One year freelance – highs, lows, lessons learned and money earned!

Ok so technically it has been over a year. I left my full time job in a council in October last year, but as we come to the end of my full calendar year freelance and I finalise my accounts for the financial year that ended in March I thought now was the time for a bit of a review.

I hope this offers an insight into life as a freelancer and some inspiration for anyone thinking of taking the plunge in 2017. Working for yourself isn’t for everyone but I can tell you that for me… even on the bad days it beats spending Monday to Friday in an office!

highs and lows of being freelance

The lows of freelance life

I thought I’d start with the negatives, as it’s always good to end on a high.

In all honesty there haven’t been that many, but when it’s bad it can be really bad. However even these horrendous days didn’t make me regret my choice to quit my regular salary and go it alone. Here are a few of the low points this year…

The days you have ALL the deadlines on the same day.

I really need to get better at time management. I’m a procrastinator and find it easiest working to a very strict deadline. This works fine, except for the odd days when everything is due at the same time. I’ve had a handful of days where there have been mini breakdowns because of everything that’s needs doing. That said I have so far always made it through and kept clients happy so it can’t have been all that bad.

The days you don’t get paid on time (or at all)

I have heard many horror stories about people not getting paid for work done, companies going under before you’ve got your money or companies just disappearing altogether. Luckily I haven’t had too much, and other than a small set back which I have recently rectified and been paid (phew) I have been so far lucky. That said the thought of not being paid now I have ‘grown up’ bills to pay terrifies me.

Having to WORK in paradise

I know I know, can I even put this as a low?! I’ve been able to travel to some incredible places this year, but due to my work being mobile it doesn’t mean I stop working. Having to sit inside where the wifi works and sun doesn’t make reading your computer screen too hard, instead of sipping cocktails on a Belize beach can be a thing of nightmares… Believe me! Luckily I work fast and there was always a cocktail to celebrate with when the work was done ?

Not knowing where your next pay cheque is coming from

So much of the work I do is last minute and often I will find out about a big piece of work only days or weeks before it’s due. It makes it very hard to plan at times, both your general life and your finances. So far things have worked out OK but it can often feel like you’re permanently applying for jobs… if you can’t handle that then freelance probably isn’t for you.

highs and lows of freelance life

The highs of freelance life

When I tell you this has been one of the best years of my life I am not joking. The freedom, the fun, the travels. The highs far far out weigh the lows.

Spending time with my family

Since going freelance both my dad and my mum have had cancer! What the hell world!? I am putting this in my highs because despite both bits of news bringing extremely tough times and worries, both mum and dad have made it out the other side and are clear from cancer. ?  They have been the most inspiring people throughout my life and mean the absolute world to me. They have tackled that word beginning with C in the most incredible way possible and have inspired me over the last 18 months more than ever before.

Being freelance and working from home has meant I have been able to spend more time with my family when it mattered most, which has been a hundred times better than being stuck in an office the other end of the country. Now go spend time with your family… go on do it! NOW!

Travelling the world

Obviously one of the main reasons I quit my job in the first place was to have the freedom to travel more with this little blog. This year has seen me travel to 9 different countries on 12 different trips abroad. It’s been quite a year and I would have been able to visit even half of these places if I was restricted to annual leave allowances and normal working hours.

Working from anywhere

Linked with the travel theme above, being able to work from anywhere (except when I deliver training in person) is a mega plus for me. This may mean in a hotel by the beach in Belize or it may just mean in my friend’s kitchens drinking copious amounts of tea (Nick and Sian I owe you muchos tea) which is another favourite location of mine. I also get to regularly spend my day working with dogs and we all know how obsessed I am with those!

Freelancing can get lonely but I am slowly building an inspiring group of fellow freelancers. I have another exciting project up my sleeve to help improve life for freelancers around my area too… so watch this space.

Doing more of what I love to do.

As a freelancer I have at times taken whatever work is going. When times are tough you have to do what people are willing to pay you to do (within reason of course). However as things have improved I have begun to take note of which work I enjoy doing most and finding more of that kind of work. Right now my favourites are training and of course this blog, but who knows how I might change. I am pleased to have several repeat clients and I’m excited to work with some of the same people and organisations on new projects in 2017. Doing work you love to me is paramount!

My mum said to me a while ago not all work is fun… well I disagree. If some of my work is fun why can’t I make all of it fun?! If it’s fun some of the time why can it be fun all the time?! I’m not 100% there yet but I am getting closer every day. Love what you do and you won’t have to work a day in your life!

Buying a property

Yup… a year into being freelance and I bought a house! It was my main 2016 resolution and I DID IT!

Getting a traditional mortgage is hard as a freelancer and you generally need at least 2-3 years books, however I went a different route and bought a commercial property with a commercial loan. Though I am hoping to turn half my property into an apartment for me to live in, the other half is for a new business venture. So excited about the new adventure that is already in the process. Lots more to be revealed on this in 2017!

dog snuggles Hygge

Money earned

Sorry to disappoint you if you thought I was going to tell you exact numbers here. Though some freelancers plaster all over their blogs how much they earned as a way of getting you to probably buy their product I’m just not into that. However I will tell you that I have overall earned slightly less this year then I did in a full time salaried job in London. However if you worked out the number of hours/days I’ve worked then my hourly rate has drastically improved. Sometimes I can earn more in one day than I used to earn in almost two weeks in London. That said there are other days where I work all day long and don’t earn a penny… that’s business for you! On some of my press trips I’m not earning cash but the trip could be worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds so it’s a different way of ‘earning’.

