I recently had a conversation with someone in her late thirties about my post-university writing career. I rattled off the well-practised ramble about my various part-time jobs, my interning experience, my forays into industry networking and my current attempts at freelancing. Her kindly suggestion to my laments of the difficulty in being a fledgling freelancer was:
‘Have you thought about working full-time to get some experience before you become a freelancer?’
She didn’t understand why I laughed. Her assumption that I was freelancing by choice shows the deep misunderstanding the generation above mine has of the job market available to a young person today. To her, a person almost 15 years my senior, a freelancer is someone who doesn’t want to work within a traditional workplace format. While the thought of working from my laptop at a chocolate cafe at 2pm on a Thursday in my overalls does sound delightful, the reality of “being your own boss” is exhausting, at best.
As a writer in her early twenties, I’m familiar with the idea of struggling to find work. Being young and working in the arts is a double whammy of likely unemployment and, as such, even unpaid internships are highly sought after, with some positions having hundreds of applicants desperate for experience to pad their portfolios. Even if we start building our CV’s during our studies, there are only a handful of opportunities to get a foot in the door.
If we had more experience, freelancing might be a different story altogether. There are companies that hire freelancers, of course. I’ve heard tales of their existence. However, they tend to hire those with decades of work and qualifications under their belt and it’s not so much of a rotating door when the companies have no reason to hire writers they’ve never worked with before–especially those with scant paid work experience history.
These obstacles to finding permanent employment are the main reasons many freshly graduated writers turn to freelancing, but it has its own pitfalls. There is obviously a great deal of self-promotion involved in finding your own work and like many people my age, I have a generous dose of social anxiety that makes marketing myself painfully uncomfortable. I’ve had some success in finding work through connections with other freelancers, but since many of my colleagues are my age and not in a position where they can afford to pay for services, jobs are few and far between.
Fortunately, I’ve used the internet for most of my life and the notion of adapting my use of it to find work is an attractive one. Unfortunately, that presents its own problems. One of my first steps into freelancing (other than bothering everyone I know with handmade business cards and trying to figure out how LinkedIn worked) was to sign up to freelancing sites such as Airtasker, Freelancer and Upwork. The websites function like so: the client posts a job and a price range and the freelancers then ‘bid’ on the jobs with a price and time frame.
Being able to see the dozens of offers makes it abundantly clear that if I demand to be paid what my time is worth, I will not get any work. Freelancing websites allow anyone to sign up, so there is nothing prohibiting desperate amateurs from posting extremely low offers—for example, $13 to write or edit a 2500-word article in one day. These websites have one priority: to streamline the process of clients getting their work completed. The process of a client finding the cheapest price for their work is shortened, but there’s no guarantee of high quality work and no opportunity to build a client-writer relationship.
The internet is an invaluable tool for freelancers: it allows us to communicate more efficiently with our clients, to speed up the exchange of revisions and drafts and to market ourselves to a wider audience. The opportunities it opens up to freelancers is endless and although it seems at times that I am aimlessly floating in a sea of infinite competitors, it is simply a matter of navigating the right channels and to never stop swimming.
So while an older passer-by might see me on my phone at a cafe, watching ruefully as I seemingly squander my time, they may decide to offer me career advice that involves the words, ‘Just go out and …’, I’ll be emailing publishers, collaborating on creative projects and developing my skills—from my phone—to make sure I have the best shot at a fulfilling career. Even if that means still needing seven full minutes to answer the question, ‘So, what do you do?’
Adara Enthaler is the Media and Marketing Coordinator for South Coast Writers Centre, and the Kids Program and Social Media Coordinator for Wollongong Writers Festival. She is a freelance writer and editor, having formerly worked for Grand Parade Poets and Spineless Wonders, and in her spare hours is a professional performance poet.