Diary of a First Time Freelancer

Diary of a First Time Freelancer

Graduate turned freelance writer, Harry Cunningham learns about the need to diversify in the second part of his diary

Week 6: A period of reflection

The first article I ever sold was an interview with the late Iain Banks. I was seventeen and getting that first pay cheque was a massive deal. I was so excited and for a while I contemplated going straight into freelancing when I left college. But in the end I caved in and went off to university, continuing to freelance alongside my studies. The reason for this was that my college offered very little support for those who wanted to start their own business or work as a freelancer. The college careers advisors could not really help me when it came to questions about tax and what my employment rights were nor did I really have any kind of mentor who could assist me with where to find work or how to write a successful pitch. University gave me the luxury of time and space and as it happened they were far better equip to advise me on how to market myself and start earning money, they even arranged for IPSE to visit the university. 

Why am I reflecting on all this? Because this week, I’ve decided to diversify. In order to add a bit of variation and extra income to my freelance work, I’ve begun to tutor a student because I do believe that when you’re starting out you need to keep experimenting to decide where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Like I was when I published that interview, my student is on the cusp of making big decisions about her life. 

Week 7: Learning the hard way

I’m onto my second session of tutoring now. I’ve definitely underestimated the amount of extra work outside the sessions that I need to put in – I can’t just wing it – and I need to make sure my tutee is well furnished with notes. In the past I thought teaching could be a career option, but after living the reality I think I’ve learned that teaching is not for me, long term. This will probably be the only student I take on for the time being but I would never have known that if I hadn’t dived straight in at the deep end. 

In other news the magazine world is moving slowly. The responses I’ve received to pitches, even when they are positive, trickle in. I do, though, get my third commission for the history magazine, a tricky one that requires research into specific archives and records, but I manage it. 

One positive development is that one of the contributors to that magazine is also the editor of a similar publication. I pitch to him and he offers me a slot in his magazine but warns me it will be quite a few months in the future so he can’t formally commission me yet. 

Week 8: A dip in success

Another week tinged with rejections, which are coming in fast now. A big magazine responded saying they liked my idea but as there are only a few issues each year, the best they could do was offer to keep my idea on file and get back to me in the autumn. It’s something. Quite a few places told me straight they weren’t accepting freelancing contributions. At least I knew I hadn’t lost out due to poor ideas!

Week 9: Sticking to my guns

It was nice this week to see a few of the articles I referred to in my column before Christmas out in print. I was very happy with how they looked, but I can’t spend all day drooling over the talented work of the design department…

This week I’m also faced with one of the paradoxes of freelance writing – in order to secure a commission you have to be able to prove that you’re an expert in the subject you want to write about. But you can’t just write on one topic, you need a handful of regular magazines under your belt. This is a problem that has largely put a stop to me writing about film and technology, which I’d love to get into. A potential solution comes my way this week when a local art house cinema asks me to write some features on film for them. There’s just one problem: they want me to write for free. Well sort of, they have promised free cinema tickets. This raises a very thorny issue as I’ve always felt that I shouldn’t write for free. In the early days I wrote a fair few pieces for nothing but, once I’d got a handful of by-lines in the bag, I drew a line under it. Not only does it cheapen and denigrate the whole industry, it often means companies won’t pay you even when they have the budget as they know you are willing to work for nothing. This is a decision you are bound to face in the freelancing world, and it will be difficult. But ultimately it’s important to place value on the work that you do.

Week 10: Bingo

I may have hit the jackpot in more ways than one: £25 on the national lottery – not bad going at all – and a big potential project has come in. It involves ghost-writing a technology blog. There I was, bemoaning the fact I’d had little chance to write about gadgets and gizmos, and this drops into my lap. Somebody out there must have my back. The project hasn’t been finalised yet so I don’t want to jinx it but it would mean a really good weekly or monthly rate on top of the other magazines I write for, and the tutoring. It would be an amazing opportunity and it would mean that come the summer I can literally jet set off to anywhere in the world, barely digging into my savings. For someone who hasn’t even been on a plane before, this would be an amazing opportunity. Be sure to cross your fingers for me! 


Article by Harry Cunningham