Seaside to 9-to-5: is it easier to freelance in a city?

I have settled down…for now.

I can’t say I’m thrilled about it but moving to Sydney was a necessary evil for two reasons. Our friends (‘home friends’ no less) are living here and we hadn’t seen them for ages, but also my boyfriend needed to be in a city to find work.

Having grown up in London, I always thought I would hate being anywhere quieter because (probably a quote) it would be boring.

Whether I’ve grown old beyond my time or come to terms with the reality that cities aren’t all that great, I don’t know. I do know, though, that I miss the Sunny Coast! I miss swimming in the sea all the time and running along the water and seeing kangaroos and being in the sun every day.

That said, there are heaps of things I’m loving about Sydney too, and I definitely have a case of grass-is-always-greener-itus. I don’t think I ever really would have gotten used to leaving the gym at 8:30pm and being too late to go out for dinner. I am also enjoying the city vibe, constantly having something to do and the buzz I get from working around other people.

So, it has got me thinking: is it easier to freelance in the city?

I can’t speak for anyone else but, when I first started out, the words “freelance writer” would immediately conjure an image of a coconut-drinking, hammock-swinging, extremely tanned girl with a laptop.

The reality, however, is that most beaches don’t have plug sockets.

So, a beach is nice for a few hours, but it’s hardly a long-term arrangement. Also, if you read my last post…I hate writing in the sun.

I do like a change of scenery, though, so I try to work in a couple of different places every week – something that was difficult on the Sunny Coast because there wasn’t much public transport and all the cafes closed at 1.

The great thing about Sydney (and loads of other cities, I’m sure) is that there are loads of co-working spaces, cafes and other random places that are great for getting some work done.

Most of my clients are international, so I haven’t had the benefit of meeting them in person yet, but that would definitely be a factor if most of your clients were in one city.

At the risk of making this a very weak ending…I think it depends on how you work. I am (if you know me well, this might surprise you – it surprised me) definitely the kind of person who gets motivated by that city-life buzz and having a routine. So, for me, freelancing is easier in the city.

But it’s not as fun…

The best of both worlds?

Writing on the road

My first week of writing on the road turned out to be pretty disastrous.

Coming from the UK, I was completely and utterly naive in my judgement of the size of Australia. You look at a map and think somewhere looks close and it then turns out to be a very bumpy 5-hour drive away…

This manifested itself beautifully in my total loss of any phone or internet signal for the first 3 days of my trip. As someone with a slight aversion to social media, this would usually be a welcome change, but as someone with projects on the go, it was a major problem.

Thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have anything completely urgent due in those 3 days, I managed to get enough signal to message any clients who were expecting communication and explain my situation. Luckily for me, all my clients are fabulously understanding.

Lessons learned:

  1. When travelling, keep deadlines loose. Just in case.
  2. The roads get bumpier as you move further inland…meaning you will not be able to work!
  3. Research which places have coverage before setting off.
  4. Such places are limited outside the cities – Australia is HUGE.

This blissful 3 days with no signal was fantastic. I visited Carnarvon Gorge and stayed in a bush camp full of kangaroos, wallabies and porcupines. I even got to see some platypi – my new favourite animal.

It did, however, mean that I had to spend the next 2 days working solidly, but as I love my job that was a small price to pay.

That leads me to my bonus lesson learned:

  1. Factor in days specifically for working!

Despite my teething problems, working whilst road-tripping has been delightful.

I have seen a lot, experienced a lot and most certainly learned a lot. In fact, I have learnt so much that I might just write a blog about it…

Paint me like one of your French girls x

Freelancing in lockdown

When I arrived in Australia, I had some pretty wild ideas about freelancing. I’d work wherever I fancied, looking out at across the Great Barrier Reef, a pint of cold beer in my hand, without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, these ideas quickly faded for the following reasons:

  1. Lockdown meant I couldn’t just pop out whenever I fancied
  2. Beers are drunk in schooners over here (3/4 of a pint)
  3. The Great Barrier Reef is actually pretty far away from the coast

I could quickly get over points 2 and 3, but lockdown seriously impaired my ability to view my work as rewarding. There was something really lonely about being stuck in the same place all day – even though I was happy living with my boyfriend.

It probably didn’t’ help that we were 10,000 miles away from any other friends or family, and now could barely leave each other’s side!

The loneliness was to be expected, but I also found it surprisingly hard to disconnect from my work. Being always available meant I never told clients “I won’t be contactable for the next x amount of days” and I ended up being on call 24/7.

Having only these slight grievances, I feel extremely lucky to have encountered lockdown where I did. Even the names of the places I’ve been living bring me back to Earth with a pang of guilt whenever I feel a complaint coming on. How could I be anything less than thrilled about being stuck in Surfer’s Paradise or on the Sunshine Coast?!

Places have reopened and with each day I am more grateful to be in beautiful Queensland. I can now go to cafes to work if I’m feeling a spell of cabin fever coming on, and I have even managed to come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t get to see Melbourne any time soon.

A quick moment of silence for those in Victoria...

Overall, freelancing in Australia during COVID-19 has turned out better than I thought it would and I have been extremely fortunate. I have managed to spend a lot of time building my brand, leaving freelance sites behind and learning a few new skills on the side, too.

Now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I have even gone ahead and planned a road trip! I’m switching on-call 24/7 for on-road 24/7 and I couldn’t be happier.

Hopefully I’ll get to see the Great Barrier Reef soon!

My journey through the freelance marketplace

For anyone who isn’t clear, a ‘freelance marketplace’ is sort of like an online job board, where clients post one-off or long-term jobs and freelancers send a proposal to each client individually.

