PeoplePerHour makes dreams come true – and I’m not just saying that because they invited me to write a guest post.
My story starts ten years ago when I was eighteen years old and heading to university. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and I’d written a novel and a couple of albums worth of songs before I became an adult. That’s why I decided to study creative writing – even though my family told me that I was throwing my life away and that there’d be no job for me at the end of it.
They were wrong. I graduated in 2011 at around the same time that blogging and social media marketing were going mainstream. It turns out that I studied creative writing while content marketing was revolutionising the industry – which meant that plenty of companies were hiring people with strong writing skills by the time I started looking for employment.
A Career in Social Media Marketing
Of course, there were still plenty of naysayers. During the summer after my final year, I started applying for jobs all over the country while simultaneously signing up for jobseekers’ allowance. When I told the woman at the dole office that I was looking for a job that involved writing, she told me to manage my expectations and suggested looking for work at a supermarket.
While I was being interviewed by the woman at the job centre, my phone went off. She told me to ignore it, but I answered it anyway – and found it was an offer for an interview at a PR agency in Buckinghamshire. I went to the interview – my first ever ‘proper’ job interview – and was offered the job there and then. So much for managing my expectations.
Life at the PR agency wasn’t perfect – in fact, I kind of hated it. Sure, I was getting paid to manage social networking profiles and to write blogs for their clients, but I was frustrated by their managerial style and inflexibility. After eighteen months at the PR agency, I moved on to a creative agency, still working in social media marketing.
It was better there, thanks in part to the culture and the people that I worked with, but I still found myself frustrated with the work that I was doing. The business was riddled with inefficiencies and I had no power to correct them. Whenever I made suggestions, my suggestions were ignored – and when my job changed from copywriting and social media management to search engine optimisation and analytics, the amount of writing that I was doing was drastically reduced.
Worse still, I found it hard to find a new job because I no longer had a specialism. I was no longer a social media marketer or a copywriter – I was a jack of all trades, and to borrow a sports metaphor despite the fact that I don’t follow it, I felt like a goalkeeper that was being played in midfield and then booed by the fans because he kept trying to pick up the ball.
Don’t let the day job fool you. In the years since leaving university, I’d established myself as an indie writer. I had four books on the market, as well as a moderately successful book blog called SocialBookshelves.com.
Because of this, I had a reasonable reputation amongst the indie writing community. People knew me and would offer me work from time to time, and the reviews that my books receive work way better than any client testimonial.
In fact, the work that I was doing – both paid and as a volunteer – was a better indicator of my abilities than the work I did when I was in full-time employment, which is why none of my ‘employed’ work features in my portfolio. I’d spent so much time and effort on my personal brand that I could literally ask potential clients to Google me if they wanted to know who they were working with.
And then at some point last year, I had an epiphany. With my career in social media marketing grinding to a halt and my career as a writer taking off, it was time to take the plunge. It was time to go it alone and to become a freelancer.
I took on my first client in October 2016, a guy called Matt Goolding who runs a boutique agency and who needed a little help writing content. Matt was my first ever client and he came in through Twitter – I happened to spot one of his tweets and it led to my first reliable work, bringing in maybe £3-500 a month.
That wasn’t enough for me to make a living of course, but it did start to show me that perhaps the whole freelance thing had legs. I pulled together a portfolio and signed up for PeoplePerHour, and before long I’d picked up a couple more clients. I was ruthless and applied for dozens of jobs every week, landing maybe 10% of them – which was easily enough to start augmenting my portfolio.
I opened up a bank account and dumped my freelance income in there. I signed up to other sites like Fiverr (don’t bother) and Upwork (do bother, but use it in tandem with PeoplePerHour). I worked my 9-5 job during the week and spent most of my evenings and all of the weekend putting in hours. When people say that freelancers need to work every hour they have available, believe it – I worked 12-14 hour days for four months, and 10 hour days for the three months before that.
But the work kept on rolling in, and all I had to do was focus on being consistent – delivering when I said I’d deliver and making sure that the quality was right. The difference between being employed and working as a freelancer is that your reputation is always on the line – and you’re only as good as your last piece of work.
