by Amy Hatton
Especially in difficult economic times, the thought of giving up a regular salary to follow a dream can seem daunting. However, the rewards can turn out to be well worth the risk. Chief Executive turned Freelance Writer Amy Hatton shares her story.
I still remember the moment when I realised how dissatisfied I was with my life. I was driving to work, having dropped my (then) 5-year-old daughter at Breakfast Club. I was a little earlier than usual and the route took me right past her school. And there she was…my sweet little girl, lunchbox clutched in hand, trailing into school as part of the obligatory “crocodile” formation. Without me.
During my years of full time employment I was lucky enough to find excellent childcare providers whom I trusted. But the intense pang of passing my own child in the street, not even aware that I was just 20 feet away from her, hit me that morning as it had never done before. I thought about how many other experiences in her day I also wasn’t a part of. I thought of all the concerts and open days when somebody else had to go in my place – of the mornings fraught with alarms and rushed breakfasts and scrabbling to get out of the door, just because I had to be at work early. I saw a precious childhood disappearing too quickly –and I wasn’t playing the role in it that I wanted or thought I should have.
Sometimes creating choices means taking chances
During those years, life felt more like an obligation than a choice. I worked in order to care for my daughter. But in providing for her, I also denied us both. So much of the week involved the compulsory, the necessary and the required. It wasn’t much fun. What’s more, neither was my job. Embroiled in a culture of complex workplace politics, I found myself charged with a role that demanded not only my time, but my entire headspace. Switching off wasn’t an option.
There is only so much the human condition can take. The result? A swift resignation, a good deal of soul searching, and a healthy dose of good old fashioned fate…
In the days after I resigned I began to panic. How could I have been so irresponsible? However, the practicalities remained. So I started to look online for home working options. Most of them seemed like non-starters, but one search result piqued my interest:
“Earn income as a writer: Work from home”
Hang on…writing. I could do that! I knew I could write and I had an English degree. In all honesty I had no idea how to go about it, but something about this idea seemed worth holding onto. So I began to build my case. I backtracked over my whole career and compiled a portfolio of everything I had ever written that might be considered decent. I signed up with every freelancing site I could find. Most importantly, I went through my address book and shamelessly contacted everyone I could think of who might conceivably be interested, to tell them of my intentions. Then I worried: A lot.
The first steps: Starting out isn’t easy
It took some months to even begin to get on my feet. During that time I became an expert in juggling funds. I learnt how to handle creditors when the wolf was at the door. I sold anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down to put food on the table. I experimented (not always successfully) with budget recipes. I turned charity shopping into an art form. My daughter never went hungry, but I certainly did more than once.
There’s one thing I didn’t do very much though – and that was sleep.
The worry of not having a certain income to fall back on was almost unbearable. But I felt compelled to stick with it, through a combination of desperately wanting to be my own boss, and even more desperately not wanting to look stupid. Then one day, my first commission came in.
It wasn’t a big job: re-writing a CV for a paltry sum. Nonetheless it gave me the boost I needed to carry on. Soon after that, I started to get calls from the feelers I had previously put out. Could I help with a local magazine? Could I provide the content for a website? Delighted, I began to take on work and to learn the art of delivering for my clients. Even more excitingly they began to come back to me, and to recommend me to others. All of a sudden I seemed to be in demand!
New career, new choices, new freedom
Three years later, I find myself at the back end of a whirlwind. The first year was tough financially. The second brought more work than I could cope with, and saw me working regularly during the night to keep up the pace without missing out on time with my daughter. By year three, I had become more confident in my ability and started to command a sensible rate for a more balanced workload. Most importantly, the work is now coming in so regularly that I can viably call this my career, not just an experiment.
Now, I am a full time writer. I edit a prominent business magazine. I have been published in the broadsheets and city newspapers. I get calls most days from somebody in need of my services. Most importantly, I have the freedom and flexibility to be there for my daughter whenever she needs me. I even take half a day off each week to spend with her after school. It makes for a heavier working day during the rest of the week – but the fact that I can choose to do that without having to answer to anyone is more precious to me than anything else.
Being your own boss is never easy. Cash flow is inevitably feast and fallow. The workload is unpredictable – to maintain loyal clients they have to know you can deliver when they need it. The way I see it, it’s about priorities. If you want the regular income and the predictability I wouldn’t recommend my path. Many people might think me very irresponsible to reject employment in the way that I did. But for me, looking back and knowing what I know now, my journey could never have taken me any other way…