I first heard about the freelance marketplace midway through my post-uni supply chain job and immediately pictured myself in the infamous beach-writing scenario.

I applied that day.

And got rejected within 24 hours.

Well, that was it. I don’t have enough experience, I will leave it to the experts.

Then, one year later. Midway across the world (Vietnam to be precise) I bump into friend-of-a-friend who is just about finishing her travels.

We were out for pizza (experiencing the true Vietnamese cuisine) and she mentions her work freelancing, and it turns out she is on that very same marketplace!

Granted, she has much more experience, but this friend-of-a-friend-cum-guru encouraged me that I probably could do it.

A month later, after cutting my travels short and moving to Australia early (thanks, Corona) I was applying for ‘normal’ roles (in analytics, and definitely not freelancing) when my mind wandered back to that marketplace.

Having literally nothing to lose, I went back to my profile and put a bit more effort into it.

24 hours later I wake my very unimpressed boyfriend up “omg they accepted me!!!!” and there began my journey to freelance.

Anyone who knows these freelance marketplaces knows the – ahem – quality of many of the jobs on there. My first job paid $10 per article, which I accepted because it was writing about a topic that I loved.

This client became long-term, and gave me the stepping stone to charging what I was actually worth, and as instructed by aforementioned guru.

Selling myself out and accepting low-paid work to get a foot in the door is something I would never recommend to anyone, but, unfortunately, it is the expected reality in many industries.

Anyway, the holy grail of the early freelancer is the 5* reviews, which is what I really needed, rather than the $10 per article.

So, with a couple of 5* reviews to build myself some credibility, and enough pieces to build myself a portfolio, the freelance marketplace allowed me to actually earn a living for something I loved doing.

The marketplace itself offers many perks. They do all your invoicing for you, make sure the client pays, reward you for doing well and let you vet potential clients before sending them a proposal.

Although these are all great, the main benefit is the abundance of work on these sites. There is no way I would have had the time to cold-pitch even 1% of the clients that there are on these sites, and god knows what percentage of those would have led to actual work (with no portfolio, I might add).

That said, it is not without its drawbacks.

For every 1 client with a great job, there are 5 more wanting an expert developer with 10 years experience, 5 languages and a PhD in intergalactic travel, for $5 an hour.

Not only does this make the good clients harder to find, but it makes the competition on the good jobs much more fierce.

This is the reason that so many freelancers get sick of it. Not so much the fact that lower-quality jobs exist, but that there are people willing to do this type of work for such a low price.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hypocrisy of this statement – did I not just say that my first job paid a measly $10?

I get it. But, due to the volume of freelancers and the nature of the marketplace, this is one of your only options as a beginner.

Although necessary, this was my first red flag of freelance marketplaces.

After connecting with a few clients from my website, rather than from a marketplace, I have realised that I much prefer these types of relationships.

Although freelance marketplaces offer a fantastic stepping stone, ease of use and payment protection, the saturation of low-quality clients has ultimately put me off.

So, I have recently decided to move away from the marketplace that I started on (hence the blog) and I am very much enjoying where I’m at for now.

All thanks to guru, you know who you are x

Why I’ve decided to write

After finishing university, which included a one year placement, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in consumer insights.

Everyone who knew me well was pretty shocked by this revelation, after beginning my degree with the intention of becoming a clinical psychologist.

Nevertheless, working at Disney instilled in me a love of research that was firmly cemented when writing my dissertation. Combining my passion for understanding people with my interest in statistics seemed like a no-brainer.

That said, I have loved writing since primary school (literally, although all my stories back then were about orphans becoming rich) and have always wondered in the back of my mind, ‘what if?’.

Also in the back of my mind was my commitment to fulfilling my dream of almost 10 years: move to Australia. This dream was so certain that it was even shared with my boyfriend early doors (“I am moving to Australia in a few years by the way, please come with me. But, if you don’t, I’m still going”).

While planning my move, he wanted to travel for a few months on the way (seemed like a fair deal), so we ended up leaving in December 2019, with no clue as to the carnage about to be unleashed on the world.

My goal was still to get insights contracts but, when Coronavirus struck, we cut our travels short and arrived in Australia the day they shut their borders. We were very lucky, but any prospect of being choosey about work completely disintegrated.

Moving to Australia amid a pandemic sounds like something only a crazy person would do, and I am definitely not the hedonist that the idea conjures up. But, here I was, no longer with much chance of getting a role in insights, but still with a passion for writing.

I won’t lie, freelance writing is not something I thought would be possible for me. Not only do I lack the (what I thought were) necessary qualifications, but I also did not think anyone would ever want to pay for my writing. This imposter syndrome is something I have learnt that practically everyone in creative industries face at some point.

The idea of sitting on the beach and writing was (obviously) very appealing, but I always felt like it was a saturated market. The ones who had got in early were the lucky ones who became successful, and there was no point in anyone else trying now.

But, that tiny ‘what if’ became a little bit stronger when mandatory isolation forced me to stop.

The ‘what if’ became a slightly less rhetorical question and I began to come up with actual, real answers.

I LOVE writing.

I’m actually OK at it.

I won’t have to commute.

I won’t have to sit at the same desk from 9-5, 5 days a week.

I can do it anywhere. If I keep it going, I can travel for longer!

If I don’t do it now, I will be forever stuck in the commercial world (that I hate, no offence commercial world).

So, I took the plunge when I got to Australia with dwindling savings, less than perfect employment prospects and nothing to lose, and I can honestly say that I haven’t looked back.

Watch this space x