RMIT Gazette: Freelancing For Life

Nikki Russian  

Image credit: Justin Palmieri

Freelance living

The freelance masterclass kicked off with Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, Catherine Bouris and Bri Lee sharing how they manage their freelance careers. “I freelance to build my profile and income,” Bri said. “You need to try to reach a sweet spot between pitching, writing and freelancing.”

Freelancing also means pencilling in weekends for a breather; clients don’t always understand that you need time off and it’s not uncommon for parents and friends to treat your work hours as inconclusive. The best way to combat this is to stick to your work hours. “You can’t have a midday brunch with your mum on a Wednesday,” Giselle said, “and when she calls you during work hours, you need to insist that you are working.” It was only when Bri signed a book deal that her relatives respected her work. “Some freelancers will never write a book and don’t want to and that doesn’t make [their work] not legit,” Giselle said. And with print publications going out of print, digital bylines are becoming more common.

The business

“You are now your own business,” BAS agent and bookkeeper Sam Ryan began. “Take responsibility for organising your money and admin. Get a totally separate bank account just for business. Use a number system for your invoices and for the love of god don’t find an accountant on Airtasker!”

Sam explained how creating a budget serves to work out how much we need to earn as a freelancer, rather than how much we can spend. “You still have to pay tax and super of your own income either quarterly or yearly and it’s the income left over that you’re living on.”

“Freelancing is hard … [but] it’s a great feeling to be your own boss. Learn as much as you can from those around you and reward yourself when you get it right.”

 Content and copywriting in corporate markets

Robbie Arnott described himself as one of the bad guys—he works in advertising. “Nobel Prize winners have started as copywriters,” Robbie quipped. Penny Modra, a copywriter who has worked as an arts journalist, acknowledges that paid journalism is rapidly decreasing: “I was supplementing my income with copy and corporate writing.”

“There’s an emotional distance to copywriting, it’s a different type of thinking,” said Emily Laidlaw, a tender writer for a corporate agency who has written editorial for the arts industry. “Coming from an arts environment, I just assumed everyone can write; that it was nothing special,” she said. “They really can’t.”

“Don’t let job ads put you off as something you can’t do because you’re not working in that field. I had to think, I’m a trained editor and writer—I know how to communicate properly. You just have to know how to extract what the client wants.” Once those sporadic jobs come puttering through your email, what are you—and your writing—worth? “No lower than 50 an hour for those starting out,” Penny said. “That’s the baseline.”

“If you’re good at writing and commercial writing, you’re quite rare,” Penny said. She advised to treat every piece of writing as your best writing, even if you’re not passionate about the content. “Every piece has to represent you. People do see your writing.”

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