My freelance story

Posted on: June 1st, 2010

The accidental freelancer

People often remark to me: “How brave you must have been to take the plunge and go freelance”. Actually, I wasn’t brave at all. I’d been made redundant and so didn’t have a job to give up.

The truth is, I didn’t intend to freelance – I was looking for another in-house PR job but there wasn’t much around at the time. (This was back in the early 90s when we were going through another recession. ) Two friends of mine both ran small PR agencies and both were in need of an extra pair of hands but didn’t want to take on a permanent member of staff.

So within a couple of weeks of each other, they both phoned up and asked if I could do a couple of days a week freelance work for a few months. I said ‘yes’. That meant I was working four days a week and keeping one day a week free to apply for jobs and go for interviews.

It struck me that if I could get four days a week freelance work without actually trying to get it, then maybe I should give up looking for a permanent job.

How did I get my first clients?

Back then, I was a PR person so my next step was to buy a directory that listed all the PR companies in the UK. I live in London, so I wrote to all the agencies in London that had clients in sectors I had knowledge of. I also told everyone I knew what kind of work I was looking for.

I didn’t work from home in the early days because I was going into the PR agencies’ offices each day. That meant all I really needed was a letterhead and some business cards. (This was before the days of websites, email accounts and mobile phones!)

Although I was marketing myself to PR agencies, I also won a few direct clients through word of mouth. Having direct clients meant I needed to set up a home office with a computer and desk etc.

Most of the work I was involved in was writing:  press releases, case studies, customer publications, employee newsletters and so on. I also got involved in writing corporate brochures, product brochures and the occasional mailshot.

Choose what you want to do

The one thing I didn’t enjoy was selling in stories to journalists. Really, I just wanted to focus on the writing – not get involved in running whole PR campaigns.  So, in 1999, I stopped doing PR and spent 100% of my efforts on marketing copywriting.

I now went after a new target audience: graphic design and web design agencies. It was a good move. In my first ‘official’ year as a copywriter, I worked on some great projects, met some interesting design agencies and earned a lot more money. It also meant I was working full time from home so I didn’t have to commute in at rush hour on the Tube any more.

Fast forward 11 years and I’m still a marketing copywriter, still working with interesting design agencies, still working from home and still earning pretty good money (despite the recession).

You can’t make yourself redundant

All around me, friends and family are getting made redundant from their jobs. The good news is that, as a freelancer, you may experience quiet times but you can’t make yourself redundant.

I’d be really interested to hear how you embarked on your freelance career.

Related posts: About Me

5 Responses to “My freelance story”

  1. Carole
    June 2nd, 2010

    Thanks for your kind comment, Ben.

  2. Lee Lefton
    June 3rd, 2010


    Great article! I thought I’d share how I got started.

    My last agency job was in Los Angeles in 1983. It was yearly salary review time and my bosses said they weren’t giving me the full 7% raise because there were areas that needed improvement. I said fine, tell me about them. First, they said I wrote too fast. Huh? I asked if there was a problem with the work and they said no, it was great. I was just supposed to sit at my desk until 5 pm and “look busy” in case the big boss came down. Hmmm. So I asked what the next issue was and they said, we know you’re freelancing. Yes, I answered, after work and on the weekends. Well, they countered, we’re paying you to work for us, so we really don’t want you focusing anywhere else. Well guys, I said, you’re not paying me enough so I have to supplement things somewhere. And now, you’re not giving me my full raise, even though you think my work is great? There’s a disconnect here.

    So I went home and told my wife the story. She said I had two choices. Suck it up and do what they said. Or go out on my own. It was a no brainer.

    I went in the next day, thanked them very much and told them I was leaving. They both jumped up and said, no! no! we’ll give you the full raise. Too late, I said. But you know, if you think my work is so great, why don’t you just hire me freelance?

    They did, along with quite a few other clients. I tripled my income in my first year in business and 27 years later, have never looked back.

    Pardon me for not punctuating things properly. But this is a blog and we’re all having fun, right?

  3. Carole
    June 3rd, 2010

    I loved reading your story, Lee. 27 years a freelancer – that’s impressive. Can anyone beat that record?

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