Copywriting, Feature Writing, freelance life, Writing

My freelance year: the good, the bad and the ugly

black background with caption 'My freelance year: the good, the bad and the ugly' by Ruth Dawkins

Another year just about done!

2019 has been a very busy one here, so I thought I’d finish it by sharing a quick post with you about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my year in work. I am a big fan of being transparent about the highs and lows of freelancing, so that others who are considering making that jump have a realistic sense of what it entails.

Let’s start with the good!

Here’s a rundown of the different projects I’ve worked on this year. Bear in mind that some of these represent just a day’s work, while others represent several months of work – that variety is one of the things I love the most about being a freelance writer.

I wrote…

  1. A feature for SBS News about gendered barriers to working in Antarctica
  2. Copy for an exhibition program – Backburner at Moonah Arts Centre
  3. Content for the new Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service website
  4. Two feature pieces for Tourism Tasmania’s Warmest Winter campaign
  5. Nine marketing and fundraising brochures for the Antarctic Science Foundation
  6. Content for the new Freycinet Resort website
  7. A personal essay about childhood reading for Literary Mama
  8. Four features for the Tourism Tasmania Come Down for Air campaign
  9. Four new brochures for Lipscombe Childcare
  10. A feature on the Aurora Australis for Guardian Australia
  11. A feature on Tasmanian gin for Guardian Australia
  12. A feature on pregnancy yoga for a new fertility app
  13. A feature for a parenting magazine on how to support a child with anxiety
  14. An interview with myself (!) for Make it Tasmania
  15. A ghostwritten thought leadership piece for two CSIRO researchers
  16. 75,00 words of non-fiction for NaNoWriMo
  17. A ten-minute talk on books for the Weekend of Reading
  18. Sixteen blog posts for this website
  19. Eight posts for my DorkyMum blog
  20. A mini feature for inclusion in Time Out’s Most Exciting Events of 2020

I also edited…

  1. An ARC Special Research Initiative application
  2. Four client CVs and job applications
  3. A climate change action plan for a local council


Now, how about the bad…

Unfortunately, three projects I spent a lot of time on this year – a board application, a grant application and a request for tender (RFT) submission – were all unsuccessful. I don’t mind rejections, it’s part and parcel of freelance life, and I wrote a post about how important it is to find healthy ways of dealing with disappointment.

But all three of them related to different departments of the State Government, and as anyone who has submitted similar applications will know, there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to even apply. Even for a large agency with a lot of staff, an RFT submission is hugely time consuming, so for a sole trader it becomes even more so.

I am definitely reconsidering whether it will be worth the time and effort to apply for similar opportunities in 2020, or whether my limited resources would be better directed elsewhere.

Beyond that, there were only two projects I quoted for this year where I wasn’t successful. In one case, the organisation decided to do the work in-house. In the other, I’d been approached before the organisation had a fully fleshed out idea of what was required, and they realised after speaking to me that they needed to do more work internally before they could progress.

Both organisations made a point of telling me that my quote for the work was reasonable and didn’t impact their decision, so even though I’m including them in the ‘bad’ category, it’s good to know that I’m pricing my services at the right level for the Tasmanian market.


And the ugly?

Phew… get ready for the ugly.

I had coffee with a fellow freelancer a couple of weeks ago, and we spent a good proportion of our catch-up moaning about the balance between billable and non-billable hours that we’ve spent on our businesses this year.

(Billable hours are the hours we actually spend writing and editing. Non-billable hours are the ones we spend on things like marketing and networking, exploratory meetings and calls, professional development, and paperwork and accounting.)

For relatively new freelancers, I don’t think it’s unusual to feel like the balance between the two is a bit out of whack. Eventually, every writer aims to reach the point where clients come directly to them with commissions, but until you reach that stage the hustle to find new work is pretty relentless.

I’ve been much more organised in my approach this year: setting aside time each week to research potential new clients, and keeping a detailed tracker of the pitches and letters of introduction I send out. Some of those approaches have led to my most interesting and rewarding work, but even so the numbers do not make for pretty reading.


Pitches are emails to editors which include a specific idea or ideas that I want to write about.

I sent 21 pitch emails, which led to:

  • 6 commissioned pieces of writing
  • 6 non-responses where the editor didn’t reply at all
  • 9 rejections

 Letters of Introduction

Letters of introduction are more general emails to organisations – businesses, charities, tourism operators etc – that I send in the hope of securing ongoing or project-based copywriting or editing work.

I sent 98 letters of introduction, which led to:

  • 4 new projects, ranging from a one-off piece of writing to a three-month piece of work
  • 46 positive responses where there was no work available at the time, but may be in future
  • 6 responses letting me know there is no budget for external writing help
  • 42 non-responses when no-one got back to me at all

After the summer break I’ll spend some time refining my approach with pitches and LOIs. Those numbers make me realise that I might need to start expanding the sectors that I work for, and also the geographical area I focus on. It may be that there simply aren’t enough organisations in Tasmania with the resource to hire external writers and editors.

Let’s finish with something good!

2019 has been my most enjoyable year yet as a freelance writer. I’ve loved the balance of commercial and editorial work, the combination of quick turnaround and longer-term projects, and the wonderful variety of clients I’ve written for. Every piece of writing I’ve done this year has led to some new knowledge on my part, which is not something that is true in every industry.

I am very grateful to my new clients and editors and also to repeat ones – thank you for trusting me with the work you have needed done this year.

Thank you also to the people who have supported me in other ways: providing referrals, references and testimonials; sharing my work on social media; or simply taking the time to read my posts and updates.

Spending most of my days in a quiet home office, it’s lovely to feel that I have a community of friends, colleagues and supporters on the other side of the screen.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and look forward to connecting with you in 2020.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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