12 Things I Learnt From 12 months of Freelancing as a Full Time Travel Blogger
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So earlier on this week I picked up my brand new 67 plate Vauxhall Adam and today I start my brand new full time job as a Villa Rental Coordinator at a luxury travel company in Cheltenham! After 18 months of travel, 12 months of freelancing and 9 months of part time work, I think I'm finally ready to let my feet touch the ground for a little while and am so looking forward to settling in to my new (grown up) life. New car, new job, new chapter and I'm so excited to see what the rest of 2017 has in store for me! 🌟🌟 #LetsStartAgain
You lot seem to like it when I do personal posts rather than just constantly sharing write ups of my recent trips, so I thought I should break up all the recent cruise content and write about something which is a really popular topic at the moment: freelancing. It seems like every single blogger I know at the moment is quitting their job in order to become a full time freelancer and live the digital nomad life. This is obviously amazing as it seems our work lives are ever changing and creeping away from the standard 9-5 working week, and I would of course encourage everyone to follow their dreams and live their best lives, but there is also a side to freelancing that isn’t shared online, and a side which makes the freelance/nomad life a little less glamourous than Instagram shows it to be. I took the plunge myself and went freelance as a full time travel blogger two years ago but spent just a year doing that (amongst other things) before I realised I needed to make another life change at the age of 24. Some days I loved it, other days I hated it, but overall I’m so glad I did it. Here’s 12 things that I learnt during my 12 months of freelancing from September 2016 – September 2017, both the good, the bad and the ugly…
The flexibility is fantastic
One of the best things I loved about freelancing was the ability to be completely flexible all the time. By steering away from the standard 9-5 life I was able to fit more in to my day, and alter it to suit my needs. A typical day for me would be to wake up and get dressed and ready to start work by 10ish – I never worked in my pj’s and always made an effort to get changed even if I wasn’t leaving the house as this helped get my mind-set into work mode. I’d then work for 3-4 hours at home before breaking for lunch (30 mins to 1 hour depending on how busy I was) and then continued working (with breaks) until I got everything done. Sometimes it was a 6pm or 7pm finish, other days I woke up later and continued working until 9pm or 10pm. Although I typically worked longer hours than a usual 9-5 job, I didn’t really feel like I was over-working myself as I took regular breaks, was at home, didn’t have a commute and could pick up my work/emails whenever I wanted. I took my dog out for walks every day, spent time seeing friends and enjoyed being at home.
It’s really lonely
Probably the biggest downside to freelancing is the crippling loneliness that goes with it. Working in a lively estate agents from the ages of 18 – 23 made me realise how much I love people, and how much I thrive off a busy, fun environment. When I took all of that away, I started to realise that I don’t cope very well on my own. I get really low sometimes, and feel the need to constantly talk to someone when I feel that way, which is why having supportive colleagues around me is something I have always relied on and will always look for in future jobs. Some people are fine on their own and could spend days without seeing another soul, but I’m just not like that and don’t think I ever will be! Loneliness was definitely one of the reasons I didn’t freelance for longer, and I don’t feel ashamed to admit that.
You can work wherever you want
In the same way that the flexibility I mentioned above was hugely liberating, the fact I could work wherever I wanted (Wi-Fi permitting) was amazing and opened my eyes as to how different my working life could be without feeling the need to be trapped in an office. I wasn’t a digital nomad during my freelance life and was very much a ‘work from home’ kinda gal, but I do wish I’d have taken a few more trips in order to experience what it might be like to work on the road. I didn’t really experiment much with co-working or with trying out social office spaces and I could have worked from anywhere with Wi-Fi to be honest, but I found café’s quite distracting and preferred to sit at home with the telly on if I needed some noise in the background.
Not having a routine is hard
Something else which I struggled with was not having a set routine. Yes I know we all get bored of the 9-5 life, but when I have a set routine I know where I am with things and I find it easier to make decisions, get myself organised and get on with my day. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having a few lay in’s during the week and starting later than usual, but sometimes I’d find myself working til almost midnight and forgetting to take regular breaks because I was stressing about getting things done on time and meeting deadlines efficiently. I am good at being organised and self-disciplined, but not having a routine really threw me sometimes and I’ve since found I prefer to be in a set routine to help get my work/life balance on track.
