With AI allowing more jobs to be completed remotely and an increasing number of workers placing a premium on flexibility, the number of Britons freelancing is on the rise. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that the number of self-employed workers in the UK labour market grew from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017. While data collated by Simply Business shows that there has been a 31% annual rise in workers looking to go freelance.
In light of these figures, I thought I’d use my guest editorship of the Dads at Work hub to give you a message. Which is… don’t do it. There’s enough of us freelance dads out here already and we don’t need the extra competition. Please, please, please, delete your letter of resignation and stay put.
Only joking. I actually want to give readers who might be thinking about going freelance an insight into my experience as a freelance writer and the realities of contracting as a dad. So, um, here goes.
My freelance life
After a few years of mixing freelancing with a PAYE post, I began contracting full-time in 2011.
Back then, I was moderately young, extremely free and very single. Thus, contracting really was the land of milk and honey. No boss to please or underlings to manage. No set job description or monotonous, morale-sapping commute. I was able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And mostly I wanted to maximise my income by working during the day AND at night.
Need an interview with the man who possesses the world’s biggest biceps filed by 9am tomorrow morning? I’ll get on it right away. Looking for someone to cover the features desk while the editor is on holiday? Me, me, me! Hunting for a writer to play golf in Colombia for a travel piece? Show me where to sign. (Note: I actually did all of these things!)
Life was good, but it was also all about me. Fast-forward eight years and, boy, how the second part of this sentence has changed.
I say this, because I am now a husband and a dad. And, as such, my priorities have transformed. This might not be apparent from my LinkedIn profile – I still market myself as a freelance writer, editor and creative. But it is evidenced by a shift in the type of work I prioritise and the amount of times I say no to potential commissioners.
Choice and necessity
Which means? It means I’ve changed the way I work for the good of my body, soul and abs, and I’ll share my secrets with you over the course of three bespoke webinars for just £99.99. Just kidding. It actually means that I’ve changed the way I work due to a mixture of choice and necessity. Choice, because being a dad has made me think more deeply about the messages I am projecting, the way my career is progressing and the type of companies that I work for. And necessity, because being a dad has ensured that there is absolutely no way I can work the hours I used to.
A new working structure
Primarily, this altered approach manifests itself in three main ways.
- I work far more in offices, as shifting for set day rates is a wife-pleasing, guaranteed income. Plus, it’s pretty much impossible to maintain the concentration and peace you need to work effectively from home when you have a young child.
- I’ve stopped working for companies who have questionable morals or want me to write a story I’m not 100% comfortable with, as being a dad has made me far more concerned about a) society going forward and b) my digital footprint.
- I’ve created my own parenting brand in a bid to make my family’s finances less reliant on the success and budgets of companies that I can’t control.
The last of these points deserves to be expanded upon for three reasons. First, it’s the biggest change I’ve made. Second, it was prompted by me becoming a father and instantly feeling like I wanted to create something more than just a few nice articles for people who paid me well. And third it’s the alteration that juxtaposes most with contracting life. I mean, if you’re the company, then surely you’re no longer a freelancer?
I understand this point, and if my parenting brand was my only source of income, I would agree with it. At present, however, it’s merely one of my revenue streams, so I am going to continue to proudly fly the freelance flag.
All of which brings me to the wisdom-imparting crescendo of this article. Dads and non-dads, please make yourself comfortable, as I reveal my six top biscuits for freelancers to eat with their 11am cuppa. Ha, if only. In actual fact, please sit back, relax and enjoy my top tips/main watch outs for dads thinking about going freelance.
Father Hood’s freelance mantras
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Newsflash: the key to long-term freelancing success IS NOT finding one client with a lot of cash. It’s about developing a portfolio of clients who provide you with multiple revenue streams. This way when one door closes (and, trust me, it will), you always have several others to open.
Keep your skills up
As an employee, you get sent on training courses to update you on the latest software updates or technological revolution. As a freelancer, you don’t. Thus, it’s easy to find yourself out of touch and lacking in the skills employers are looking for. Stay out of this trap by pushing yourself to take training courses (fear not, you can expense them) and stay up to date with industry advances.
Maintain your contacts
Contacts are the be all and end all for freelancers. If you have them, then you stand a good chance of earning a respectable living. If you don’t, then you don’t. As a result, remember to touch base with each and every one of yours on a regular basis. Oh, and if your contact leaves a company make sure you go in and meet the person who replaces them. I know it’s easier to email a quick “hello”, while wearing your pyjamas. But I also know that this rarely works.
Don’t always just look at the bottom line
Yes, cash is important, but so are other factors. My point? Maybe the £150 job that’ll take you two hours and leave you free to watch your kid’s Christmas performance is better than the £400 job that’ll take you all day? Perhaps the £250 job in a new area you’re looking to expand into is better than the £350 job in a sector you’re already established in?
Always look at the bigger picture
Especially in the early stages, it’s easy for a freelancer to a) panic after a bad week and b) feel guilty about taking a holiday. If this happens, please immediately return to this article and re-read the next few sentences. First, all freelancers have bad weeks, but we also have good ones, so it’s important not to get too hung up on the former. To help me do this, I assess my earnings by month rather than week and then work out what’s going well/wrong from there. Second, you are your own boss, so work can always wait. Put on your out of office and close your laptop, as you and your family need you to take a break.
Finally, have fun
Freelancing is a great life, but it’s also a stressful one. So, if you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it. Take a desk job and put the pressure of chasing clients, leads and payments back on someone else’s shoulders.