4 Myths About the Transition from Freelance to Full-Time

Working as a freelancer is not a universal experience, but as a writer-for-hire who created marketing content for businesses, I found the frequent isolation to be liberating.

I could play my music loud, cook food when I wanted, and I always had time to do laundry. I wasn’t looking at an early retirement, but I was watching my freelance business steadily grow. I’d even set up an LLC, because it made me feel more legit.

I began to proudly consider myself “unemployable,” the way that fiction writers and comedians do.

Then I got an offer from an agency. I took it.

It was not an easy decision. I knew I’d face challenges as I made the transition, but now I see that I was wrong about what those challenges would be. After six months of working for the agency, I see that I once believed four myths about shifting from freelance to full-time that I now know to be totally false.

Myth #1

Working for The Man is detrimental to your health.

Winter is extremely stressful for commuters in Chicago. During the colder months, I’d often look down from my home office at the snow-covered streets below, where cars inched down Sheridan Avenue and bundled-up pedestrians walked to their bus stops or the Red Line. I’d sip my coffee and smile. Surely, I thought, I was going to live longer thanks to my low-stress work situation.

I now know how wrong I was. Yes, stress is probably bad for you in high doses. But now I’m convinced that no stress could be even worse, particularly when we’re talking about bodily stress.

In early February of this year, I noticed that I had gotten a lot squishier over the course of my winter hibernation. I decided to take up the jump rope as a way to get back into decent shape without having to go outside. After a good 20 minutes of jumping rope while watching The Daily Show, I went to bed exhausted. The next day, I couldn’t put weight on my right foot without excruciating pain.

After a self-diagnosis that lasted about two weeks (going to a specialist with my bare-minimum health insurance was out of the question), I determined that I hadn’t broken my foot. I’d just severely strained my peroneal tendon. It would be another two weeks before I could walk without pain, and it was during that recuperation phase that I was invited to check out a marketing agency’s office. I was limping, and I was impressed.

I haven’t even felt a tinge of pain in my peroneal tendon for the past four months. And lower back pain, which could get acute during my time as a freelancer, has nearly disappeared.

My advice: Don’t allow yourself to hibernate. Writers are sedentary enough as it is. If you stay inside your home office and spend all your time sitting at your desk, your body assumes that you’re dead. It just gives up and begins decomposing, and you will probably not notice until you try to use your body for things other than walking to the bathroom and shoveling food into your mouth.

Activity as simple as taking the train to work will keep your back, joints and tendons loose and help prevent the kinds of debilitating injuries I suffered in my foot and back as a freelancer.

Myth #2

You have found your optimal sleeping and eating patterns, and deviating from them would be bad for everyone and everything.

Effective freelancers stick to schedules and daily routines to keep pace with the demands of regular content creation. Whether that schedule means working nine-to-five on weekdays is another story.

Personally, I like a minimum of eight hours of sleep and a big breakfast in the morning. So as a freelancer, I would wake up at 8 a.m. and cook bacon and eggs while the coffee brewed. I wasn’t usually sitting at my desk doing official work stuff until about 9:30 a.m. I tended to hit my writing stride in the afternoon around 3 p.m., and I often didn’t finish working until after seven at night. When I joined the agency, which is officially open for business from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., I found that my habits were tough to break.

The first few weeks, I would often not get into work until almost 10 a.m. My new coworkers found my morning routine to be questionable at best, but I was also often one of the last to leave during the early days. I’d even drop by the office on some weekends so that I could enjoy a few hours of unbridled productivity. Based on conversations I’d had with the higher-ups prior to signing on full-time, I was confident that they would tolerate my unconventional work habits as I made the transition.

My advice: If you’re considering making the switch from freelance to full-time, make sure you have an honest discussion about clocking-in and clocking-out with your new employer before you accept their offer. You might think it sounds unprofessional to ask about non-traditional hours, but if your employer-to-be is a good match, they’ll grant you some wiggle room as you recalibrate your eating and sleeping patterns to sync with the corporate world. Just make sure you’re delivering the goods, or your employer will quickly lose patience.

Smart employers will give talented people some leeway as they adapt to the productivity rhythms of new work environments, because they know that the transition will almost certainly happen. Now that I’ve been working full-time for six months, the 9 a.m. start time is no problem. In fact, it’s a luxury when I compare it to the start times of friends in other industries. