The Realities of Freelance Life: Ruth Poundwhite
I’ve only had a ‘multi-hyphen career’ for a a few months now, but I’ve absolutely loved the mix of things I’ve been working on. From working with authors directly to getting involved with a small publisher, it’s been so interesting to approach what I love from two very different angles.
I still love being in house, but I also have a daydream of working for myself full time one day. So, with that long-term goal in mind, I’ve been speaking to a few freelancers about how they make it work. What about finances and being alone all day and nobody bringing in biscuits?
Today, I have Ruth Poundwhite on the blog. Ruth is a business mentor and podcaster who helps creatives get their product or message out into the world in a way that fits around their life and values. I am a huge fan of her podcast Creatively Human, so am delighted to have her sharing her story!
What made you decide to take a freelance route with your career?
I fell into freelancing writing partly by chance, partly by necessity. I had just finished university in 2008 in the middle of the credit crunch, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t find a job anywhere. Someone mentioned that I could try freelancing, so I searched on Google, found some adverts for website owners looking for copy, applied and got paid that same day. I found more work and decided it was better than looking for a job!
What elements make up your freelance income?
I was lucky when I first went freelance as I was young and still living with my parents, so I didn’t need to make a huge amount to live. At first I priced low and found it incredibly easy to find enough work to earn a basic living, but the amount of work I was doing was unsustainable, so I had to raise my prices. To be quite honest, writing like a machine led to burnout, so I also started looking for other ways to earn money.
I’d been writing for my own blog for around a year when I started freelancing, so I used the skills I learnt there to do web development and online marketing work for clients. I even created a few ready-made websites and sold them for a fixed fee. I also self-published a book about freelance writing – which is no longer available for sale – and I did make some money from that, but not enough to live off by far. I also created a course for freelancers looking to increase my income like I did, which is also no longer for sale. Let’s just say I’ve dabbled in lots of things! Eventually, I stopped freelancing and started managing a team of writers instead, so that increased my income potential even further.
What is the best thing about being self-employed?
I come from a family of self-employed people so I had always been used to having my parents around, and taking time off when other families couldn’t. I certainly took that for granted growing up, but I am now so, so grateful that I don’t need to work to a traditional schedule. When I first went freelance, I used to go for walks in the middle of the day and just feel so happy that I was out while other people were at work!
Now that I have a baby, the fact that both me and my husband are self-employed means we can be very flexible with childcare. Even on my work days I’ve been able to take time out to breastfeed my baby, which means so much to me. I realise that this isn’t the reality for most families, but I hope that it will become more common. I’m so thankful my son gets to have us both around (just as I was fortunate to have my parents around a lot as a child).
What is the worst thing about being self-employed?
It’s the flip side of that freedom – the difficulty of setting boundaries, beating yourself up for not being productive enough, becoming a bit of a workaholic, and working too much on the evening and weekends. Thankfully I’m a huge introvert, so the alone time is usually fine, but that does mean I can spend an unhealthy amount of time indoors, sat at my computer. I also find it very hard to switch my work brain off even when I’m not working.
How do you plan your finances for times when work is scarce?
I went through some very lean times in the early days of freelance life, and I used to spend whatever money I made almost right away. One year I got into a big mess with my taxes and was faced with a huge bill I didn’t know how to pay (luckily it all worked out).
Thankfully, the different income streams I added to my business helped even out my earnings. Eventually – and I waited far too long to do this – I hired an accountant and started paying myself a regular salary. I even managed to save enough money in my business bank account to cover my own maternity leave (with a little help from the government too). And I am now very on top of my bookkeeping and set aside tax money right away (I don’t even consider it to be my money).
Is there anything you wish people knew about freelance life?
In the early days I used to get comments from people about being supported by my husband (which I wasn’t), or I’d have family pop over in the middle of the working day assuming I was available. It all came down to them not treating my work as a “real job”, and I found it very frustrating.
I used to think that everything about working for myself was “supposed” to be amazing, but the truth is the freelance life is not for everybody. There are huge, huge benefits, and that’s why I do it. I could never go back to working for somebody else. But I appreciate that it suits some people better than others, and being traditionally employed comes with other advantages. That said, one thing I like to focus on is that we really do have unlimited opportunity to increase our income, pursue creative projects and shape our days in a non-traditional way, should we choose to. It’s not as easy as certain people make out, but that massive potential does bring me lots of comfort during the hard times.
What are you working on now and what’s coming up for you next?
I set up a new business this year to mentor and educate other business owners about creating a more simple & joyful work life, by getting clear on their values and implementing effective business strategies. I also recently started a podcast, Creatively Human, where I interview other creatives and share my own experiences of the ups and downs of running your own business. I can trace everything I’m doing now back to starting freelancing in 2008, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks so much for being here, Ruth! I love the idea that your business can expand exponentially if you want it to – very inspiring!