There’s no such thing as a free(lance) lunch: Danielle Da Sylva Arbuckle
Part one of There’s no such thing as a free(lance) lunch, a series that asks professional freelancers the questions you want to ask them. Think of it as having coffee with everyone at the same time. Our inaugural freelancer is Danielle Da Sylva Arbuckle
Danielle Arbuckle, freelance writer and editor. I specialize in writing about personal finance, investing and small business. My editing business is far more eclectic. I edit everything from mutual fund reports to children’s fiction, and I love it all.
How long have you been freelancing?
How did you/What made you start freelancing?
When I had my first child, I knew I didn’t want a 9-5 job anymore, so I started a freelance writing and editing business. I thought I could work and raise my son at the same time. Ha! I soon learned that I needed to put my son in daycare to work effectively, but I was able to set my own hours, and that allowed me to spend much more time with my son than I would have with a 9-5 job. I now have two kids, who are 5 and 7, and I still log off at 2:45 to pick them up from school and spend the afternoon with them. Because I’m freelance, I can always go back to work in the evening if I need to make up a couple of hours.
How did you sell your first piece/pitch your first job?
I became an active member of the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC), volunteering to host seminars and participating in EAC’s email forum. My first freelance job came through that forum. It was posted, I applied, and I got it. Since then, I’ve gotten almost all of my work through word of mouth.
What are the pros?
For me, the biggest pro is the flexibility to set my own hours. I can’t overstate how freeing it is to be able to book appointments during the day, or to go grocery shopping when nobody else is out shopping. Yes, I have to make up that time, but it’s worth it to me. I also have the flexibility to work on projects I enjoy and turn down those I don’t. If I have a client who is particularly difficult to work with, I have to the option to stop working with them. I can also choose where I work. At home, at the cottage, on a beach. That’s a huge benefit.
What are the cons?
The only con so far has been the feast-or-famine aspect of freelancing. Some weeks I work 60 hours a week, some weeks I work very little. I’ve successfully made a full-time living as a freelancer for almost 10 years, so I don’t consider this much of an issue, at least not financially. Still, every time I have a couple of slow weeks, there’s a little part of my brain that wonders, “What if I never get work again?!” Then, of course, five new assignments come in at the same time, and the whole cycle starts again.
Let’s talk networking. Some people think of it as a dirty word. What do you think about networking and how do you do it?
I’m not terribly good at networking, but I have a tendency to become an active volunteer for associations I belong to, like EAC and the Halton-Peel Communications Association. Volunteering is how I achieve my networking goals most months. I meet people and get my name out there while accomplishing what I believe is important work.
Is it really who you know when you freelance?
I don’t think so. I can honestly say that I didn’t say no to anybody when I started freelancing. But I got to know people at my first freelance gig, and they passed my name onto other people, who passed my name onto other people, and so on.
What do you think about the ‘pick your brain over coffee’ invite? Do you do it?
I’m happy to do it for somebody new to the field who are serious about investing time in getting started. There are some invitations to pick my brain that irk me, though. These mostly come from people who have full-time (non-editing/non-writing) jobs, or who have recently left the workforce, but want to do a little something on the side. They figure they can write or edit part-time, because it’s easy. You’re not likely to get much of my time or advice if you take this approach. This is my career, not a hobby, and I do take it seriously.
Do you think you have to have a certain personality to freelance?
I think you have to enjoy what you do, because you don’t have a boss making you meet certain goals or deadlines. It’s all up to you. And I think you have to be the type of person who doesn’t give up. Rejection happens to all of us, and you have to be willing to brush it off and try again.
What are your tips?
Similar to my answer above, view this as your career, not as a hobby. Because if you don’t take yourself seriously, neither will anybody else. Know what you’re getting into. Talk to people in the field, take some courses, and build up your network. In my experience, you won’t make much money in your first six months as a freelancer, so make sure you have enough saved up to make it through those first few months, and make sure this is something you really want to do. And keep in mind that you’re running a business, so you will need to learn about things like invoicing, bookkeeping and maintaining a business website.
Do you think freelancing is a viable way of making a full-time living?
Absolutely. I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years.
Free(lance) lunch is a weekly series published every Monday. If you are a freelancer and want to be featured on Free(lance) lunch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.