The start of something new…
I’m a freelance copywriter. These days I’m busy most of the time with interesting briefs from all sorts of brands – many of them international – and I have an extremely good work/life balance.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. In fact, it wasn’t even intentional.
After I graduated in Psychology in 2001 I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something creative, but beyond that, it was a blank.
Anyway, long story short, I stumbled into some occasional work as a runner for a commercials production company. When they found I could write, I found myself dabbling in scripts for low budget TV ads. It wasn’t glamorous, but it felt like the start of something that could be right for me.
I was suddenly a freelancer. And not at all happy about it.
I asked the owners repeatedly for a full-time role. Each time they said no. The reason for this was both financial and cultural. There was no real need for a full-time writer, and all the other creative services they commissioned – camera operators, make-up artists, set designers, actors – were done on a day rate with contractors.
I sulked. I panicked. I looked fruitlessly for other jobs I was suitable for. I slowly got used to it, building my portfolio and contacts until I had an income I could live on. With a little creative thinking, my girlfriend and I managed to get married and buy a house.
But it still felt weird. If I was ever asked what I did for a living I found myself a little embarrassed telling them I was a freelance writer. The hat never seemed to be a comfortable fit.
Each year things got a little easier, the work got better and my earnings grew. I began working for all sorts of creative agencies, direct clients and other production companies. But I still couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that a proper job would make everything that bit better. Settle me down, make me relax. Give me the comfort blanket I needed to work on personal projects and generally enjoy life a lot more.
And then in 2008, that dream came true. Whilst freelancing in a big agency I was offered a job. A full time, pretty-well-paid-with-prospects kind of job. Woohoo!
With the financial crisis looming, it was a no-brainer. So overnight I became a desk-jockey. It was lovely, I got paid holidays. Free bar Christmas parties. I got to work on some really big brands and learned a lot with some wonderful, talented people.
But there were a lot of unexpected downsides, too. Things I never would have expected to bother me. I craved more variety in my day-to-day. I missed the freedom and diversity of life on the road. Now I understood how both sides worked, I wasn’t hampered by fantasy or illusion.
The funny thing was, contractors had something of a mystical status in that big company environment. Especially people who resigned to become them. Contractors arrived and disappeared at the drop of a hat. Where did they come from? Where did they go? How did they pay their mortgages without a salary?
The whole notion seemed to give some people the heebie-jeebies. Having come from a production background I knew just how normal freelance life is for a huge number of creative people. I had a lot of great role models. And I knew if I left now I could do way better than before. I had grown new muscles. I knew even more people. I was hungry.
So off I went.
It was a slow start. The first half-day booking I had three days in was a massive boost. A disaster of a job, but a big psychological lift at just the right moment. Gradually work trickled then flowed as I built really good relationships with people who badly needed someone like me – a writer with agency chops and a broad portfolio who could jump on small jobs enthusiastically at a moment’s notice.
These days every job is different, and every day requires a different combination of the core skills that keep the wheels turning. But I know myself, my abilities and the industry so well I am happy to say I would never go back to employment. It’s not right for everyone, but – to my surprise – it’s very right for me. Most importantly I can manage my hours around our young family. It’s a balancing act, but far easier than the alternative in my opinion.
In twenty or so years I’ve gone from reluctant to a diehard contractor, and the Gods of Freelance have looked after me. And I’m sure they always will.