I often get questions about my work – and a lot of questions about going freelance.
I went freelance when I started and, even though it’s the most nerve-wracking thing at first, there are also a lot of positive and interesting things about it. And when I talk about it with my other freelance friends, I realize we all started the same way – by asking around anxiously about how to do it, and learning as we went along.
So I thought it would be cool to do a little series for you on the topic, starting today with Hayley!
Hayley Phelan | Freelance Fashion Journalist
“I went freelance in December of last year after working as a full-time writer and editor at online and print fashion titles such as Fashionista and Lucky – and it’s been the scariest and the best thing I ever did. On the one hand, it’s terrifying not knowing what your next job will be or where your next paycheck will come from – but it’s also incredibly exhilarating.
Over the months, I’ve learned to cultivate faith that everything will work out. When one gig ends, and you don’t have anything immediately lined up, you have to know something else will come along. Because it always, always does. You also have to get used to the feast or famine aspect of it. I don’t know why but deadlines always seem to fall within a few days of each other and then, after I’ve been working non-stop for a week, I’ll find myself on a Thursday with nothing pressing to do at all.
When I first started being freelance, it was those quiet days that stressed me out the most – more even than my busy days, when I had a bunch of projects due. But I’ve finally learned to enjoy and really take advantage of those random days off. Sometimes I’ll take a pottery class and noodle around in the studio for hours, or go for a long run up the West Side Highway, or even get a massage midday at this absurdly cheap Chinatown place I’m obsessed with.
What I would say about being freelance is that it’s a roller coaster; the ups are more up and the downs or more down. I think that’s because when you’re freelance, it all falls on your shoulders. So, when you succeed, the credit is all yours, but when you fail, you only have yourself to blame. Even though that sounds intense, it’s actually incredibly liberating because I’m only accountable to myself. Which, for me at least, has turned out to be incredibly motivating! Especially as a writer, it’s extremely rewarding to get to work on a wider variety of projects and topics I’m passionate about, and have more control over what I spend my time on.
I don’t know if I’ll be freelancer forever but, for right now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Why did you decide to go freelance?
I’d always wanted to go freelance but never had the guts to actually do it. When Lucky began making the transition to an ecommerce platform, my role as Fashion Features Editor on the print side was eliminated right around Thanksgiving. I figured, okay, if there’s any time to give this freelance thing a real go, it’s now.
What are your tips for seeking freelance jobs?
In terms of working with completely new editors and titles, it’s important to take time to craft a really excellent pitch. But most of my jobs get passed along by people I’ve already worked for. The best way to build a good freelance career is to do good work! And, especially in the beginning, don’t turn down jobs you think are too small – use them to practice and give yourself a platform.
How do you approach negotiating your fee for a job?
I am incredibly grateful to Lauren Sherman and John Ortved–two freelance writer friends–who let me pester them endlessly with questions about how much to charge (among many other things!).
Don’t be shy to ask friends and peers for advice and help (John and Lauren have also both proofread and edited pitches for me), and then be confident in what you’re asking to charge. If negotiations ensue, don’t take it personally. It’s all about coming to a fair price for both.
Have you ever needed to extend a deadline? How did you handle that?
Unfortunately, yes. But not too often! Editors usually understand if you need an extra day or so if the story isn’t terribly urgent, and especially if you’ve been waiting on quotes or responses from sources. I try not to make excuses – I usually just explain the situation and see what we can do.
Your best tip for staying motivated when working alone…
A change of environment always helps. I usually work from home, but if I’m lagging behind on a project I’ll go to the NYU Library to power through. I don’t even bring my computer – I’ll use the library’s, which keeps me from ‘accidentally’ ending up on all my fun bookmarked pages.