THOUGHTS ON BEING A FREELANCER
When people find out I'm a freelance writer I typically get a combination of three types of responses:
I'm so jealous; I wish I could work from home. This response is occasionally given by someone who use to work from home themselves and is feeling nostalgic, but more often is given by someone who doesn't have the most realistic concept of what working from home actually looks like.
Ohmygod your job is my worse nightmare. This response tends to come from the type of people who view working from home/freelance as stressful and unstable (or people who just hate to write). It's been my experience that these types of people tend to gravitate towards career paths that would never lend themselves to freelance anyway. (I love these people. Not only do they have a skill set that is totally opposite than mine–and we definitely need people like that in the world–but it means there is one less human out there trying to do the same thing as me.)
That's not a real job. This response is hardly ever said in so many words but tends to be a general attitude that leaks out through backhanded comments (you know the type). There is a perception among some that I don't actually work. Freelance writing isn't always viewed as stable enough to bring in real money. While this could be true for some freelancers and freelance writing definitely isn't constantly stable in the same way as a job with a paycheck that is the same amount of money arriving at the same time every month, I have managed to support myself through writing for pretty much my entire adult life, with more than half that time being freelance (verses working on staff.)
I love working as a writer and many of the things I have done throughout my career. It's been an unconventional, wild ride with many ups and downs, but I still feel really good about my decision to be a freelance writer. During my time as a freelancer, I have learned some valuable lessons—often through trial-and-error. For anyone considering being a freelancer or struggling with working from home, here are a few of the things that I found usefully:
Staying organized is critical. Between managing my time, my deadlines, and my invoices, it is easy to lose track, forget or misplace something. Nothing is worse than expecting to get paid by a client and finding myself wondering if I sent the invoice in the first place. I use both a color-coded Google calendar the syncs between all my devices and a physical calendar that stays on my home-office desk. I use different colors to help me track my personal editorial calendar, client work, meetings, and billings. I also have a task app for individual day-to-day stuff (I like to use TeuxDeux). This system works well for me, but everyone is different so if you're thinking of working as a freelancer, use a little trial-and-error to figure out what system works well to keep you organized.
Be a strict boss. While one of the perks of working as a freelancer from home is that you have a lot more freedom within your daily schedule, this can also lead to some dangerous habits. It is so easy to fall into binge-watching a tv show or any of the other wormholes on the Internet. I have lost many would-be productive days to Netflix. It's also very easy to stay out late or sleep in late when you're in charge of your own work schedule and your commute is non-existent. Just cause you can do those things, doesn't mean you should do those things. Setting strict limits on when I can use particular websites or watch tv, as well as forcing myself to get up every morning as if I still need to be at an office has both upped my productivity and helped create a sense of stability in a career that lacks an element of structure.
Know your value. When I started out as a writer after graduating college, I was so excited just to get paid to write, I didn't care if I was making peanuts. While building up a portfolio can involve doing some underpaid or free work, as your experience grows so does your value. I still occasionally charge clients less than I technically should, but have learned to keep better track of my market value. The converse of this is also true: don't over-charge for where you are in your career. It's hard to establish long-term relationships, repeat work with clients, or to get jobs in the first place when you're billing as if you're a senior-level but you're experience is still junior-level (pay your dues, punk).
Make your personal projects important. When you want to start a personal project—such as writing your own blog, starting a YouTube channel, or writing a book—at the beginning, no one will care about it as much as you and no one will pay you to do it. Or at least, that's usually the case. When you have bills to pay, it can feel hard to designate time for a project that isn't generating money yet (even if it might eventually). But if you don't treat it like an important project, it will never grow into an important project. I treat these projects as if I'm my own client and I could fire myself off the account. As much as feasible, I set aside actual scheduled time during my work week for my personal projects. Without that, my blog posts would probably never become anything more than an idea floating around in my head.
Have a thought, question, or your own personal story about working as a freelancer? Feel free to leave it in the comments section below.