After months of psyching myself up, I made the move from employed copywriter to freelancer in February this year. In hindsight, this was absolutely terrible timing. After a few exciting weeks of new opportunities, everything came crashing down around me (like so many others) mid-March. I’ve fallen completely through the cracks of any government support and the few months I’d previously assigned to networking, building up contacts and showing my worth on test briefs were nothing more than empty pages in a diary. Truth be told, it was terrifying. But a few weeks in, things started to get better. This blog is about how.
First things first: overcoming paralysis
The first major challenge wasn’t necessarily the lack of work – I’d been prepared for a few quiet weeks while I built up a network – but the change in strategy. This was compounded by a change in emotions. Almost overnight, excitement and anticipation had switched to fear, confusion and guilt that, with a financially secure husband, I was still in a better position than many others. Together, these circumstances felt paralysing. There was greater pressure than ever to find work, but networking had been reduced to online messaging and when you don’t know if the company or client you’re contacting is struggling or in a position of strength, sending messages selling yourself becomes uncertain and hard. But out of paralysis came some coping mechanisms that ended up being of help, which I will share here.
Create a semblance of structure
If you, like me, are used to being busy then suddenly finding yourself with a never-ending stretch of free time can be daunting. I quickly slipped out of any kind of work-like routine and would often find myself showering at 6pm, resulting in a day spent glued to my phone and not feeling like I’d achieved anything. Creating a structure, however, gives you something to work towards and keeps you feeling busy, even if it’s not the busyness you’re used to. Now I plan out a list of actions every week in a diary. Most of them are small, seemingly insignificant, tasks – from updating my LinkedIn status on a particular day to cutting the grass on the next – but they give me purpose and a sense of achievement. Which leads to my next point.
Small is significant – chip away at the useful tasks
If you’re going to structure your day, you need to decide on what tasks or action you will take. Like many creatives, I can be shy – so networking has always been the scariest thing about freelancing. But building up a bank of contacts, from clients to agencies to other freelancers, is an essential part of this way of life. However, without the option of suggesting a coffee or popping into an office or even attending a talk, networking turned into a terrifying and insurmountable task. In my race to replace the face-to-face, all my time became dedicated to social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook – and that just made everything worse. Sending out LinkedIn requests or messages can be a thankless task. Waiting for a notification that never comes, likewise. So, I reined it in. If I did just one day of networking a week, that was enough. I removed social media apps from my phone, so I had to sit down at a desk and open my laptop to engage. This automatically started structuring my days into ‘work’ time and free time. And by taking away the pressure of having to network with as many people as quickly as possible, I’ve regained my confidence on LinkedIn and in Facebook groups, which in turn makes networking easier. Starting with small goals adds up to achieving larger ones.
Work on what you’d want to work on if there wasn’t a global apocalypse
With freelancing made automatically into an even more competitive field, it’s important to keep your skills up. As a copywriter, that means I need to keep writing – whether I’m being paid for it or not. That’s where blogs like these come in. But more than that – there’s a real opportunity to work on what you genuinely would love to work on. There’s a lot of talk about the pressure to use this time to achieve some far-fetched aspiration, from painting a masterpiece to learning a new language, but that’s not what I mean here. Instead, I’m looking at the time professionally. What would be the dream writing job to land on my desk, and how would I approach it if it did? So, I’ve been working on that. It keeps my hand in at writing, while being something that I’m motivated to do because it’s enjoyable. So, when I had a couple of days of ‘real’ work come in, I was able to tackle it with confidence – not feeling rusty or panicked or under the undue pressure I’d be feeling when coronavirus first turned our lives upside down. I’ve essentially written a brief for myself, to keep me working until external briefs come in. It really helps.
And lastly: don’t beat yourself up
It shouldn’t need saying really, but too often it does. This pandemic has affected us all – it’s scary, it’s hard. But you don’t need to make things harder by putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to achieve big things. Regroup, start small, build yourself up again – and above all, don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding things tough. Giving yourself some space makes finding work for not-usually-idle hands a much easier and, ultimately, confidence-boosting task.
My name is Lorna Burrows and I am a professional copywriter, daydreamer and inexpert piano player living in Norwich, Norfolk. I’ve been working as a freelance writer since February 2020, following a 10 year career spanning roles as an editor, copywriter and Head of Content across agencies and studios – where I’ve worked on all sorts of brands from Barclays to Aviva, Mazda to the Imperial War Museum, and Harrods to Harley Davidson. I love writing, I’ve always loved writing – I wrote my first ‘book’ (a felt-tip penned effort with the pages glued backwards) when I was five years old. Now I am in the process of redrafting my first novel which – now coronavirus has brought the world to a standing stop – I have unexpectedly more time to do. In between, I enjoy reading and dog-walking.