Deciding to go freelance can be daunting. But, as Monisha Rajesh found, with solid support and faith in your talents carving a freelance career is possible
When I first told my friends that I was going freelance, they had two responses: one was that my move was incredibly brave, and the second, was that it was a euphemism for lying in bed watching the Jeremy Kyle Show and sitting in coffee houses. The second is as far from the truth as possible. I’m so aware that my career and livelihood lie in no one’s hands but mine, that I’m out of bed, on the phone and in front of my computer by 9.30am – like everyone else in the industry.
Two years ago I finished a post-graduate diploma in magazine journalism and joined the features desk of a magazine. I worked with some of the most wellrespected names in the industry and was lucky to have been so well-trained in my first job.
However, I felt restless and irritable. To feed my brain I took on side projects and found I enjoyed them more than my actual work. To worsen the situation, my salary was disgraceful. After tax, on an hourly basis, my cleaner was earning more – so I took the plunge and resigned.
That day I rang five old colleagues and told them what I had done. They all responded with the utmost support, excitement and encouragement, but in parental fashion, told me to pitch ideas immediately and let as many people as possible know that I was going to be available for work.
By the end of the week I had arranged meetings with three features editors to show them my portfolio and spent every evening after work coming up with ideas.
From early on, I was told to always keep my options open, and it’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice. It’s very easy to get tagged as a trade journalist, a real-life writer, or a sub-editor, and I was determined not to fall into any bracket.
It’s made me more employable as I can spread myself across a huge variety of publications and I have a colourful portfolio of cuts ranging from an interview with a voodoo priest to a feature on the Ashes centenary test match.
The day after I left my job, an old boss asked me to cover some shifts at a daily newspaper, which was an excellent start on the freelancing path.
I spread myself thin, saying yes to everything and delivering as much as humanly possible. I learned that no one expects you to produce all the answers every single time, but you need to at least try to come close.
I made sure I approached wellknown, talented journalists for advice – which they were more than happy to give – after all they had all been at my level in the past.
I left exhausted every evening, and found it difficult to unwind. Staying ahead of the game and being the first to stories is of paramount importance and I find myself lying awake at night thinking of feature ideas.
There are moments where I become agitated by the unavoidable annoyances of freelancing: filing tax returns, chasing up invoices, having no access to Lexis Nexis and occasionally longing for the comforting buzz of an office environment.
But a staff job is limiting if, like me, you enjoy variety and relish the chance to write about everything from the rebirth of burlesque to the debate on cannabis.
Carving a career path from freelancing is wholly plausible as long as you have a solid support network of contacts who are familiar with your style and willing to recommend you to their contacts. If you have faith in your own talent and abilities, and persist through the rejection, the first big commission will make it all worthwhile.