I fell by pure chance into freelancing about 3 years ago, after realising that as an employee I couldn’t get the flexibility and work–life balance that I wanted. A friend who had gone freelance a few years before suggested I give it a try, so I did. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner! As a sole trader, I found there was very little to sort out; I’ve not needed an accountant for my set-up so far. I’ve always said I would become a limited company if necessary, but haven’t yet felt the need. There’s plenty of work around where agencies are happy to connect with sole traders.
My route into medical writing has been slightly unconventional, in that I haven’t come from a pure agency (or even writing) background. After finishing my DPhil, I worked for a large contract research organisation writing proposals and budgets for clinical trial delivery. Wanting a change, I worked in one MedComms agency and then another, in combined account management/writer roles for a couple of years. I then made the leap into pharma, working in medical affairs for nearly a decade, at both national and European levels. The travel for the latter was exciting at first but increasingly onerous, and after maternity leave I found it incompatible with looking after a wee one. I was nervous about entering the world of freelance medical writing – feeling some imposter syndrome from ‘not being a real writer’ – but have found my career experience very relevant and indeed an asset, even picking up some strategy consulting work as well as the more classic medical writing tasks. In reality, many activities within medical affairs in pharma could be classed as medical writing – it’s all about looking for commonalities when assessing your relevant skills.
My advice for anyone considering freelancing: first, know that you can do it. If you’re reading this, you probably already have the right experience mix. However, I would say it helps to have financial back-up for 3–6 months when starting out, as you will likely have a few gaps whilst building up your network and reputation. Second, don’t be too rigid in your approach – consider taking on one-off projects for clients at an hourly rate or fixed fee, as well as working with a client for a few months charging an hourly or daily rate. I’ve used a mix of these approaches, and they each have merits – I’m still experimenting! When you are your own boss, there are no fixed rules, so make them up and find an approach that works for you.
Freelancing, to me, is simply – freedom. Freedom to work the hours I want to work, when I want to work them; freedom to concentrate on the actual work instead of internal meetings and team politics; freedom to easily move to a different client and project if you fancy a change. The fact that it’s also better paid pro rata than equivalent permanent work is just a bonus.
This personal profile first appeared in the FirstMedCommsJob careers guide, Making it my own business: a guide to being a freelance writer in MedComms, published April 2022