For me it’s not all about the pennies, it’s more about quality of life and as I said FUN!

Montenegro - How to live your dream life

My quality of life has exponentially improved since leaving full time work and London. There have only been a handful of days where I have woken up stressed at the thought of the day ahead. Most days I wake up excited about the day instead. I might do focused work for a couple of hours first thing in the morning, spend the day with friends or family or renovating my house and get back to work late into the night. Flexibility means so much to me and so much of my new life, to me is priceless! That said I’m hoping 2017 will see my business continue to improve and grow… I have a house to renovate and that stuff doesn’t come cheap!

how much I earn blogging

If you’re thinking of going freelance the less you earn already the easier it might be. My quality of life has only improved, though if you’re starting from scratch after quitting a 6 figure salary it ‘may’ be quite a culture shock and be harder to get used to the change in budgets. Everyone’s freelance journey is different though.

Lessons learned

I have learnt so so much this year, every day brings new challenges, new questions, new clients. Here are a few of my top lessons learnt:

  1. Keep on top of your accounts. I’ve said this before but I’m a words girl, numbers just don’t come naturally to me and remembering to pay my VAT, pay myself (PAYE), send invoices and keep on top of expenses is hard. There is a lot to think about, especially if you are a limited company like me. I recommend staying as a sole trader as long as you can, it’s much simpler and accountancy fees are cheaper too.
  2. Don’t forget your expenses. Linked with point 1 you are a business and therefore have expenses. Make sure you keep all relevant receipts and keep track of them online or on paper to make things easier at the end of the year.
  3. Have a contract. This is something I’m still working on improving. A contract is there to protect both you and the client and can help when ‘sh*t hits the fan’! You can download simple contracts online or ask a friend who is already freelance. Read it carefully though and make sure it covers you for everything you need.
  4. Set clear work guidelines with clients. This should probably be part of your contract but making it clear what is expected of you and what you will deliver on a piece of work at the beginning can again help with solving issues further down the line. Clients can sometimes try and sneak in extra work without expecting to pay you so being clear on the costs of extras at the start can help make sure you are paid fairly.
  5. Network network network. Almost all my work has come through people I already know and people my friends have recommended me to. I still don’t even have a website for my non freelance work, except what I have said on this website. Networking is the number one way you will find more work, you are always working, in that you never know when you might meet your next client. My friend Nick is a superstar at this, he finds clients in people he meets in the pub, on planes, in foreign countries. His networking brain is always on and serves him well!
  6. Have fun! You went freelance for a reason or want to go freelance for a reason. Don’t forget that. When I’m having a stressful day I remember this and it instantly makes me feel better. You work for yourself you rock star! You are earning a living without relying on a salary from someone else. And remember if all else fails… you can always go get a job working in a bar in the Caribbean!? Life is good! ?

So there we have it. The freelance life is most definitely for me! Looking back I feel quite proud. Quitting my job was quite simply the best decision I ever made! Who knows what 2017 will hold, I have a few tricks and plans up my sleeve but nothing set in stone. Let’s see where the wind takes me?!

Are you a freelancer? Do you have any tips to add or do you relate?

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one year of freelance life - lessons learned, money earned

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    1. Thanks Kate. So pleased this has inspired you. Maybe 2017 is your year?! If you have any questions please do feel free to get in touch x

  1. Such good points – there are definitely highs and lows of working the freelance life. For me -it’s 100% worth it. Even without the fringe benefits and perks we all love from traditional employment.

  2. Hey Jen,

    I just discovered your blog today but I kinda like it, especially your one year recap.
    While we’re not freelancers at the moment, we will be in the future at some point.
    Glad you’re giving some honest insights.

    Any ideas where you’re traveling to in 2017? We’re still looking for inspirations for October/November.

    We started our blog just 9 months ago and are writing in a regular basis about our trips as we want to bringt other people to travel more – there is so much to see and to explore!

    Feel free to visit our site – but be warned as we just got a crash due to WP and Theme updates and we’re just rebuilding, it might be until Monday till it will look good again ??

    Cheers, Dave

  3. Oh how I love this article. I’ve been freelancing 3 years. I still relate to most of your topics. Though I’ve yet to travel much. This year I took a road trip to meet long-lost relatives. My sister came along. The worst part was staying in to work, once settled in a hotel. I felt like I was missing so much.

    I have two steady clients whom I do similar projects for. Blog outreach for one and executive outreach for another. Both projects tend to bump up against each other at times and attempt to demand equal attention at the same time. Crazy making for sure.

    For me, when I started freelancing, it seemed half of my circle of people really didn’t believe I was working. You’d be surprised the interruptions and plans people try to make with you when you work from home. Of course, you probably already know about that.

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