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Celebrating Two Freelance Years

Posted in: Copyediting, Copywriting, Grammar, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 22 October 2014

2 years old

Time flies when you’re having fun.

That’s why I can’t believe it was exactly two years ago today that I woke up on a Monday morning to begin my new freelance life. Having handed in my notice at my day job a month before, I was now free to embark on what I had aspired to do for so long: working for myself full-time as a freelance editor, proofreader, and writer.

I can tell you, it was scary at first. The defeatist in me told me I would fail. Who was I kidding? I was no bright young entrepreneur bursting with the latest marketing techniques and unwavering self-belief. I worried that this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, that things would dry up after the first few jobs, that I would have to tell everyone I’d gleefully told I was “going freelance” that it didn’t work out. I’d be sitting at the local supermarket checkout in a few weeks’ time mournfully pointing out spelling errors in the signage to anyone who’d listen.

Okay, so I wasn’t an entrepreneur as such, but I had determination. It might have been born out of desperation, but it was determination all the same. I had skills that I was simply burning to put to use. And I had discipline. A lot of people say to me they could never work freelance as they would end up sitting on Twitter/Facebook/[insert time-frittering website here] all day. Sure, I had days when procrastination took over and I suddenly found I’d spent half an hour staring open-mouthed at a story online that didn’t even interest me very much. But on the whole, I was good at structuring my days and keeping my nose to the grindstone when I needed to – my new life depended on it.

And so the days went by, then the weeks, then the months, then the years – two of them. And it really has been a blur because it truly has been fun. I’m fortunate enough to say I love my job and the freedom it gives me. I’m immensely grateful to all my clients over the last 24 months who have allowed me to spend my days being a word nerd/grammar geek/pedantic know-it-all.

As it’s a bit of a milestone for me, I thought I would share ten things I’ve learned while being an editorial freelancer over the past two years. Hopefully, some tips may come in helpful for those just starting out. Please do say hello or let me know your thoughts in the comments box below!

1.    Get moving

Before I went freelance I cycled to the train station every day, so even though my diet left a lot to be desired, I stayed fit and healthy. When I went freelance, at first I tried a bit of dog-walking, yoga, and indoor aerobics, but that all slid to the wayside when the deadlines started coming thick and fast. After a year, I’d put on weight and was feeling sluggish – I’d fallen prey to the sedentary lifestyle. Nowadays, I make sure I get on my exercise bike at least once a day, I eat more healthily, and I play badminton once a week. Sure, I could still do a lot better in the fitness department, but I’ve realised how essential it is to keep yourself moving as a desk freelancer.

2.    Be kind to yourself

Give yourself an afternoon off on a Monday if you’ve worked all weekend to meet a deadline. The world won’t end and you’ll feel like you’re back in control. After freelancing for a while, you get a feel for when you can afford to take your foot off the gas a little every now and then and go on an impromptu day trip or even, heaven forbid, have a lie-in. I always remind myself that I don’t get allocated holiday, sick pay, or any of the other benefits you get in regular employment, so it’s up to me to look after my own wellbeing.

3.    Get an accountant

For someone like me (i.e. as bad with numbers as I am good with words), it just isn’t worth trying to do your tax return yourself. Invest in a good accountant and let a pro take care of it!

4.    Get plenty of Vitamin D

It’s easy to go all day without going outside when you’re up against it. I’ve learned to be strict with myself – even if I’m up to my eyeballs with a punishing deadline, it’s essential I take time to go outside, breathe in some fresh air, and see daylight. Otherwise, I would simply become troglodytic. I have a sun lamp too to combat those grey English days.

5.    Embrace variety

It’s easy to stick with what you know and shy away from the unfamiliar. Obviously, I would advise to stay within your skillset, but I’m glad I’ve taken on a variety of projects and learned about lots of different things over the past couple of years. From philosophical theory to urban infrastructure to jazz music, from fantasy novels to journal articles, I love that my job allows me to dip my toes into an ever-changing kaleidoscope of subjects.

6.    Invest in a decent diary

Or some other sort of scheduling tool. Mine is always at my side on my desk and I rely on it absolutely for all my deadlines and generally scheduling my life. As soon as you begin a new project, look at the days until the deadline and plan how much you’ll have to do in increments to stay on top of the work. It’s easy to think ‘oh, that deadline’s miles away, I don’t need to start that yet!’, but of course the thing about deadlines is that they have a nasty habit of arriving all too quickly.

7.    Listen to music

This is a bit more of a recent one for me. Different things work for different people. I used to think I had to work in silence to get things done, but listening to some instrumental music (at the moment it’s mostly Liszt and Dave Brubeck) can actually really help me concentrate. It’s also good to blast out something feel-good between jobs and blow off some steam!

8.    Connect with like-minded people

This one is mostly a reminder to myself, as I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t yet gone along to a local SfEP meetup. I’ve spent the last two years with my head down at my desk and just haven’t found the time. But there’s no excuse – you have to make time! I’m planning to go to the next Oxford SfEP group meetup next month, am meeting some local ladies for National Freelancers Day, and have also signed up for the SfEP ‘Efficient copyediting’ course in London in December. It’s a start!

9.    Learn to say no

At first it’s hard to do this as every bit of work that comes your way seems like gold dust, and you’re keen to snatch it up. Luckily with time there comes the luxury of being able to choose the work you do. If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, or it’s way outside your skillset, or you just have too much other work on, it’s okay to politely decline. Know your strengths.

10.    Don’t take it for granted!

I’m guilty every now and then of complaining about the volume of work I have, or the haste with which deadlines are approaching, or the length of time today I’ve spent staring at this computer screen. But then I pinch myself and remind myself how fortunate I am – to be completely my own boss, to have a level of job flexibility and freedom I’ve never had before, and to be doing work I’m good at and enjoy. Being a freelance editor is the tops!


  1. Congratulations on your anniversary! That’s a nice, solid mature business you’ve got there. And I agree with all of your points.

    Comment by Liz Dexter on 22 October 2014 at 4:26 pm

  2. Congratulations on 2 successful years! I’m 5 months into freelancing and loving it! Your first point strikes a chord: I am rapidly gaining weight! We have dogs, which I thought would keep me active, but I’m gradually leaving the dog walking to my hubby. You’ve reminded me that I mustn’t! Thanks! And good luck for the next 2!

    Comment by Natalie Murray on 22 October 2014 at 5:43 pm

  3. Sally Evans-Darby

    Thank you, Liz and Natalie, for your comments! Natalie – good luck to you too. Yes, I found I had to be really strict with myself to keep active – it’s so easy to just stay at your desk. Best wishes for your business’ future!

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 23 October 2014 at 7:30 am

  4. I am so very glad I found this excellent post! As a brand spanking new proofreader scrambling to get those first clients through the door I am at that stage of worrying whether I have made a mistake going it alone. I love proofreading, It’s like a superpower I can never turn off! Reading your post has shown that I am not alone with the doubt and worry, and that you are living proof it can be a success. I wish you all the best and thank you for the helpful blogs, you help other achieve their ambitions!

    Comment by Leigh Walker on 15 April 2015 at 11:57 am

  5. Sally Evans-Darby

    Thank you, Leigh, and my sincere apologies for taking nearly half a year to respond! Unfortunately your comment became buried in the spam that is a regular feature of wordpress…! I very much hope things are going well for you and you’ve got those clients through the door and even got them to stay for tea. 🙂 Very best wishes to you!

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 7 October 2015 at 6:15 pm