You can say YES more
The thing I loved most about working for myself was the ability to say YES in circumstances I wouldn’t normally have been able to do so. I went on 3 press trips during my time freelancing, one was a long weekend in Hamburg but still would have required taking 2 days annual leave, and the other two were week long trips to Menorca and Switzerland, which would have required me taking over 12 days of annual leave. I went to PR events on a Tuesday night in London because I could get there and didn’t have to worry about rushing home to get an early night for work the next day. I scheduled in blog collabs on week-days when the place/city was generally quieter because not everyone was there on a weekend. I said yes to sooo many things and it made me so happy and content with life. I was more spontaneous, more fun and way more exciting than I was when I worked 9-5, and this is something I really miss about my freelance life!
Motivation isn’t always on tap
Again, something I struggled with and still do even now. Having the motivation to constantly write blog content, constantly pitch for new business and constantly find ways to make money when you’re freelancing is SO BLOODY DRAINING!! I found this really hard when I was working for myself and I wanted to give up all the time. Although I am good at being organised and self-disciplined, trying to stay motivated whilst not having the support of colleagues and a manager alongside you was really difficult for me. I ended up turning to social media to find support from fellow bloggers/freelancers and that did help, and I made a real effort to attend events, listen to webinars and get inspiration from joining in with Twitter chats and Facebook groups etc in order to combat the lack of motivation that I regularly suffered with.
You aren’t restricted by annual leave
Kinda like the point I made about saying YES more, this was another huge bonus of freelance life; the ability to go on loads of trips or to take days off without the restriction of crappy annual leave. I really really hate the fact that I only get 20 days of annual leave and it is something which makes me want to quit my job and freelance allll over again. I hate being restricted by leave, and think we should be encouraged to take time off and travel more, as long as we don’t fall behind with our work load of course, in order to obtain a better work/life balance. I really believe that I would work better if I worked slightly longer hours over 4 days instead of 5 and had one day a week off to catch up with life admin or to treat myself to a nice day out, or to spend time with friends and family. Working for myself gave me unlimited annual leave, as long as I got everything done that I needed to, and I do miss that aspect of freelance life.
You don’t get legal work perks
However, the big downside to being self-employed is the lack of support we get when we aren’t able to work. Being freelance means you don’t get sick pay, or compassionate leave or a pension. You don’t get paid holiday or childcare vouchers or paid time off for dentist/doctors/hospital appointments. I always took time off whenever I needed to for things like this, but obviously when I wasn’t working, I didn’t get paid. Time is money when you’re self-employed, and that saying couldn’t be more true! I also had to make a note of my income and expenditure and had to create monthly spreadsheets of my earnings and outgoings so I could keep an eye on things. I hired an accountant who helped me put my spreadsheets together into a tax return for HMRC by the time the deadline for self-assessments came around, and this was something I hadn’t even considered when setting up on my own. Luckily my dad is self-employed so he showed me a thing or two, and my A Level Business Studies came in handy, but there is so much legal stuff to think about when you’re self-employed and honestly it can be so stressful!
You have a better work/life balance
Working from home gave me such a good work/life balance and I really miss it sometimes. I miss just working from my sofa, without the need to commute to the office every day, and I loved wearing what I wanted and not putting make up on etc, I felt so free and it was really liberating. I loved being able to start and finish when I wanted, and sometimes when I was quiet I would only work for a few hours and then spend some time walking my dog, catching up with friends, or doing boring stuff like house work which I never get time to do during a full working week. I do miss having flexible working hours and allowing my home life to be more important than my work life, especially when the long days and hour long commute to and from my current job each day really starts to get me down.
Blogging alone isn’t enough, you must diversify
There are obviously some bigger bloggers out there who just blog all day and make a full time wage from it, but honestly, I have no idea how they are doing it or how that is even possible. During my 12 months as a full time travel blogger, I learnt pretty quickly that I absolutely had to diversify in order to make enough money to survive, and it was really tough at first. Being sent on press trips (with free accommodation and flights) is all good and well, but you don’t get a fee for being there, unless you do and I’m not aware of it! But writing content and promoting it on social media all day just isn’t enough to bring the pennies in, unless you’re writing 5 articles a week at over £100 a pop, the reality is you’ve got to find another way of making money. Before I even started going freelance I had a good think about this and realised that I wanted to use social media as my secret weapon, and started advertising my social media services on LinkedIn to try and gain my first clients. I was pretty lucky as my old boss saw I was advertising for clients and mentioned me to some of his friends at his local breakfast networking club, and within a couple of weeks I had 3 new clients from this alone. These new clients had friends/relatives who also needed social media help, so I gained 3 more clients from them, and then my uncle down in Essex needed some help, and before I knew it I had nearly 10 clients all needing my help and I was absolutely SNOWED UNDER! It was brilliant on the one hand, but overwhelming on the other and I soon realised I needed to prioritise my time in order to work to my full capacity and do a good job for each of my clients. As well as offering social media management, I also wrote freelance articles for a few online travel magazines and did some blogger mentoring too, charging a small amount of money to cover my time to give Skype lessons to newbie bloggers who wanted tips on growing your blog through your social channels. Without diversifying, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to stay freelance for as long as I did.
