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Mark Armstrong

Some students will be envisioning a day when they can be their own boss, possibly as soon as they graduate. It can be a daunting thought, the idea of running your own business, with you being responsible for everything from locating work to managing budgets to completing government forms. However, whilst it is a big risk to take, it certainly isn’t impossible.

Mark Armstrong, a new contributor to TSR, graduated from Liverpool Hope University in 2009 with a degree in BA Honours Media. His aim was to work in a writing capacity for a magazine or newspaper on a local level. So how is it that Mark is now working as a freelance writer, proofreader and social media manager?

Mark explains: “After I graduated, my dream was to be writing for the Liverpool Echo or another North-West newspaper, or perhaps one of the city’s biggest magazines. Over the next 12-18 months I did what I could to obtain writing experience with a number of publications, one of which was the Echo.

“I won’t lie; obtaining these voluntary placements was very difficult. There are so many people in the same position that you’ve got to find a way to show these companies that you have something, whether it be a style of writing or an interest in a particular area (sport, fashion, theatre etc) that nobody else does. Living locally helps, as well as making it clear that getting the experience is more important than being paid.

“I enjoyed my placements, but in early 2011 I discovered that to take that next step, I had to take an NCTJ qualification. At the time, it cost £1,800 for a 12-week course, and having not found full-time work in a media role yet, I was wondering whether this was a chance that I could really take. This was partly for financial reasons, and partly because I wondered why my degree and my experience weren’t enough to even be potentially considered for a role.

“As it turned out, a chance opportunity moved me into another direction. A graduate course came up at Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, and I actually went along because I thought that the Chamber might find me a way into one of the big local newspapers or magazines due to their press connections.

“Well, long story short, I impressed the Chamber staff enough to receive a work placement there and, at the end of 2011, I was signed to a full-time contract in the communications department, which expanded into a more established role in 2012. In this position as Communications Officer, I wrote for the magazine, the website, newsletters, the mobile app, social media channels – in other words, I pretty much had the ideal job.

“By mid-2014, I was looking at other options. I had a great time at the Chamber but, in my position, I had gone as far as I realistically could unless I moved into another department. I still loved writing and that, along with the increasing demand for social media on a business level, told me what it was that I wanted to pursue. At this point, newspapers and magazines were in a weaker position due to technological changes; online writing was now the way forward.

“So, when a restructuring led to me leaving the Chamber in late 2014, I decided that I wanted to go freelance. Through the Chamber, I was in close contact with many companies, assisting them with various things. However, I had always thought that if I were independent, I could help these people even more by actually writing stories for them, or by managing their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

“And that’s what I did. It took me a few months to really get going. It wasn’t just a case of emailing people and starting to write; I had to learn how to register my business, what forms I had to complete (once set up, only a HMRC Self-Assessment is required, at least in the early days), what records I had to keep (financial, workload etc) and I attended whatever courses I could and spoke to whatever business advisors I could so that I knew exactly what I was getting into. And you have to be financially secure to take that leap; I had made decent savings, which allowed me to try this now. If I was just getting by, then I could not have realistically taken the chance to go freelance.

“Around summer 2015 is when I could say that I was truly ready, although I had already dipped my feet into my freelance work. Through word-of-mouth, my Chamber connections and attending networking events, I began to slowly build up the amount of work I was providing, whether it be writing interviews or managing social media accounts. In late 2015, I added proofreading to my list of services after having it requested by more than one client.

“Now, in spring 2016, I am at a pretty good point; I am kept busy, and I am finding it easier to find new clients. I have targets which I need to achieve before I can truly live off it, but my foray into freelance has definitely been a success. It is a constant learning process, and you will find that you have barren weeks, or even barren months, and then suddenly you’ll have a big amount of work coming in. As long as you have enough coming in to keep you covered for the quieter times, then you’ll be able to manage as you keep plugging away to start getting another spike in projects.

“For those who are considering going freelance regardless of their genre, I would advise you to speak to every business advisor that you can find; the New Business Development Club are a perfect group to speak to. I would advise that you have enough money saved so that you can afford to take a year or two away from “proper” work, just in case it doesn’t work. I would also advise that you research your market and the processes you need to go through to go freelance thoroughly, because it will allow you to find success a lot quicker. Manage your time and money well so that you aren’t wasting time on an irrelevant area of the business, and so that you aren’t wasting hundreds of pounds on a website when a free Blogger or WordPress page could suffice. And don’t just wake up one day and decide to do it; you need to plan for several months so that you know exactly what you’re getting into and so that you know what you need to do to get off the ground.

“Overall, I would say that going freelance is a big chance to take and, realistically, I am still requiring more work to achieve my initial targets. But success doesn’t happen overnight; as long as you have the talent, the know-how, the desire, the motivation and the work ethic, then you have a much greater chance of making the leap into the world of freelance a fruitful one. And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something, because as long as you give it everything that you have, there is a good chance that you CAN!”

Find out more about Mark Armstrong at writebase.blogspot.com.

(Featured image credit: Workplace with a laptop vector designed by Freepik.com, accessed via this page. Used under the Creative Commons Licence.)