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Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Quitting My Retail Career to Be a Freelance Writer

Written By: Kit Campoy

Swoosh, knock, knock, knock. The messages started popping up in Slack.

“They’re not going to pay us.”

“We’re refusing to work.”

“They said they’re out of money.”

Wait, what?

Then, more came through.

Swoosh, knock, knock, knock.

“They said they’ve secured funds, but we think they’re lying.”

Okay, okay. I knew this day would come. I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner, but this is it.

It was a Saturday night, so I knew I had some time - a day or so. I stacked my dinner plates in the kitchen sink and got to work. I grabbed my laptop and sat down at the dining room table.

I pulled all of my work off any company site - all of it. I stashed it in my own Google account. It took me a couple of hours, but soon, all of my work was safe in my accounts.

On Monday morning, the company had disconnected all of my access.

It was all gone - no more email, no more Slack, and no more payments. They owed me two grand.

I took a deep breath, gave myself some space, and figured out what to do next.

Learning a new skill is challenging. Learning a new industry and building a new career is next level - it takes time to sort out the essentials. Learn from people a few steps ahead of you and try not to rush into the first opportunity you get.

Here are three aspects of freelance writing I wish I had known sooner.


1. Get a Contract

The first job I landed as a full-time freelance writer was writing about Web3, blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, NFTs, and events in the industry. Before you roll your eyes or space out, know that I loved it. I had an absolute blast at that job.

I was writing about cutting-edge tech with a fantastic editor and team of writers. We were using tech that most people didn’t even know existed. However, the whole thing was a gamble, and I knew it.

I was working without a contract, and I was getting payments in cryptocurrency. The whole project was teetering on the founder’s ability to secure more funding. When the money ran out, so did the work.

Then, I got ghosted.

There was no way for me to find these people and track down the money they owed me. So, I moved on with my life.

These days, I only do work with a contract. As a solo entrepreneur, I need to set clear guidelines about my work and when it will be delivered. Put it all in writing so that you and your client are clear about the work and when the contract ends.

There are a million ways to get a contract. I use a site called Bonsai because it’s super easy to use and tracks my finances, too. They also have neat templates for sending proposals. This isn’t a paid promotion; I just genuinely like the site. The only thing Bonsai can’t do is cure my loneliness.


2. Being a Solo Entrepreneur is Lonely. Get Outside.

Being lonely isn’t something many digital nomads talk about, but it’s real. Sure, I can work from anywhere. Yes, I can pack my backpack with all my work stuff and take off. Except, I can’t. I’m married and have a dog, so I’m not hopping on a plane to Mexico and renting a casita for three months.

My last career was in retail. I led large teams of people. The majority of my job was talking to people all day long. These days, I don’t really talk to anyone except my husband and my dog. Yes, my dog. I talk to him a lot.

Sometimes I chat with my barista for too long, and then I’m like, “Oh my god. I have to go. Bye! Have a nice day.” I’m turning into that work-from-home person who forgot how to make small talk, so they chat for too long with cashiers.

Make weekly meetups a thing. Meet a friend. Go to a workout class. Work from somewhere other than your house. Just get out into the world. Practice talking to strangers and driving a car. These are skills that atrophy; make sure they don’t.

Getting out and about will combat loneliness and streamline your work.


3. Writing for Eight Hours a Day is Not a Thing

When I first began this adventure full-time, I thought I had to be on my computer for eight hours a day. I pushed myself like crazy. I worked at the dining room table and on my couch. I even took my laptop to bed and worked until late at night if I had a late start that day.

I created as much content as possible.

Finally, one Sunday, I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept all day. My husband was rightfully concerned.

“Are you sick?” He asked.

“No,” I replied. “I think…I think I’m burnt out.”

Plunk! Back to sleep, I went.

I was burning out fast.

Creative work is wholeheartedly different from leading a team in a retail store. In retail, I knew how to work through exhaustion. I could be a cashier. I would make a coffee run. I would treat myself to ice cream. In writing, that doesn’t work. You can’t zombie through crafting a personal essay or client work.

If you aren’t rested, and your brain isn’t clicking, it won’t work. Shut it down, get some sleep, and try again tomorrow.


Google it and Keep Moving

The learning curve for any new career is going to be steep. You don’t know what you don’t know. You translate what you can from your previous job, but the pieces don’t always fit. The best way to learn is to start. Google what you don’t know and refine your processes.

When I left my retail career, I was bright-eyed and ambitious. I was game for almost anything; I just wanted to get paid to write. Now that I’ve been in it for a while, I’m deliberate with my work. Part of me wishes I knew all this in the beginning. Still, on the other hand, I’m so grateful for all my experiences - even getting ghosted.

If you’re new to freelance writing or want to wade in, get a contract and clearly outline the work and pay. Get outside and talk to people. Get out of your house every now and then. Loneliness can creep up on you. Don’t push yourself to write or be creative for eight hours a day. It’s impossible, and your health and your work will suffer.

Leverage LinkedIn, find great people to work with, and hopefully, any Slack message you get (swoosh, knock, knock, knock) will be collaborative messages you’ll want to read.


Meet the Author

Kit Campoy

Hey, I’m Kit. I’m a former retail leader turned freelance writer. I publish a (free!) radically people-first leadership newsletter, The Voice of the Frontline, every week. Sign up here.


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