As a freelancer you get a lot of questions from people eager to make the transition. While it is tempting to focus on the fun side of things, I am a big believer in being honest about what it is really like, because freelancing is not for everyone. Telling someone keen to make a career change to follow their bliss is not nearly as useful as reminding them to save up six months' worth of living money.
My piece on the key steps to getting things started lists some points about money, lifestyle changes and, well, following said bliss. Those are the things I did that worked, but in an effort to be honest and clear I will list some of the things that came before all that - although be warned, many of these things did not work at all.
I worked for free. At 19 I got work experience at the local newspaper while living with my parents. While the culture of making aspiring hacks work for free is profoundly unfair because most people cannot afford it, it does not change the fact that it is extremely useful. I learned more about reporting in my year at the paper than during three whole years at university.
I went to journalism school. This route is usually not recommended and I do not know anyone else who studied journalism who actually became a reporter. I do not regret it, but I would probably choose to study something else today.
I floundered. Lots of people fall into an abyss of varying size after leaving university, and I have all kinds of sympathy for that. It is crushing to keep failing at something you want badly, and for a long time the lack of success drained my confidence. Eventually I started pushing forward again: I put together a proper CV and wrote articles on the side, while looking for a decent reporter job.
I paid my dues. As a freelancer, one of my speciality subjects is technology, because that was my beat at my last in-house position. I know some freelancers will manage to skip this part and go straight to current affairs or lifestyle writing, but that is extremely competitive. Unless you are very lucky, that would probably mean subsiding on nothing but rice for a good long while.
I learned to hustle. A key element to becoming a freelancer was finding my confidence and stop cringing so much when I have to be pushy. I cannot really say how to do that, but I guess it is a case of sink or swim.
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