7 Things no one tells you about being a freelancer
A few months ago, I made a bit of a controversial career decision. I left my cozy corporate job in pursuit of a career as a freelance writer and editor.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to adapt to the change and I came to the realization that this move actually requires a lot more effort than I’d initially thought.
So, naturally, when people find out what I do and gush about how awesome it would be to stay home all day, I get a little ticked. Just because I’m not forced to wake up at six am to groggily catch a bus to work does not mean that my life is perfect.
According to my own field research, 100% of people with 9 – 5 jobs think freelancers lounge around their house in their undies eating junk food all day and charging clients to look at their mess of a life, circus-style.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a freelancer. But I have a major problem with how some people advertise it as the easiest thing in the world. Freelancing is not a Disney movie; it’s got its pros and cons just like everything else.
So, in an attempt to counteract the fluffy image portrayed of freelancers everywhere (epically sipping gourmet coffee at a cafe, happily typing away for five minutes and charging their clients $100), I’d like to show you the reality, just so you wouldn’t be surprised if you decided to take the plunge yourself.
So, what are the things people never tell you about being a freelancer?
#1 You’re ‘on’ all the time
You know how you can set up an auto-response on your email telling people about your delegate when you’re on vacation? We can’t do that. We have to answer our clients all the time because we have no one to delegate to -and if we don’t, we risk losing a financial stream we need.
So while you’re lounging by the beach, people can just choose to contact John from accounting instead of you.
But when you’re a freelancer, you are John. You’re the CEO, the accountant, HR person, PR specialist, social media executive, marketer, cleaning lady, office boy and everything in between.
Basically, every time a freelancer’s phone buzzes, they feel a slight twitch of anticipation/dread.
#2 You might get lonely
Fact: I am the most antisocial person in the world.
Fact: During my first four months as a freelancer, I spent days at a time with just my cat -and I was ecstatic.
Fact: After four months, it got lonely and I found myself craving some companionship.
Say goodbye to eating communal meals or telling people about your day. No group cigarette breaks here. Nope. Your best bet is to find another freelancer and maybe you can both work from a co-working space or cafe together.
Otherwise, you’ll find yourself being uncharacteristically chatty with the electrician, the pharmacist, and the supermarket delivery guy.
#3 You need a buttload of discipline
Whenever someone finds out I’m a freelancer, they automatically assume that I get to wake up at noon. But the truth is, unless your clients are so chill that they don’t get to the office until noon themselves, you’ll have to wake up at a reasonable hour to talk to them about the work.
Granted, freelancers probably don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn like people who have corporate jobs, but they still have to set an alarm.
And here’s the kicker: because it’s YOUR choice to get up, and it’s YOUR choice to shower and get dressed and sit at the desk to start working, and it’s YOUR choice to turn on the laptop, sometimes you might be too lazy to do that.
Because human beings are lazy idiots by nature. It’s true.
Let’s stop lying to ourselves.
So in order for someone to successfully create a thriving freelance career, they need a lot of discipline. A buttload of discipline, to be exact.
#4 You have no weekends
Fact: this blog post has been in my ‘drafts’ folder for around three months -because I haven’t had the time to finish it for three freakin months.
When you’re your own boss, you might find yourself stressing out over deadlines and overworking yourself without even noticing. Every time I receive a new task, I feel like I need to finish it in order to be able to relax guilt-free. And then when tasks begin to become back-to-back, I realize that I’ve been staring at my screen for five hours with no breaks or food. I then realize that it’s been three months since I’ve had a chill day and hug my cat for comfort.
#5 Your clients don’t really care about you
Well -the sweet ones do, but those are super rare.
Other than that, no one gives two shits how you’re doing. If you’ve got a deadline and you get sick, tough luck. You still need to meet the deadline. Telling your client that you’ll have to postpone will make you look unprofessional and will jeopardize your relationship.
So, nope, no sick leaves here. I got a cold a few weeks ago and I had to work in between my medicine-induced naps because freelancing.
#6 No work, no money
You know how you can spend your entire morning in the smoking area with your coffee buddies and then spend half an hour gossiping with a colleague after your hour-long lunch break? You still get paid at the end of the month, right? Yeah.
Freelancers don’t have that luxury because there is no fixed paycheck. The more you work, the more you make (which is great), but if you need to stop, there are financial repercussions.
That’s why freelancers have an issue of instability; they’re always on the lookout for new clients and more work because if one or more streams stop, they might not be able to afford groceries (seriously).
#7 The culture doesn’t take you seriously
Every time someone gets a day off and wants to hang out in the morning, they assume I’m free. Then, when I tell them that I have work to do, they give me a surprised look and say, “Oh? I thought you worked from home..”
Add to that the fact that every time the house needs a plumber, electrician or carpenter, my family is convinced that it’s totally okay for me to accompany them while they finish their tasks -because, to them, I’m just sitting at home, so I MUST be free.
Again, I love what I do and I don’t regret my decision one bit. While I miss the stable feeling of knowing that a salary will be deposited in my bank account even if I don’t do squat, I don’t mind the trade-off.
All that I ask -on behalf of myself and all the other freelancers out there- is to stop unrealistically glamorizing it. I know the grass always seems greener on the other side, but you need to understand that we’ve all got upsides and downsides in our lives. It’s not a competition to see who’s more miserable.
What matters is that you make a decision you’re content with -warts and all.