First aid for freelancers: Tips for going freelance unexpectedly

3rd May 2019

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For the second part of our freelancer series, we asked Anna Codrea-Rado for her advice on what to do when you’re made redundant and decide to go freelance. Anna is a writer and founder of FJ&Co, a community platform for freelance journalists.


On a July afternoon in 2017, I lost my job as an editor at Vice, the digital news outlet. I’d come into the office on a Friday and just after lunch, HR called me in for a meeting and told me not to come back on Monday. I wasn’t the only one who was made redundant that day – the company was making significant cuts to its staff. I’m also not the only one to have lost their media job since, with over 2,000 job cuts happening in journalism in 2019 alone.

I decided to go freelance. Ironically enough, it felt like the more secure option. I’d flirted with the idea of becoming self-employed in the past, suspecting that my personality and lifestyle were much better suited to that way of working. But I was too scared to do it. I bought into all the horror stories that it was too hard, too insecure and too lonely. Now I’ve been freelance for nearly two years, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Planning to go freelance, however, is very different to abruptly doing it because you’ve lost your job. There weren’t many resources out there on this subject, with most of the advice about starting out as self-employed opening with "save up for at least six months first". Not all that helpful for someone who doesn’t have a job to go to anymore. So I decided to write a free ebook for handling the early days of self-employment. First Aid for Freelancers is like an emergency kit for new freelancers, written primarily for those who’ve come to self-employment as a result of redundancy.

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Get a handle on your finances

As tempting as it is to put your head in the sand, if you know where you stand financially you can make smarter and more level-headed decisions.

Figure out how much you need to live off so that you have a benchmark for what you need to be earning. While you can just estimate this by looking at your monthly bank statements, it’s worth blocking out an afternoon to do a thorough, line-by-line financial health-check. I also highly recommend figuring out a good system for invoicing, keeping track of your expenses and learning what your tax obligations are from the get-go.

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Reach out to your network

Your first bits of work will come from your immediate network. Old bosses, former colleagues and friends. You need to contact all of these people. The worst that will happen is you won’t get a response. What’s more likely to happen is that you’ll be taken out for a coffee.

When writing your emails, take a moment to think about what you’re trying to achieve. Personally, I would steer away from the blanket email that just blasts out to your contacts that you’re looking for work. You can do that on social media. Instead, think carefully about what you want to ask of them.

You’ll want something very specific from some of your contacts – with these people, be direct in what you’re asking from them. There will be other contacts whom you don’t necessarily want something specific from, but you think it’s worth updating them. Just drop them a line and let them know what’s happened.

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Mourn the loss of your job

Losing your job is a huge blow to your confidence. There’s no getting around the fact that there will be points where you’ll really doubt yourself – I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t feel utterly rejected by the experience.

That was a lot easier to do on some days than others. In the early weeks, I made an effort to appreciate small wins – sending off a pitch, arranging a coffee meeting, getting my website up and running.

As the assignments started coming in and editors kept replying to my emails, my confidence picked back up. This is hard to appreciate in the midst of a crisis, but it’s how we deal with a setback that’s ultimately more rewarding than taking a serendipitous opportunity.

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Reclaim your story

I chose to go public with my redundancy. I tweeted about it and posted on Facebook, linking to an article that had been written about the layoffs at my former company. My first commission came off the back of my tweet.

I didn’t want to shy away from the fact I was laid off because I didn’t feel I had anything to be ashamed about. I knew I was capable of doing good work and I was excited to start turning my fortunes around.

You might not want to tell the world what happened, but however you tell the story make it your own. Take charge of the narrative. Reflect on what went wrong, but don’t let it swallow you whole. This is still your career and your life, it’s within your power to make your next move a powerful one.

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Be a professional freelancer

Treat freelancing as a real business.

You’re not a lowly writer at the bottom of the heap scrabbling around for scraps of work wherever you can get it. You’re an integral part of the economy and you offer a service that companies need in order to keep their own lights on. Freelancing is by no means easy or indeed for everyone, but if you’ve decided to do this then take it seriously. I prefer to think of myself as a small business owner because it reminds me that I’m a professional, albeit my company is only one.

This is your business. You can build it, invest in it and run it however you want but the point is, it’s your business.

For more tips from Anna, read the full guide.

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