This year, I am on my 8th year as a freelance writer—and I do not regret any single moment I have been on this journey.
I started freelance writing when I was working as a full-time editorial assistant and proofreader for a newspaper company. It was my first job right after college. My job is to read and re-read pages for the next day’s newspaper, make the necessary edits in the computer, and assist our layout artists in the process. It was tough and tiring. But it was a nice start for my writing career. My shift starts at 1 pm and ends at 8 pm. I was living in a boarding house in Makati City, just a five-minute walk away from our office. With this, had plenty of time to do sidelines. I bought a secondhand laptop from my college batchmate and bought a wifi stick. I started looking for writing jobs online through Jobstreet, applying every job posting I see that needs a writer.
Starting my freelance writing career
I remember vividly how I started my freelance writing journey. My first freelance work is with a booking site for yoga retreats. It was when I earned my first 12, 000 monthly, for a little over three months. This girl was so happy back then. The first time I withdrew my first earning, I told my mother I have part-time work, just like how I told her I got a job months before my graduation. She was happy but not surprised as I have always been someone who just surprises everyone with abrupt decisions and unplanned ventures. With my earning, I was able to increase my budget for my personal groceries and I managed to secure a membership at a local gym. Plus, give my mother a few more than what I usually gave.
After this, I got a job as a content writer for a Korean entertainment website, an Australian news company, and a website for Hollywood entertainment. I was earning more than what I am receiving in my job as a proofreader—and I enjoyed it so much that I got so engrossed with applying one job to another. I also explored other websites and Facebook groups looking for project-based writers. Never mind staying up late to finish an article or waking up very early in the morning to chat with my boss about a project.
I then shifted to magazine publication for my full-time work. There, I got to go to various events, meet a lot of people in the travel and health industry and expanded my media network.
While working as a features writer in my second job, I can’t help but look for more writing jobs online. I mean, I never really needed more money, it was just that I find it rewarding and satisfying to do various writing projects for various international clients, who, by the way, are way better in paying writers than local ones. All night, I’ll read a lot of stuff about freelance writing and editing and learned more skills to add to my portfolio. I subscribed to known freelance writers and read every bits and piece they give out in their emails.
Aside from Upwork where I meet international clients—from Australia, Amsterdam, Canada, Tel Aviv, and Germany—I also joined various Facebook groups for freelancers. There I got a few local clients, some of them I am still working with until now. It was a time when I am juggling my full-time work in Makati City with three full-time online writing jobs in different parts of the world. Yes, it was exhausting but it was when I started earning my first six-digit income.
I saved a lot for the down payment of the house I am sharing with my partner! As he does his freelance photography and design projects, we invested in tools for our budding partnership, in romance and business. Haha!
Expanding my network
While I continue my full-time work, I also managed to meet friends in the media. Although I am gaining networks in online freelance writing, there is still a part of me who wants to continue my career as a Journalism graduate. But I do not identify myself as a journalist—more like a writer in travel and health niches. From fellow writers and editors, I met along the way, I was able to apply as contributors in their pages. I did works for Business Mirror, The Daily Tribune, The Manila Times, Rappler, FHM Online, and many other Philippine publications. With this, I still see my byline in print as a freelance writer. Writing assignments for these publications also paved the way for me to meet people outside my existing network.
I got to interview assignments with top architects in the Philippines, I met various government officials, local officers, businessmen, models, celebrities, and a whole lot more of people who have inspired, educated, and empowered me one way or another. Traveling is also a perk I get to enjoy the most! My first trip abroad was when I went to cover an event in Hong Kong. I also covered the reopening of Boracay Islands, explored Mindanao, island-hopped in Palawan, and met local tourism movers and shakers who all inspired me to travel and see the world. Many opportunities opened for me as a writer by simply being able to connect with people from various walks of life.
While my main freelance skill is writing, I started upgrading and adding a few skills I learned along the way. I did editing, copywriting, social media management, and now, media consultancy. Clients would see this as a package deal, which means more opportunities for lasting projects.
Doing all these, however, entails responsibility—not only for your own self but for others as well.
Weighing in the downside
After years of contemplation, I quit my full-time job two years ago and worked as a project-based writer for the magazine company before completely parting ways with them to venture into my freelance writing business. Part of the reason was that I am so damn tired to wake up each moment in a routinely work life where you open your laptop and write down things you no longer are interested in but you have to do it because it is your job. I am also fed up with the Manila traffic and all the time wasted in the road when I can do more things if I am at home or anywhere but inside an office cubicle. Quitting my full-time job was my attempt to slowly jump into the freelance lifestyle I have been preparing since 2012.
It was not an easy decision, of course. For years, I struggled with the idea of having an “unstable” career and throwing all the benefits that come with being a full-time employee. No benefits, no 13th-month pay to look forward to, no teambuilding, and no company Christmas party to attend to. That is why it took me for over three years to finally make the decision. I had to test the waters. Do more research on how to have a sustainable freelance lifestyle. How to overcome the dry season and deal with taxes and health cards and voluntary government contributions. Or how to work on the right rate for every project. How to land a deal and not get scammed in the process. And a whole lot more.
A whole new world
You see, freelance writing is not something you throw yourself into overnight. It takes months, and years, for my part, before having the courage to take the leap of faith because obviously, we have bills to pay. These bills will not make the adjustments during the months when you do not have any project at all. They do not care if you’ve got zero balance in your bank account or if you are nearing your 1 million marks as a successful freelance writer.
Aside from this, you’ll deal with many setbacks along the way. Some may get scammed by clients. Some may take advantage of you and pay you a fee that is way beyond the accepted in the industry. Others may not pay you at all. There will be instances when your project will get canceled. Your contract will be terminated at a time when you need money the most. Or all your clients will simultaneously bid their goodbyes. By diving into the freelancing world, you’ll be faced with my challenges that go with the career you chose. It is for you to find out. Learn how to swim along with these struggles and still emerge on top of your game. In a nutshell, you have to have a sustainable lifestyle out of being a freelancer. That is the main challenge.
I am at the point of earning just right as a freelancer—way far from what I have as an employee—plus a lifestyle that is rewarding and satisfying. No time wasted on the road, in unproductive meetings, and many other factors. Unlike before, I can now work anywhere, anytime, choose the people I want to work with. You’ll see me in an island, be at home, or on a plane ride, working on a project while having the time of my life. I am sure that many freelancers would agree on how different their work-life is from their previous full-time work, better and more fulfilling. You have more time for your family, your self, and your passion.
Being a freelancer in the Philippines is not easy. But I am glad that we are in a time where freelancers are now being regarded as one of the in-demand but are highly rewarding jobs in the world. How I started my freelance writing journey may not be the same as yours. But here’s an advice for budding freelancers: read and research; prepare for the rainy days and have back-up plans, and do not forget to keep on learning and hustling, not just in your career but in life—and I am sure you will do just fine.