Today’s post hasn’t been easy to write – partly because it’s not easy to admit to your own trip ups in public and partly because that chapter is not yet closed. But here goes.
When we were told in my office that, as a result of a review of my department (the 4thone in 2 years), our publications programme would be sold to a bigger publisher, I wasn’t perhaps as upset as some of my colleagues. I had a plan – I’d been freelancing for over 3 years, working away in my free time (evenings and weekends, at a cost of spending time with my friends and more importantly, my partner, doing all those other things people do when they leave their office for the day – you can’t if you work 15-hour days). I was prepared. Everyone kept telling me I’d make a great success of my freelance career, I’d have clients fighting over my golden quill, I wouldn’t have to worry. Well, only some of those good wishes have come true.
Freelance is the new big thing. It’s sold to people as guaranteeing freedom from the shackles of office work, from the drudge that is commuting, sitting by your desk and seeing the same people every day. But what do you get in return?
What is it like to freelance: the (hard) truth
What nobody can quite admit to is that freelancing – or working from home – is lonely. While my housemates were leaving for work, I moved onto the sofa. Or an armchair. Or to the dining table. During the day, they met people, went out for lunch, chatted with colleagues over tea. Me – I started chatting to local shopkeepers, our postman, people I met in the park on my lunchtime walks, or I’d spend whole days not speaking to a single person apart from my partner. When I began to mark up the days I had made an appointment outside the house, I knew it was time to do something about it.
But that was only part of the story. The other thing, the elephant in the room, is money. From drawing a regular salary to not having any salary at all is a hard jump. From being independent in a relationship to not quite being able to pay for dinner because I haven’t been paid that month, or the month before (some companies have a 60-day invoice clearing policy, which is, frankly, a disgrace), is a hard jump. So, lessons learnt.
How can you make it work?
That you have to be organised and not waste your days watching Netflix is obvious. That you have to be willing to be really responsible for your finances – and set your rates, and negotiate, and save (!!), as it will be a while before your earnings will be regular enough for you to stop thinking about them day to day (a year maybe? 2 years?) – is the grown up thing to do.
Next – clients. As a freelancer, you have to constantly work to get that next job. You need to advertise, get your name out, network, apply for part-time roles, send out enquiries. That is, surprisingly enough, time (and energy) consuming. So in addition to doing the actual work, you also have to do a lot of the extra things that workers in regular employment mostly don’t have to worry about.
Then – colleagues. It’s good to have people to share with, chat about work, get support from. Your friends and partner will be understanding, but unless they work in the same area as you, they won’t ‘get it’, try as they might. You may find your community online, but if, like me, you do like to leave the house more than once a fortnight then maybe try temporary, office-based work or find a part-time job? That’s what I’ve done. I registered with a job agency and within 2 weeks they placed me in a role. Having a part-time job not only allows me to sleep better at night (those money worries…), but I get human company, too. I’m a dedicated introvert and love spending time alone, but I guess everyone has got their limits…!
Oh, and it’s impossible to work in a garden if you’re using a laptop – the glare from the sun will take care of that.
To wrap up, there is definitely a lot to freelancing to make it an attractive option* to earn your living from, but it does come with real issues that its insta-version doesn’t seem to want to touch upon. I think it’s time we started being honest about it.
*A disclaimer: I didn’t write about the positives of freelancing, because there is plenty on that in every corner of the internet. I do value the freedom freelancing gives me – to work how much I want or need to, when I can, the way I like to work and with the people I like to work with. But I wouldn’t have done it without a huge investment of my own time and finances, at a cost to my relationship, friendships and sometimes, health (those 15-hour days do start getting to you after a while). I have a brilliant, supportive partner and savings I was happy to live off while I was setting up. I am realistic about it and I do believe I can make it work, whether part-time or full-time is yet to be seen. And I hope that, if you’re considering going freelance, then you’ll go into it with your eyes open and knowing what you can expect, the good and the ugly. Make it work for you. And don’t be afraid to admit if it doesn’t; it really is not the be all and end all.