Vivid images of old age and senility besieged my mind when I was reluctantly bumped into the ranks of senior citizen over a year ago. Father Time had caught me napping, and I still hadn’t answered that recurring question of years: “Am I doing what I want to do, or settling for what I am doing?”
With three-score years behind me and, hypothetically, only 10 remaining, I handed in my notice (procrastination finally out the window) and opted for life as a freelance writer, editor and proofreader. My retirement savings screamed ‘foolish’, but my inner-self urged ‘go for it’.
I don’t have a fantastic success story to relate (I am still working on that), but my experiences might highlight some points to consider if you choose to become your own boss.
Having no routine floored me and I was consumed by guilt when I wasn’t working. I established a daily schedule to ground me and give me purpose.
2. Action plan
I am notorious for taking the longest route (aka getting lost), so an action plan for me was a given. The plan doesn’t always work, but it gives me direction.
3. Business administration
I learned the importance of admin the hard way, and probably lost work opportunities by being unprepared. I subsequently compiled a short profile, obtained my tax clearance and BEE certificates, and designed business cards and templates (letterhead, invoice, quotation). I am still configuring a spreadsheet to record and track projects and payments (for all the work I anticipate). Thankfully, as I had established my CC in 2005, I had my taxes and accountant all sorted.
A great deal of time went into this strategy. It was, and still is, a big challenge. I envy the youngsters’ remarkable ability to master technology.
- I joined LinkedIn and Facebook and hope to soon become more than a fence sitter. The choice of social media tools is mindboggling and I need extra courage to venture out further. I will get there…
- I joined the Southern African Freelancers Association (SAFREA) and the Professional Editors’ Group (PEG). What an excellent decision. I glean so much information from the discussions, the advice and the exchange of ideas. It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone.
- Setting up my website was extremely stressful. I agonised over every word, sentence, line and heading. Meta data, tags and search engine optimisation (SEO) still await me, but slowly does it. I go through periods of extreme anxiety about being so publicly exposed. Could it be a senior citizen thing?
- I started writing and preparing posts for my blog. (I am never satisfied and rewrite everything over and over – practice makes perfect.)
5. Developing skills
I had two existing clients but they weren’t enough to keep me busy all the time, so I researched topics to improve my skills. I soaked up loads of information. There is always something new to learn.
6. Determining rates
This was a tough hurdle. The surveys conducted by the Association of Language and Media Practitioners (LAMP) and SAFREA served as a useful guide, and discussions on the Safrea and PEG email forums enlightened me further. I have not resolved the issue completely, but I have a clearer idea of costing.
7. Self-analysis and assessment
I spent hours tracking the time it took me to write, edit and proofread documents. I use the information to calculate costs, determine work schedules, and time management. I know how much work I can accomplish in a day and how far I can push myself.
At first I envied fellow freelancers’ successes, they all seemed so busy. Where were they finding the work? There’s no room for depression, self-pity and despair in freelancing. My age (wince) gives me the advantage of some wisdom – patience, perseverance and self-belief play a major role in success. Get your attitude right and follow through with point 9.
9. Take action
It’s a tough world out there, with freelancers aplenty. But people are making it, so there is work. Make the effort to go out and find it because it won’t fall into your lap.
10. Lessons learned
Know your market, know your job, know your strengths and weaknesses, and keep developing your skills. Set realistic goals for yourself and be patient, passionate, determined, competent and professional. Don’t ever doubt your capabilities – you can do it.
Now that I am more comfortable in my role as freelancer, and my basic marketing tools are in place, it is time for me to get a slice of the action.