11 September 2013

Hello! My name is Katie and earlier this year I spent three months living in Kenya having quit my job in marketing to take a career break.

If you’re thinking of taking a career break and you happen to have a talent for copywriting, blogging or a talent with social media, I’m here to tell you how you can keep your career going, even on a career break, by freelancing.

Start spreading the word…

People won’t just stumble upon your talent as a writer I’m afraid; a little self-promotion will go a long way when it comes to freelancing. Competition for freelancers online is fierce, so depending how long you’re away for, it’s probably better to rely on word of mouth than try to compete online. Networking is the name of the game (along with reassuring people that you will be taking this seriously and won’t just be getting sand in your keyboard).

Start sprinkling the seeds and tell absolutely everyone that you’re available for all kinds of writing work. You’ll be surprised at the requests you get from friends of friends. Don’t forget to tell your parents too, they might have friends in places you’d never think you could reach.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is poaching any clients if you’re leaving your job. It won’t do you any favours in the long run. It is a good idea however to mention it in passing to any external contacts you have good relationships with already. You never know what it could result in.

Portfolio and hourly rates

Invest in an online platform to display any existing work you have. It’s fine to provide links to any live copy you’ve written, or you can just write some examples to get things started if you know you’ve got a talent but don’t have any hard evidence.

Sites like Wordpress or Blogspot are fine, but these days you can buy your own domain for very little so it might be a worthwhile investment.

Be clear on your hourly rate. Beginner copywriters should be looking to charge something around £15 - £20 per hour, but you need to make a decision about whether you would be prepared to write for free to get experience and keep your CV fresh, or if you’re standing firm on the hourly rate.

A fair chunk of the work I did while in Kenya was written for free to keep my CV looking healthy as I decided what I would charge for and what was classed as good experience for me.

It’s not all about the money

Ultimately, any link you can get on a recognised website will help you no end in an interview when you get back home. You can show your prospective employer that your work was important to you while you were away and that you used the time effectively doing what you love – writing. It’s better to get work than to lose work over a fee that couldn’t be negotiated.

Your reputation is everything as a freelancer and word spreads quickly, so while you don’t want to feel that you’re being taken advantage of, it’s a good idea to think carefully about what’s more important to you.

Get up to speed with the internet

The beauty of living in this era is that the internet is king. You can get so much from the internet that you don’t really need an office per se anymore. As long as you have a trusty laptop and a stable internet connection, you can work remotely anywhere in the world! Hurrah!

Make sure all your social media platforms are full of fresh new content and don’t look dusty. There’s nothing worse than a prospective client checking out your profile and being disappointed – your online profile is everything so make time to update regularly.

Technically, whoever you’re working for doesn’t need to know WHERE you are, as long as you complete your work to the agreed deadline. However, you never know what telling them could lead to – they may want even more content from you when they know you’re currently abroad, or they might know someone who is looking for fresh new content.

Know your visa limits

As I was travelling on a tourist visa while in Kenya, I was restricted from working in any way in Kenya. I got around this by only working for people back in England, and I covered my back with invoices, a paper trail and a fantastic accountant (totally worth the money).

However, I met a lot of people in Kenya that I wanted to help voluntarily. I met local charities who were in desperate need of a writer to update their website and advice about which social networks they should have a presence on.

I met local restaurant owners who wanted to get online and tap into the tourist trail.

I met local women who created the most amazing crafts but had no way of pushing them out to the world.

You can advise your new friends as much as you like, but you cannot receive any monetary payment in any way without infringing your tourist visa and getting into a lot of trouble. But… if your new friends choose to thank you for your advice via gifts in the form of hot dinners, an overnight stay with their family, fresh fruit or washing your clothes… well, that’s just fine and will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling that will stay with you forever.

 

Freelance writing while on a career break is a great way to keep your CV boosted; it’s fantastic for meeting new people and helping locals in a way that lasts a long time and makes a visible difference. There’s a fair amount of leg work involved in getting your name out there, but I highly recommend it for anyone thinking of taking the leap. I have absolutely no regrets about my career break and even though I found it hard returning home, I now have a new marketing job with better prospects and a higher salary than I left behind, so it was definitely worth it. I’m now a calmer person with a clearer vision of what I want in both my personal and professional life.

Thank you Kenya, and thank you to whoever invented the wireless dongle and Netbook.

 

This post was written by Katie Baxter. She writes a blog about work and travel and like the rest of the world, she's also on Twitter.