaming up with a friend-of-a-friend’s marketing agency (nothing’s confirmed yet but I’ve got a good feeling about it)

Basically, you don’t have to be a go-getting extrovert to use your network successfully. At the moment, I’m doing it all online, and am building relationships in a way that I feel comfortable with as a new freelancer.

Learning 4 – nothing is set in stone

Do you worry about making mistakes?

I find decisions can be pretty stressful but I’ve realised something important. If what you decide turns out not to be quite right for you, you can change it; you’re the boss now.

That could be your hours, your rates, your branding, your Insta handle, how you network, your accountant (though I’ll probably keep mine as I’m married to him), even your business name.

Just don’t chop and change everything all the time or your clients won’t be able to keep track, and might even ditch you for someone else.

For me, one of the things I definitely want to change is the design of my blog.

I’d never set up anything like it before and didn’t have a clue what I was doing with the technical side of it, still don’t, actually.

In time, when I’m more settled in my new business, I’ll give it an overhaul – or hire someone else to sort it out. Which leads me neatly to my next point…

Learning 5 – use other freelancers and local companies

Need a new website? A flyer? A more effective social media presence? Help with your admin, your laundry, your shopping, your finances?

Just because you’re self-employed and can be more flexible with your hours, it doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. If proofreading or design isn’t your strong point, find a freelance proofreader or website designer to do it for you.

Not sure how to get what you want from social? Use a self-employed social media expert or find a local marketing agency.

There are people like you and me out there doing all sorts of work, including virtual PAs who can help you keep the day-to-day of your business on track, and cleaners, housekeepers, and so on who can do the same for your home while you’re busy being brilliant at what you do best.

Learning 6 – where do freelancers work? Wherever they want, except the kitchen

There are too many distractions.

Like the fridge-of-possible-lunches, the kettle (another cup of tea? Already? Don’t mind if I do, thanks), second and third breakfasts, the snack cupboard, the pile of dishes, the washing to hang out, the floor that needs sweeping, the mile-high pile of random paperwork and kids’ drawings that suddenly needs sorting oh so urgently, and, in my house, the view of the playroom in all its ‘lived in’ glory.

Learning 7 – you don’t need a desk to get started as a freelancer

Right now, I’m sitting at our garden table. In the study/library/music/junk room (which is a whole lot smaller than you might think).

On a garden chair with one of those cushions for people with coccyx issues (that’s me; thanks second child!).

I’d really like a proper desk. A nice one with shelves for my files and stationery and radio and a plant, and space for a big monitor to plug my laptop into. Please.

But this will do nicely for now. As will the living room sofa – the lovely, comfy sofa where I can curl up with cushions and the laptop.

Despite being a writer, I have so little need to spread out my work beyond the screen these days that I can work in quite a small space, and I’m guessing that many of us freelancers working from home are in a similar situation.

Learning 8 – sit yourself down, have a cup of tea and do something creative

Finding it hard to get motivated by your to-do list? That was me this morning. I haven’t any paid work to do this week (the joys of starting up!), so I’ve been doing a lot of admin type stuff.

It was fun the first day, ok the second and now I’ve had enough. So, I sat down, had a cup of tea and wrote this. And you know what, I’m feeling a lot more motivated to Get Stuff Done now than I did an hour ago.

That means I’m likely to be much more productive for the rest of the day than I would have been otherwise. So now I’m energised and ready to carry on updating my copywriting portfolio or setting the rates for the writing and proofreading services packages I’m putting together.

Not feeling inspired creatively? You could:

  • put on some music and dance, just for the joy of it
  • run around the garden like my crazy five-year-old (but maybe wear clothes)
  • go for a mindful walk, observing what’s around you to refocus your brain

Just do SOMETHING. It will change the course of your day, I promise.

And finally

I know you already know this, but so do I and I’ve still fallen foul of it far too often. Whatever you do when you’re meant to be working, don’t ‘just check’ Twitter, or the news, or Facebook, or TikTok, or switch the telly on. That’s a rabbit hole you definitely don’t want to fall down right now.

Apart from for work stuff of course, and then you’re going to have to be very strict with yourself.

And that’s it, my essential guide to freelance working as I’ve experienced it so far. I hope it’s helped if you’re at the ‘newbie freelancer’ stage like me, or entertained if you’re more established (go on, tell me what mistakes I’m making!).

First published on


11th January 2021

Lorna McGachie

Great article! I particularly loved the opening.

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