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There's gold in them thar hills!

It’s one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever experienced, leaving work on my last day and stepping out into the sunlight. I wanted to fling my arms open and sing The Hills are Alive at the top of my voice and (metaphorically, you’ll be relieved to hear) skip all the way home, swinging my satchel – pigtails flying behind me.

After two decades of working in newspapers, first as a reporter and then as a sub-editor, I have waved goodbye to an industry that seems to have lost its way. New working practices mean the skills I nurtured throughout my career – writing a cracking headline, designing an eye-catching page, weeding out spelling howlers and spotting a potential libel suit – have become less valued.

As one round of redundancies followed another, my job satisfaction began plummeting towards the lower basement. I decided to get off at the ground floor and re-embrace my first love – writing.
That was last August.

During my first few weeks of freedom, I was too busy feeling smug to worry that I hadn’t actually made any money. I joined fellow writers on a press trip to Nuremberg and Baden-Baden, met friends for coffee in their lunch hours, made regular trips to the gym, took up the offer of a free rail trip to Antwerp at short notice – and began to connect with the real world once more.

Gradually it dawned on me that, no matter how highly I may rate myself as a writer, the work won’t come looking for me. How will anyone know I’m here, unless I tell them? Party over, my first job was to buy a domain name and set up a website. I was cash-poor, but time rich, so there was every reason to do it myself. It would be my shop window, a spotlight on my talent, showcasing my ability to take any subject and turn it into a feature worth reading.

I took to website building like the proverbial duck to water. It became my new displacement activity. Whole days passed while I worked out how to change the body font on my WordPress theme, resized pictures, fiddled about with widgets and played with plug-ins…

Another month went by without a paycheque, but I kept my nerve. I decided anything that contributed towards my goal of earning money as a freelance writer was worth doing. It was all grist to the mill. And if I had any doubts, they were quashed when I attended a recent bootcamp for start-ups, presented by Doug Richard.

The former Dragon stated loud and clear that any business without a website should make it a top priority to build one. He told us: “So often people say to me they are going to put aside a year to build a really good website, but because they expect it to be time-consuming, they’re going to wait a year before they start it.

“Well, In that case, it doesn’t take them one year to build a website, it takes them two.”

In my case, building a website was a very good move. It has become my cyberspace cuttings file and a receptacle for travel features. If an editor wants to see how I write, they only have to sift through a couple of features to see if I fit the bill.

Going freelance also means you become your own marketing manager. I ‘m learning a whole new language with words like meta-data, SEO, Google analytics and growing your audience. I’ve embraced social media, tweet regularly, post updates on my Facebook page, belong to a couple of Facebook groups and write my own blog. When I’m not doing this, I’m thinking of ideas for features, pitching to editors and sharing woes with fellow freelancers.

There are disadvantages to working from home. You have to be fiendishly disciplined as it’s so easy to spend ages on a project, or get distracted by just about anything. Having a list of tasks to work through each day is essential, and the best course of action is to buckle down and get on with it.

Research too is vitally important. There’s a wealth of publications and websites out there with a freelance budget. It’s just a case of knowing what to pitch, how to pitch it and who to pitch it to. Patience, too, is required. I’ve learned that other people don’t necessarily working to the same timescale as me. Just because one editor doesn’t get back straight away, it doesn’t mean they won’t, eventually. It’s not good to harass people – it makes you look mad… and desperate.

Yesterday, I googled myself (yes, I know… It was research) and when ‘anne walsh freelance’ came up, I clicked on it, obviously expecting it to be me. It turned out to be a different Anne Walsh, who was guest posting for the Irish IT Professional about going freelance. Her words really struck a chord, especially the line: “You will probably not make enough to live on in the first 12-18 months.” It was such a relief to hear that. It means there is gold at the end of the rainbow, it just takes time to get there.

In the meantime, I plan to keep on believing in myself, looking at the bigger picture and savouring every moment of being my own boss.


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