Making the transition
By March 2017, five months after starting to work with Matt, I was earning a part-time income from freelancing. I had to register with HMRC and, with the new tax year approaching, I thought it wise to have a word with my employer. After all, they were going to find out eventually and, while my contract technically forbade me from working for other companies, it would at least explain to them why I was so damn tired all the time.
The company’s owner was super supportive, probably because he’d started out in a similar way himself. I asked whether I could drop down to part-time hours so that I could continue to grow my freelance work, but my line manager refused my request and so I tried to stick it out, working a full-time job while trying to build my freelance work to a full-time income.
That was a bad idea. Burnout is real, and as someone who already suffers from mental health problems, I realised that if I didn’t act quickly, everything was going to come crashing down. I also realised that I couldn’t work enough hours to earn two full-time incomes – and that I couldn’t stick it out until I earned the equivalent each month as a freelancer.
So at the start of April, six months after taking on my first client, I handed in my notice. It was kind of ironic – one of the main reasons why I wanted to go freelance was because of their lack of flexibility, and their refusal to allow me to work part-time is what led me to leave for good, much quicker than I otherwise might have done.
My notice period was two months, and those two months were hell. Still, I never regretted my decision, partly because it was the day job that was wearing me out. When I worked for my clients in the evening, I felt refreshed, even enthusiastic. When you’re working 14 hour days, it’s a surprise to be enthusiastic about anything.
I’d love to tell you that I had loads of adventures in those two months, but the truth is that I spent them in front of my computer screen. Still, I was clearing two thirds of my salary and by the time that I started freelancing full-time at the start of June, I had five grand in the bank and my last month of wages to keep me going. In the end, I managed to stretch those wages out to cover two months to delay withdrawing from the business, thanks mostly to lower travel and sustenance expenses from having to head into the office.
I’ve been freelancing full-time since the start of June, and I’m just approaching the end of my second month. So far, all of those fears about taking on enough clients and making enough money have been unfounded – in fact, the biggest challenge has been to get the work done in the first place. I haven’t applied for any new work since going full-time because my existing client-base has been more than happy to fill my hours.
As a writer, it’s a dream come true. I get to pick who I work with and what jobs I take on, and over my first two months I took in over 30% more than I was being paid when working for someone else. I can pick my hours, save time by avoiding lengthy commutes and pointless meetings, and when it’s hot I can work in just a pair of shorts with a massive fan right next to me. And if that sounds unprofessional then let me tell you, it’s a hell of a lot easier to write killer copy when you’re not sweaty and uncomfortable. I should know.
One of my favourite things about freelancing is the diversity. I write for sole traders and big conglomerates, Americans and Europeans and even for a popular YouTube channel where my scripts are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people every week. I’m even ghost-writing two different non-fiction books – I’m getting paid to write books for other people in the daytime, then writing books of my own in the night-time. My eighteen-year-old self would be so proud.
PeoplePerHour has been a huge part of the journey for me, but I’d be lying if I said it was my primary source of income. The truth is that no individual source forms over 30% of my income, and while PeoplePerHour is one of the key tools in my toolbox, it needs to be augmented by other income streams.
If the site closed its doors tomorrow then I could survive. That’s a good thing, because no freelancer worth their salt would put all of their eggs in one basket. You have to diversify your income streams so that no matter what happens, you’ll be able to stay afloat.
But I wouldn’t be happy. Like Matt Goolding was my first ever client, PeoplePerHour was my first ever freelancing site. It helped to pay the bills in the early days, and it still forms an important part of my daily life as a freelancer. But it’s more than that.
PeoplePerHour has a community, and other websites can’t compete with it. It’s like going to a local diner where everyone knows your name instead of going to McDonald’s and being served by a teenage robot. And when I’m hiring talent myself, it’s the first site I turn to.
This is my story. Now it’s time for you to go and work on yours.
About the Author:
Dane Cobain (High Wycombe, UK) is a published author, freelance writer, poet and (occasional) musician with a passion for language and learning.
When he’s not working on his next release, he can be found reading and reviewing books for his award-winning book blog, SocialBookshelves.com, while trying not to be distracted by Wikipedia. Find out more at www.dane-writes.com and www.danecobain.com.
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