Why Become a Freelance Academic Writer?

If you're thinking about becoming a freelance writer there are probably a few practical questions you will have. What's it really like working freelance? How do you get work, and get paid for it? What admin do you need to think about? There are also some questions you should probably ask yourself about whether freelance writing work will really suit you in terms of your working style. Freelance work is certainly becoming much more popular as part of the gig economy, but like any job, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Advantages of Becoming a Freelance Writer

  • Flexibility

    Freelance work is typically highly flexible. If you would like to work at home in your pyjamas at 3 o'clock in the morning, then that is absolutely fine (provided that you meet your deadlines). Not everyone is a morning person, so the freedom to work when and where you want, at whatever volume you want, is undoubtedly one of the greatest benefits of being freelance. There are freelancers who treat their work very much like a 9-to-5 working day, and there are some freelancers who only work a few days a week, accepting the trade-off of reduced income for greater free time. Ultimately, you have the flexibility to work around your personal circumstances.

  • Autonomy

    Being freelance, you are effectively your own boss - the autonomy to plan your own workload is hugely appealing to many people. If you find setting your own deadlines and targets easy, then the prospect of working to your own schedule is very inviting: the added bonus is that there's no need to stick rigidly to the office's opening hours while you do it!

  • Intellectual challenge

    There is often an intellectual challenge in freelance work; no two days are ever the same and in the course of your freelance work, you can learn many interesting things and become knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects. The intellectual variety is something which can be far more interesting than the day-to-day grind of a job which has become quite routine.

  • Work-life Balance

    The idea of the "work-life balance" is often posited as something to aim for, but there is no doubt that in the UK, we've become a nation of workaholics. Freelance work offers the opportunity to really take control of your personal work-life balance in a way that suits you and your lifestyle - no more arduous commuting in rush-hour traffic, and if you want to go to the gym in the afternoon when it's quiet, this is absolutely fine!

Disadvantages of becoming a Freelance Writer

  • Self-discipline

    To be a good freelancer, you need to have self-discipline. Leaving your work to the last minute is not generally a good idea! You need to be organised about your workload, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve in a working day, and - especially if you are freelancing for more than one organisation - you need to keep good records and manage your time very well. Procrastination is not a habit to cultivate if you're a freelancer!

  • 'Benefits'

    Most employed people take for granted the 'benefits' of National Insurance Contributions, sick pay, holiday pay, maternity/paternity leave, and training opportunities. None of these are paid for if you are a freelancer, and so you need to plan carefully in case you are ill or want to go on holiday, as if you are not working, you are not earning money. This is often something that comes as a shock to novice freelancers and is something to be aware of.

    If, however, you wanted to take on the odd piece of work whilst away or were looking to go travelling, providing you have access to the internet and word processing software, you are still able to take on work with Academic Knowledge from wherever you are currently based! It's as simple as logging in to the website and applying for work as and when it comes through. Having the option to complete the odd piece of work to supplement their extended travels is something many find appealing - it really is that flexible!

  • Admin

    As a freelancer, you need to be up-to-date with your admin, making sure that the records you've kept are accurate and that you can provide evidence of all the work you've completed. Invoicing promptly is important to make sure you get paid, and while some clients are very good at paying in a timely manner, this is not true of all clients. One of the main reasons small businesses go bust is that their clients don't pay them - this is a risk that freelancers can run as well, so do make sure you understand the payment terms.

    However, at Academic Knowledge, you don't need to worry about the admin of invoicing and whether there is any assurance that you will get paid for the work you have completed. Invoices are automatically generated on the 16th of every month, with payment made directly to your bank on the final working day of the same month. We offer this time between invoice generation and payment to allow you to view your invoice and contact us if any changes need to be made.

    Don't forget, admin also includes making sure you submit tax returns and that you pay your NICS contributions. Effectively, what you earn in freelancing is a gross figure: you need to put aside for all of your deductions and make sure you pay them.

  • Loneliness

    Freelancing can be a lonely business, especially if you work remotely or from home. If you are a naturally sociable person, it can be very hard to work by yourself and maintain self-discipline and motivation. There is no office chatter or gossiping around the water cooler; no team nights out or drinks after work. For some people this is ideal, as they much prefer to work in peace and quiet, but for others, the loneliness of working by yourself or for yourself is something that they hadn't considered. Even if you do prefer to work in your own space, the value of having a contact team to talk to shouldn't be underestimated, so that might be something you should look for.

    At Academic Knowledge, we appreciate it can sometimes be a lonely business, so we are only a phone call or message away if you ever want to have a chat, even if it's not specifically work-related.

Practical Considerations

If you decide you want to take the plunge and become a freelance writer, one partial solution is to dip your toe in the water by doing a small amount of freelance work alongside your main job until you are sure that this is what you like. Make sure that you keep up-to-date with your admin, and if you are still employed, remember that most employment contracts have a clause stating that you have an obligation to tell your employer if you take a second job, even if it is freelance. You will almost certainly need to submit a self-assessment tax return, unless your main job has a very low-income threshold - if you are in any doubt at all about this, do seek professional advice. You'll need to ensure that you have access to the materials you need to complete freelance work to the standard that clients expect. Some freelance agencies are more supportive than others when it comes to access to materials, such as journal databases or specialist software, so this is another aspect you might want to check.

For the benefit of our new writers, we have a probationary period in place so that we can manage your workload and give you the opportunity to make a decision about whether freelance work is for you. We have various in-house teams who offer unrivalled support to help you through every step of being a new writer with us, and we are here to help wherever required. We also offer journal database accounts for any active writers should they require this.

There are some more mundane things to consider, too, such as reputable sources of advice, and tips to make life as a freelancer a bit easier. A list of 'things you wish you'd known at the start', if you will:

  • Good websites

    The internet is awash with advice, especially when it comes to money, but given the conflicting opinions you can encounter, which websites should you turn to for reliable information? Gov.uk is usually a good place to start. They have guidance on getting registered as a freelancer in terms of your UTR (Unique Taxpayer Reference) and setting up a Government Gateway account.

  • Finances

    A useful practical suggestion is to have a separate bank account for all your work-related incomings and outgoings, with a linked savings account for tax. Keeping money separate helps to make tax returns easier, and if you're disciplined and pay yourself a regular wage from a 'work' account, it's much easier to keep on top of your money (unless, of course, you're perfectly happy unpicking all your bank statements from 12 months ago). Likewise, for tax relief - which you can get if you work from home - you need quite detailed calculations to claim it. Keeping things separate will certainly help. The suggestion to have a minimum of 3 months outgoings saved is a good one. Freelance work can be seasonal, and your incoming money might well fluctuate, so you need to have the basics covered.

  • Networking

    As freelancing can be a solitary business, it can be useful to join a local business networking group, as you never know what interesting contacts you might make. Good networking is not about forcibly selling your skills to the first person you start a conversation with; it's about building relationships long term, so treat this as such.

In our rapidly-changing employment landscape, freelance work is on the increase, but it's not necessarily an easy option. Certainly, for those who enjoy it, they could never envisage going back, but it is also something that needs to be approached with a balanced view of the benefits, possible pitfalls, and practical considerations.

Please note, this advice has all been provided for anyone that is eligible to work in the UK. Some of this will differ if you live in Australia, Canada or USA, for example.

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