Career

5 Things Seasoned Freelancers Want Newbies To Know

Starting out as a freelance writer can be an incredibly daunting experience. Not only are you working by yourself, you’re working for yourself and the seemingly endless list of things to get done can feel overwhelming.

The Cusp attended Storyology, a journalism and storytelling conference run by the Walkley Foundation, to hear from seasoned freelancers about their approach to working in the internet age, things new freelancers should look out for and how they handle their business. Here’s what we learned:

#1 Don’t forget your super

We all know that freelancing means working for yourself, yet so often we forget that running your own business means nobody is going to take care of the boring stuff. And by boring stuff, we of course mean superannuation.

Many freelancers understand that their work is a personal business and thus treat their reputation, work and invoicing as such. That is, for everything other than super contribution. John Myers, Regional Manager at Media Super, joked that the amount of freelancers who currently contribute enough to their super are “two thirds of bugger all.” (eep!)

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He suggested trying your best to put 10% of every paycheque into your nominated fund. If you feel like you’re not getting paid enough to contribute 10%, it’s time to reevaluate which places you choose to write for. Which brings us to money…

#2 Don’t be afraid to talk to others about money

Money is a notoriously awkward subject to broach in a professional setting. For a freelancer, that awkwardness is doubled when the closest thing to colleagues feels like competition.

Freelance writer Geraldine Cremin warns not to fall into the trap of being threatened by other freelance writers. She maintained that speaking to other freelancers about what publications pay them is an essential way to suss out whether or not you’re being treated fairly. You can also benefit from sharing ideas and possibly even contacts from the relationship.

#3 The name of the game is to claim

Come tax time, freelancing is all about knowing what you can and can’t claim. And apparently, there are a lot of things you can.

Your home office is entirely self-provided so it makes sense to claim it all on your tax return. This includes things like pens, a laptop, a desk, an internet connection and other utilities that are essential to how you operate. Myers advises to chat to an accountant to see just how much you can get away with. In fact, we talk about income averaging in our tax basics explainer. It may surprise you just how much you can get back.

#4 Don’t accept late payments

Yaara Bou Melhem is the Walkley award-winning Freelance Journalist of the Year, who has no time for late payments. Melhem spoke about how the media industry has created a culture that makes it okay to miss the deadlines of freelancers, even though it is the main source of income for some people.

She lamented how much precious time she has spent chasing up debtors instead of chasing up a story. She draws a comparison between the media industry and other industries, where it would never be okay to simply neglect paying your vendors. This is an industry issue and not one you can combat on your own, but she advises to stay outspoken and aware of it.

#5 Building good relationships means building your career

Relationships are one of the most important things to maintain as a freelancer. Melhem cemented this idea by advising that, “having the trust of one editor is like having the trust of many.” When you’re reliable and produce good, clean work then you’ll find yourself being recommended for other work.

Not only will these positive connections ensure more stable work and a broader portfolio, but it will help contribute to building your brand as someone that is easy to work with.


Josephine is a writer from western Sydney who likes to blatantly lie on her bios. She played the youngest sister in 80s sitcom Family Ties and looks fantastic running with a backpack on.