With the end of my education fast approaching, and my funds quickly trickling away after spending the last of my student loans, I started thinking a lot about how I was going to support myself after my MA.
I’ve been making ends meet over the past couple of months with a bunch of side hustles – an event assistant job here, a bit of bar and kiosk work through a staffing agency there, dog walking, taking part in scientific studies – you name it. I found this the easiest way to make a bit of money after a period of poor health, as I still wanted some control over my schedule, and I only wanted to work extremely casual hours.
I don’t like the concept of selling, particularly myself. I mean, how much am I actually worth? I don’t celebrate or talk about my successes much, I don’t have instagram or post selfies – basically, I find marketing and networking awkward, and I don’t like pushing myself on others.
I used an online salary calculator the other day, which takes into account your education and work experience and comes up with a figure. Mine was around £19,000. But this felt like too much. Or am I underselling myself? I’ve had a bit of experience with selling old clothes online through Vinted, but even something as simple as that throws up anxieties – how much is too much? I hate the thought of ripping people off, but I’m also aware that I need the money.
Anyway. I’ve always really enjoyed proofreading. I was lucky enough to work for a company for a few years, perfecting my technique and realising that I did actually have some kind of knack, a talent. I also proofread friend’s and family’s essays and dissertations in my spare time; sometimes I charged, sometimes I did it for nothing. Eventually, I started to wonder…could I make this into a business? Could I become…a freelancer?
In reality its quite simple to start doing it alongside your other jobs. All you need is a product or service (maybe you make cool bags, maybe you design logos), a place or platform from which to sell it (like Etsy), a price…and that’s it.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I just dived into it out of necessity. I started out by signing up to a website called UpWork, which allows you to make a profile, and sell your talent, be that programming or SEO. It took me ages to research how much other people were charging and work out what my services were worth, but eventually I managed it.
After getting a few proofreading jobs through that and building up my experience, I took a couple of evenings to create a WordPress site, and made a few posters as well.
Its been a gradual learning curve. I’m in need of a professional proofreading qualification (which isn’t cheap), and still hungry for all the experience I can get, but so far I’ve learned a few things about freelancing:
- You need a lot of tact: You might have to deal with some tricky customers, so you need the patience of a saint. Some clients send me stuff that needs such an extensive amount of reworking, as if they made no effort whatsoever before submitting it to me, that I just hold my head in my hands and think ‘I’m not getting paid enough damn money for this’. But you have to remain polite and cheerful, even if the other party is being short with you.
- Excel is your friend: I’ve never been one to meticulously keep track of my money. Yes, I don’t spend much; but I also don’t have online banking, and rarely open my statements. It quickly became apparent a while ago, however, that I would need to create a spreadsheet to keep track of my earnings, the rates I was charging, and when I got paid. You will need this data for invoices, for tax, and for your records.
- Keep a diary or die: If you don’t keep track of what you need to do every day, things will get very messy, very fast.
- Be quick: People expect instant responses to messages and fast results. There will always be someone quicker off the mark. So do your best to be as engaged and responsive as possible.
- Decide on your limits: Learn the power of no. Taking on too much work will be your undoing. Be clear about exactly what you will be doing, and for what price.
- You’ll be in the Broke Bitches Club for a while: It’s not going to take off straight away. It will take a bit of time to get the word out about your services, and you’ll have to wait until you have loads of experience before you can charge more than the bare minimum. Trust me, I’m not making a lot from proofreading, but its a labour of love; I enjoy it, and I want to keep getting better.
- Create a portfolio: Keep track of everything you’re writing/editing/selling. Keep an updated CV, and, on top of that, you might want to create a blog showcasing your work. I personally use Contently to organise my portfolio of previous work, which is really easy to use.
Its inherently risky to rely on freelancing as your sole source of income, and not everyone can/should do it, but its a good supplementary income, and would look great on your CV because it shows independence, perseverance, planning, and resilience. I see people all around me setting up their own stuff, and I love it. So don’t be afraid to start selling your cool shit, or consulting or pitching or tutoring! Its possible. And if you’re considering it, this complete guide to setting up as a freelancer should help. I’ll keep you updated with my journey…I’m just taking baby steps and testing it all out, so lord knows if this proofreading thing will be sustainable, but I’d really like to continue doing it for as long as I can alongside my next proper job! More tips to come…