Freelancing is Tough! (But It’s the Best Job on the Planet)

I used to freelance part time. Before I left the corporate world, I primarily worked in sales management and marketing. I also did a stint as an educator, but it was that career choice which led me to begin freelancing. The pay was horrible. My paycheck would just barely cover childcare for my own kids. The hours were inconsistent. I didn’t work weekends, but I felt as if I had no free time to spend with my family. And the management, quite frankly, lacked skill.

I knew I was taking a leap of faith when I left my “real” job to freelance full time. Fortunately, I landed safely, both feet planted firmly on the other side of the chasm. I know not everyone has had the experience I had.

Freelancing is hard work. I’ve said over and over that if you want your self-employment grow in any capacity, you’ve got to treat it as a full time job. If you don’t, it will never become one. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and am fully aware that there are aspects of corporate life I miss.

1. You’ll get no paycheck.

This was especially true when I began as a freelance writer. I relied heavily on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to land “gigs,” not understanding that one could land actual clients without using the content mills.

In a past life, I enjoyed receiving a paycheck monthly. I was able to allocate my earnings to last the month. Rent was paid, childcare was paid, my car note was paid… and it wasn’t even the 5th of the month yet.

It’s different now. I may be paid $40 on Tuesday for a few social media posts, followed by several thousand on the following Monday for a web project. It’s difficult to budget.

If you’re a beginning freelancer, have patience! Once you get into the swing of the freelance business, you’ll be able to anticipate both your monthly needs and your monthly earnings. It will take time, but in the end it’s very similar to a direct deposited paycheck.

2. You’ll have few coworkers.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss the workplace drama. The cattiness, gossip and theatrics were enough to make me quit my job. But I do miss the comradery. I developed close friendships in each of the offices where I worked, and while I’m still in touch with my friends from those jobs, the dynamic has changed.

The encouragement I can offer to the beginning freelancer is this: networking is quite easy. Venues like Facebook, Twitter and even online message boards can make collaboration with freelancers in your field a breeze. You’ll develop friendships, and may even benefit professionally from the connections.

3. No one will understand what you do.

In the corporate world, you’ll need a resume. That resume may include a summary of your skills, or an objectives section. This is how you catch the attention of your prospective employer. In simplistic terms, it’s your elevator pitch.

I highly recommend that every freelancer create an elevator pitch. Because you’re going to be asked a thousand times if you’re asked once: “What do you do?”

Nobody’s gon’ understand. And those who think they understand are usually wrong. They visualize me, a freelance writer, sipping brandy and smoking cigars from my balcony in Vienna. That’s not even close to reality. As I type this, I’m sitting beside a large pot of coffee, listening to angry 90s music as I furiously pound out 80 words per minute.

Someone will tell you to get a real job. Someone will inevitably say, “and you get paid for that?” They’ll all ask you to repeat yourself. Have your elevator pitch ready. I learned this early, and while I miss simply replying, “I work in the marketing department for a multinational tech company,” I’ve learned to deal.

4. You absolutely must wear a hundred hats.

When I started freelancing I was all over the place. As I mentioned, I relied on Upwork and other platforms to provide clients, and a large chunk of my day was devoted to sending proposals and browsing jobs. I’d write about everything from electric smokers to haunted houses, and switching gears between topics was difficult enough. Add in the self-promotion and the typical day was a hot mess.

I’m a little more settled now. My work day begins somewhere between 8 and 9 in the morning. I write around 8,000 to 10,000 words from the time I begin to the time I close up at around 4 pm. From 4 to 5 in the afternoon, I’m browsing available job opportunities, working on social media and doing light marketing work.

I begin family time no later than 5. And it doesn’t begin again until 8:30 in the evening, if at all. The evening hours are when I work on my personal projects, browse industry news, and do my more mindless tasks, like the accounting.

As a freelancer, you’ll be everything to everyone. You’re a full business operation, and you’re the administrative assistant, the labor, the accountant, the marketing department, the creative team and the CEO. Get used to it, and quickly. An inability to do a thousand things at once is almost a certain sign of impending doom.

If you’re financially secure, you may choose to outsource some of your administrative tasks. But those of us who aren’t independently wealthy have to do it ourselves.

Not convinced?

Good. My goal isn’t to convince you that freelancing isn’t the best damn career on the planet. Instead, I aim to reach out and offer insight to a few obstacles I had to overcome. I’m not unique in that way. There are scores of other freelancers who could commiserate with these facts of freelancing life.

It’s worth it. I can’t visualize myself in an office setting anymore; I’d rather sell my toes than go back to work in a traditional setting. You’ll navigate the rough waters of the beginning stages of your business, just as I did. Don’t give up, and be sure to treat your job as a job. I wish you the best of success in your career as a freelancer, whatever your industry may be.

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