Out with the new

The decade is almost over. This is hideous and I am only accepting that it’s true for the purposes of this blog post.

I end this decade in a very different place to where I started. At the beginning of 2010, I was on maternity leave, having not long had my first child. I would go back to a nice, undemanding job with the company I’d been at for the last 6 years (I started there on this day in 2004, in fact – happy former job anniversary to me!). I planned to do that job for a while, have another baby, then get back to building my career in the arts.

And that went according to plan, for a while. But the arts in the 2010s will not be remembered for its job security. So by 2016, I found myself starting a business in a field I knew very little about.

It’s been a ride. The last four years have been a hard slog, full of ups and downs, great times and hideous times. Now I find myself approaching the 2020s (oh god, it’s horrible, why did I say that?) with the feeling that I’m not a “new” freelance editor anymore. I know I’m still pretty wet behind the ears compared to many of my esteemed colleagues, but I no longer feel like a total newbie.

I only really realised this when I started thinking about my goals for the next year. They’ve gone from “work enough to not starve” to all kinds of strategic things about rates and processes and marketing channels and investing in my business. The steps I plan to take terrify me, true, but they would have been utterly unthinkable a couple of years ago, because I simply was not capable of thinking about my business in this way.

A lot of this shift in mindset is down to my business coach, the wonderful Gina Trick, who has been dragging me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone for the last six months. But some of it is also down to time.

It takes time to establish a business. Setting one up is terrifying; keeping it afloat is scarier still. So many new businesses fail, and it’s hard not to think about that when you can never be sure where your next job is coming from. Eventually you realise that your business is surviving, and then you can take a step back and look at where you want to take it next. But sometimes it feels as though that day will never arrive.

People in survival mode don’t always make the best decisions, or at least it can look that way to those on the outside. I see many of my editing colleagues offering advice to newbies, and it’s always with the best of intentions – they want to share their hard-won wisdom with those who are following in their footsteps, because editors are by and large wonderful, generous people. The advice is always aimed at helping people avoid things they may regret – don’t work for that kind of client, don’t work for that rate, invest in this, run away from that.

But when you’re in that very early, very scary stage of your career, you’re not necessarily thinking about what you might regret. You’re thinking of building up a body of work, bringing in some income – any income – and keeping yourself in business. You’re often thinking short term, because you don’t know if there’ll even be a long term.

Every business decision involves risk, and no one can really assess those risks but the person whose business it is. So if you’re still building your business, and you’re being bombarded with advice that feels too scary to take, don’t beat yourself up about it. It won’t always be like this. The time will come when you feel more confident about saying no to things, or saying yes to others. You may end up taking on jobs you regret, but there’s something to be learned from every mistake. Even if that lesson is “never ever do that again”.

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