Going it alone: My freelance story

Ellen Forster

In February, I celebrated my one-year freelance anniversary! 

I’ve discussed my path to self-employment before, so I won’t go into it in much detail here. I will say that I went freelance after quitting my job in Syndey to return to the frozen North East coast and care for my Mam, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. A very specific and personal scenario that (I hope) you can’t really relate to, so I never really had to make the whole “should I or shouldn’t I quit my job?” decision as that choice was already made for me by my circumstances.

Back in January ’18, I was made redundant from a job I had put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into. Quite honestly, I had no idea what to do/think/say for the following six weeks, as the role had completely taken over my life and made its way into my bones. Because I was so obsessed by the job, I turned a blind eye to a horrible company culture of bullying, gaslighting and sexism.

For many people, a redundancy or firing is their gateway to a freelance career. However, we already had plans to travel South East Asia and Australia in summer ‘18, so I knew I had to get a few consistent paychecks under my belt to fund the inevitable Chang and pad thai-infused latter half of the year.

I went to work in-house at a holiday operator here in the North East. For three months, I listened to hundreds of hours of murder podcasts and write thousands of words of blog copy, created landing pages and advised on content strategy. I made some pretty great friends but I never got too deep through fear of returning to the traumatic obsession of my last role. Then one day I handed in my notice, we packed our bags and embarked on the trip of a lifetime. 

About six months into travelling, money got tight so I signed up for UpWork. I was actively making YouTube videos for friends and family back home to see what we got up to, and I’d become increasingly passionate about veganism, sustaining travel and other environmental issues. I picked up a few (very low paying) blogging jobs to keep me busy while in Bali. This sparked a keen interest in writing for interesting businesses and managing my own workload. 

Upon landing in Sydney, I took on a marketing role at a training company in the nearby suburb of Paramatta. The role was fine, if a little boring, but the commute was terrible so, when a Digital Producer role at the country’s largest funeral provider came along, I snapped at the chance. When I handed in my notice at the training company, I pitched the idea of working part-time from home (evenings and weekends) until they could hire someone else and they agreed. All of a sudden, I had my first retainer.

Craig and Ellen at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney

The next role was pretty all-consuming, as I was left virtually alone over Christmas and New Year in the peak-Sydney summer sunshine to develop, create and build a brand new website for the brand. Since I had minimal support, I learned a lot about content design, UX and web design – opening my eyes to near opportunities to expand my freelance offering.

Then in mid-January 2019, I received the fateful phone call that would change my life forever. I went into work to tell my (amazing and lovely) boss that I’d be flying home to the UK the following Sunday and, if they wanted, I’d finish the website from home. They agreed and off I went back to my hometown with two sources of income to keep my going while looking after my Mam.

I registered self-employed in February ‘19 but didn’t start putting myself out there until my Mam’ passed away in April and I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands. The first thing I did was revitalise my Linkedin profile and inform past employers and industry peers that I was available for work.

I also worked very hard to develop my own personal brand, under the moniker Content By The Sea. Over the last 14 months, I have narrowed my service offering to copywriting, content strategy and web design  – rather, I no longer offer social media or general marketing services unless part of a retainer where content is the main output. 

Moving forward, I’m working on monetising some training I’ve been actively delivering through a few networking groups, with particular focus on Linkedin and content marketing advice for small businesses.  

All in all, it’s been a tough but amazing ride. Financially, I have had probably one ‘quiet’ month since launching Content By The Sea and I’ve never struggled to pay my bills. However, I don’t have children or any other financial dependents and my mortgage is relatively small, so I am very fortunate in that regard.

There is never a ‘right’ time to go freelance and, for many of us, our hands are forced towards the self-employed life. Be it through mental health struggles or redundancy, I expect many people will be considering a career change in a post-pandemic world as we’ve become all-too-comfortable with working from home without managers spying over our shoulders and all of the other freedoms that come from not working for someone else. So, here’s my story – and I want to hear yours! You’ll find me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea.