Changing Careers from Teaching to Freelancing: Becoming Self-Employed

In a lot of ways, teaching offers many benefits that can make the decision to leave, even if you are unhappy, excruciatingly difficult. It offers job security, especially for core subjects like Maths and English, career progression and a decent pension. When I made the choice to leave the classroom, I knew I would have to give these things up for the time being and head out, Dick Whittington-esque, into the big bad world of freelancing and self-employment. And although (so far) the streets have not been paved with gold, I have found it to be very rewarding.

Firstly, I am still going to be teaching English. Through a few different agencies, I am starting to build up a client base and have my very first tutoring client next week. This is very exciting, not least because the pay for tutoring is as good, if not better, than classroom teaching, but it will be using all the skills I have learnt in the classroom over the last four years, and using them in a new and challenging way. I will still get to read stories with eager young pupils, still help budding writers express themselves with confidence and still help set up the older pupils with qualifications that will help them go on to do whatever it is they want to do in their young adulthood.

However, I am already an experienced teacher. The even-more-exciting part of this career change is learning new skills and trying out new things. But how can I do this without a new job or paying to take a course? I have been taking matters into my own hands and highly recommend fellow career-switchers to do the same. Here is my advice.

Find something that matches your skills, that you can do from home

As an English specialist, content writing was the obvious choice for me. For experts in other subjects, there are journals who need freelance editorial work by those with backgrounds in STEM, all kinds of businesses that need content translated by fluent speakers of just about every language, and plenty of requests for freelance web design. With all of these options, the more you do, the more you build up a client base and portfolio and the more money you can make.

Luckily, the process started for me when I started this blog. I had been practising my writing and building up a portfolio of published work without even realising! This gave me an idea. When I was at university, I signed up to a content writing website to earn a few extra pennies. I decided to build on this and sign up to a few more, continuing to build up a portfolio of published work and practising more SEO writing in different formats. As this is freelance, I can do this from my home office. It might not have been the most exciting start to my freelance writing career (my first piece was a review of a toothbrush), but it is a start, and something I can build on whenever an opportunity comes along.

Tom Law, a fellow career switcher who moved from being a Youtuber/singer/songwriter to the freelancer writer behind Kill It Copy has the following advice for new freelancers: “First, pick a niche and master it. No one wants a generalist when they can have a specialist — especially when a specialist is only a click away.

“A great way to build a portfolio is by pitching guest posts to blogs in your niche. But any site worth writing for will want to see samples of your previous work. And it takes time to go through the motions before your piece will actually get published.”

Where possible, teach yourself

Currently, I do not have a job or employer that will send me on a course in web design. However, that does not mean that I can’t learn new things: there is a wealth of information online that I can use to learn new skills and my next project will be web design. I’m going to start with a Wordpress website for my freelance writing and then take it from there.

A new skill that you have taught yourself is not only something extra that you can brag about on your CV, but also shows potential employers (if you want to move back into employment with a company) that you are a proactive self-starter.

Use the contacts you already have

I’ve said before that people are your best resource, and this couldn’t be more true than when starting out as a freelancer or self-employed. The agencies that I’ll be tutoring with were all recommended to me by friends and colleagues, and if you have contacts through your job too then use them! When it comes to content writing, Emma Treadwell from Sparkling Copy says: “Contact EVERYONE you can think of who might need some editorial assistance, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I also worked quite a few evenings and weekends for the first few years after saying yes to every job that came along. It wasn’t easy but has paid dividends now that I have a large pool of regular clients.”

Work is a state of mind

My last bit of advice is more personal, and mostly comes from staving off my own bad habits. Whether your day’s work is applying for jobs, searching for clients or doing your freelance work from home, treat it as much like a working day as is sane and reasonable. Set an alarm for a reasonable time (one I’m still working on). If possible, set aside an area in your home where you work. I’m lucky to have the space for my own home office and I make sure I don’t do any work on my sofa. Get dressed in ‘outside clothes’ even if you have no plans to leave the house. If you have a pet, you could say things like “Mondays, amirite?” or “Have you got any nice plans for the weekend?” to them, just to make you feel like you’re at work. That last one might be a step too far, but do whatever you need to do to get yourself into a productive routine.

Leaving paid employment to go solo can be daunting, and self-employment comes with a long list of pros and cons. However, fear of the unknown should not be a reason to not make the leap if you think it could make you happy, and you never know where it could take you. I hadn’t even considered freelance writing when I handed in my notice back in April, and now I’ll be learning how to design my own website and build up my own portfolio. It’s scary, but you might find yourself surprised at where self-employment can take you.