One Year Of Being Self Employed

Becoming self employed is by far one of the scariest things I've ever done but, one year in I can also say that it has been one of the best decisions of my life. It's been a year of chasing up invoices, turned down pitches and jobs falling through but it's also been a year of life changing opportunities, enjoying my job and best of all, getting to say that writing and photography are my job. Being self employed and a freelancer brings a lot of up's and down's and my disability definitely throws some curveballs in there too but I can safely say I'm glad I made the jump. One year in and I wanted to talk a little about my experience, answer your questions and nervously, share my earnings. That last part is important to me, growing up in the UK we're taught not to talk about money but I was undercharging for so long (and still am to be honest) because none of us talked about this, so I wanted to be open with all of you in the hope of shedding some light on what year one has been like. 

My earnings are split up into 3 areas: blog work, freelance writing and freelance photography. Now the photography side has developed more over the past few months as I officially started taking on paid work, so most of my earnings have been through my blog, things like social media ad's and sponsored blog posts, and freelance writing. Whilst I have a decent following online I have quite a niche blog so blog work comes about once a month, so I've thrown most of my energy into freelance writing over the past year and it's definitely paid off. 

I earnt £2,147.50 in year one, with £200 of that being from photography, £425 from blog work and £1,522.50 being from freelance writing. I'm not able to work full time hours in a traditional 9-5 job due to my disability so these earnings are currently supported by ESA, an unemployment benefit. It means that the hours I can work and the money I can earn is limited though, so right now I'm looking into moving on to Universal Credit instead to help give me a safety net whilst I work more on my self employment. I'm 2 months into year two and already it's looking super positive and I'm almost at that stage where I don't need as much financial support. Of course, Covid has played havoc with that a little but I feel lucky that when photography work is low I can focus more on writing and vice versa. In year one I was earning on average between £100 and £150 a month but so far in year two that has risen to around £300-£500 a month. 

The rise in earnings and work have simply been from me just putting myself out there more. I'm sending more pitches than ever before and I'm grabbing any opportunity for photography experience where I can. Most of my working hours are spent looking for work and pitching to publications, rather than actually writing or taking photos. That's definitely something I wish I'd figured out sooner as well, at the beginning of this journey I was only pitching one or two written pieces a month but now I'm pitching between 5-10, so naturally I am getting more work as a result. It's hard getting no's when you pour your heart and soul into a pitch but now instead of accepting the no and leaving the idea, I'll just pitch it somewhere else! 

I truly do have to pinch myself everyday that this is my job. I've built a career from starting a little blog when I was just 14 years old. I don't have A Levels or a university degree but I do have passion and that has taken me a long way!

                                                               Photography by Kaye Ford

Where do you find work?

When it comes to freelance writing most of my jobs start from an idea for a piece I have myself, usually off the back of a news story or a personal experience. Over the years I've built up contacts across different publications so I'll have a think about where I think the piece would work best, check to see if they've already covered it and then send over my pitch. More recently though I have been trying to diversify in terms of who I'm pitching to, as I do tend to write for the same places over and over again. Social media plays a big part in finding publications, I follow a lot journalists and editors on Twitter so I'm always keeping an eye out for call outs and making note of publications and what kind of pieces they accept. When it comes to blog work most of that is pitched to me by brands or companies who want to work with me and with photography is mainly word of mouth that gets me work! I think overall research is key, get to know publications and their tone, what kind of pieces they publish and you'll soon get to know where your pieces will best fit.

Do you ever feel guilty when you can't give 100% because of pain?

My girlfriend will confirm this for you, this is something I massively struggle with. Imposter syndrome, which is feelings of inadequacy and self doubt, is already a problem for freelancers and those who are self employed and I feel like my disability adds a whole other layer to this. I feel like I have to work twice as hard to get half as far sometimes and I burnout quite often from trying to say yes to everything. When my health does suffer as a result I absolutely feel guilty and more than that, I feel like every minute I spend resting is damaging my career. I'm definitely getting better at managing these feelings and giving myself breaks when needed but it's hard when there is such a direct correlation between how much work you put in and how much money you get out. Self employment absolutely is more suited to me as a disabled person but it's also a double edged sword because I don't always have the energy I need to keep the momentum going.

How do you stand out?

This is such a difficult question to answer but I think finding your passion helps so much, and for me that is disability and theatre. Whilst it's important to diversify when you're self employed, having a niche absolutely helps you stand out and makes you memorable when people are looking for a specific kind of person to hire. For so long I thought my disability was hindering me, especially when it comes to photography, but actually I've come to see that my disability makes me memorable. That are thousands of photographers out there, but not many of them use a powerchair so immediately people remember me. So, if you think something is holding you back or is a weakness, look at it from a different angle and turn it into the thing that is going to make you memorable. 

As I look towards year two of being self employed my biggest goal is to get to the point where I earn enough to survive without financial support of any kind, I'm not looking to earn a massive amount but enough to cover my monthly bills would do me nicely! I'd also like to be doing more photography work, have my writing in print publications more and have another regular writing job, a monthly column of sorts. Despite everything that is going on in the world right now I am really excited to see what this next year brings! 

If you have anymore questions then send a tweet or message to @shonalouiseblog and I'll do my best to answer them! 


  1. I loved reading this - I can't wait to see what next year brings for you!

  2. Full of admiration. Not so easy when you are 65 and living with advanced MS, only get the occasional gig as a service user

  3. Hi again! It's a long time since I've got really absorbed in reading a blog, but here I am... while I should be working! I also do some photography work and wondered whether you had come across Beyond the Lens by the Association of Photographers? I found it invaluable when I started out, and not just for photography work.

    1. Thank you so much for this advice, I will take a look!

  4. Oh - here's the link: https://www.the-aop.org/information/beyond-the-lens There's helpful info on the AOP site about pricing your work. (If you're worried about your fees being too low, then they probably are!)