You learn loads of new skills
You have to juggle so many plates when you’re freelance, and this certainly helped me to develop skills I didn’t even know I needed before I took the plunge and quit my job. I had so many different roles to take on in order to make everything run smoothly, from blogger, writer and social media manager to PA, accountant and marketer. I had to learn how to market myself and generate new business, so networking events were crucial and I was constantly sending out email pitches too. I had to be my own PA and organise my diary, my time and schedule in meetings whenever I could. I had to learn how to create income and expenditure sheets and keep a log of what money was coming in and out so that, by the time my tax return was due, I could input it all correctly. All of these skills were imperative to making my job work, and I’m glad I was able to spin all these plates at once – it was tough, but it taught me to be determined, to be patient, and to never give up! Hopefully the skills I learnt during my freelance life will stand me in good stead for future employment and will show how diverse I can be as a candidate, and how much responsibility I’ve had to take on in the past.
Your salary isn’t consistent – you need savings
I’ll end on this because, after all, money makes the world go round, and it is the most important part of freelance life! During my 12 months of freelancing I was still living at home so that took the pressure off having to make a large amount of money each month as my outgoings were quite low (just my mums rent, my phone bill and my opticians bill which all come to approx. £230 a month). For the first couple of months I really didn’t have many clients at all and was only making around £300-£400 a month, which is obviously not enough to live on and I did end up dipping into my savings in order to support myself. I had around £4000 saved up when I went freelance and knew I didn’t really want to go down past the £3000 mark, but the money was there if I needed it and it was a comfort to know that. As I progressed with my freelance career, I picked up more and more clients and took on more and more work, but it wasn’t consistent: some months I would earn less than £500, some months I earnt over £1500! If you’re looking at going freelance and you need to have a certain amount of money coming in each month, bear this in mind before you take the plunge. Towards the end of my freelance life the work started to dry up a little and I lost a few clients due to circumstances beyond my control, including some using their own in-house marketing and others employing someone more local to work for them, so I was starting to panic and realised I needed more wages in order to get by. It was during this time that I got a part time job at a retail store and signed up for an 8hour (min) a week contract. I really loved working in retail again (for the first time since I was 17) and the short 4 hour shifts 3-4 times a week really helped to make me feel less lonely, and boosted my bank balance too. I soon became an accessories specialist and was put on regular delivery shifts (7am-1pm) which meant that I could still have a decent afternoon by the time I got home, but I had the possibility to say yes to loads more shifts and I took extra hours wherever I could to make more money. Some months I ended up doing 40+ hours week at the retail store, and then working up to 20 hours a week doing my freelance work. I was exhausted but I knew I had to keep making money so carried on for as long as I could, before I quit everything to take on my first job in the travel industry.
So as you can see, there are good and bad reasons to quit your job and pursue your dreams as a full time blogger/freelancer, and I certainly had a bit of a yo-yo year during my 12 months of trying it, but I learnt so much about myself and I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. I got to spend more time at home, more time saying yes to stuff I would normally have to turn down, and I got to pursue one of my passions at a professional level. I would say the good outweighed the bad, but after 12 months I was more than ready to get back to the 9-5 life and have a proper routine again as this is something I really struggled with when I worked for myself. I missed the social element hugely and realised how much I thrive off others when I am in a lively environment. I’ve seen so many bloggers quit their jobs and travel the world as a digital nomad which is absolutely incredible and I am so inspired by their bravery, but equally I have seen people who, like myself, tried it and realised it wasn’t for them, and I’ve realised that that’s okay too. Whatever happens in your working life, it’s good to take a step back to assess what works for you, and what doesn’t. I have no idea what the next 12 months holds for me as I have been told my current job at a luxury villa rental firm is being made redundant in the new year, but after almost 18 months of office life I may well be ready for a change again by the time 2019 rolls around… I’ll be sure to post more life updates on my blog as and when I know myself exactly what is going on in my little life!
Love Jess x
A great read Jess and I loved your honesty – too often bloggers come across as having “the perfect life” when in reality it’s a bloody hard slog. I gave up my full time job as a travel journalist to follow my passion. Like you, I’m exploring putting fingers into a few pies to see what sticks, but it’s definitely a huge learning curve isn’t it?!