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Reflection #3: My Leap Into Freelancing–Cold Turkey

by Helen Fosam

In my newfound profession as a medical writer, I gained new knowledge and learned new skills. I made new connections and gathered new friends. I was settled and understood the field of medical writing. Members of my ‘village’ grew. I even felt confident that I could provide valuable input when asked for ideas for innovative educational solutions. I had almost ten years of experience behind me by this time. My job hopping – just in the right amount – had peppered my resume with experiences that made me stand out. I felt as if I was surfing on the ocean of success with the wind of confidence behind me. So I hopped again. And soon after that hop, an opportunity arose for me to go it alone – as a freelance medical writer. Let me explain.

I thought I had finally ‘arrived’ with my new company! America had grown on me. Finally, I had my own office, complete with a couch for informal guests and a meeting space for formal guests. The company was expanding and wanted me to help them with their expansion.
But the expansion did not go as quickly as the company had anticipated. They downsized. I was included in the size down. I lost my job precisely seven months after I joined the company! On reflection, that was the best thing that happened to me because that was when I jumped in, feet first, into freelance medical writing. Head first would have been better. So that I could thoroughly research my new venture. So that I could fully understand what freelance medical writing was all about. So that I could line up my clients and know exactly what to charge and how to charge for my expertise. And above all, to understand what I needed to know about business and all of its moving parts. Yes, head first would have definitely been much better. So that I would have thought it through. So that I would be ready.

But I did none of that. Do first and think later was my approach. If anyone had told me that starting a freelance medical writing business cold turkey would be like jumping into ice-cold water, I would not have dipped my toe in. I would have chickened out. So I’m glad I jumped in feet first into that ice-cold water. And, I warmed up. Slowly but surely. This approach is not for everyone. But on reflection, here’s my take on this. You can never be 100% ready before starting anything. Learning by doing is better than only learning theory. Having zero money, no office space, no equipment, etcetera, as an excuse not to start anything is a state of mind. Start small, grow, and then scale. Luckily for me, all I needed was a laptop. The kitchen table was my office. No time is perfect. So why not now? Losing my job was the kick in the behind I needed.

A freelance business is a mini-business executed like a mega business. The only difference is that you’re the only person in every department. I knew nothing about business. But I learned as I went along. I soon discovered the incredible opportunities that unfolded. The fact that I could say ‘no’ to a project I did not want or ‘no’ to a client I no longer wanted to work with was liberating. I was hooked. But a word of caution. Success as a freelance medical writer, or any business for that matter, is not easy or quick. It takes time, effort, and patience. So be ready to put in the work. Be patient with your slow start. Oh, and be prepared to make mistakes — tons of it in my case — throwing money down a bottomless pit while at it. It’s all part of the learning process. Above all, be grateful for any support you get — from complete strangers to your significant other. In my case, support from my husband. Did I say I’ll introduce him in another reflection?

Four years into my freelance business and with a decade of experience as a medical writer behind me, I received the call for help from someone residing in a continent near and dear to my heart. Around that stage in my career, I was exploring ways to start giving back to my ‘village.’ So that call for help was timely. And that’s how my medical writing and the African connection began.

Helen Fosam is the founder of the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes (MiLHO) Initiative. The initiative focuses on creating online continuing medical education courses for healthcare professionals in Africa. We are currently beta-testing our pilot course on type 2 diabetes. Click here https://milho.net/subscribe/ to subscribe and to access the free diabetes course.

A medical writer focusing on continuing medical education, Helen has roots in pre-clinical research, in academia as a faculty member, and in the healthcare sector as an R&D adviser. She holds a Ph.D. in Physiology from Sheffield University, UK, MSc in Biochemistry from Sussex University, UK, and BSc in Biochemistry from Kent University, UK.

The MiLHO Initiative emerged from a combination of a personal medical emergency, the role CME played in that emergency, and the realization that healthcare professionals’ access to and participation in CME is critical to evidence-based patient care and their optimal health outcomes. The mission of the MiLHO Initiative is to support healthcare professionals in Africa to access relevant and affordable CME in their local settings. Join us. Together, we can make a difference. Click here https://milho.net/subscribe/ to subscribe, and then forward the link to your contacts.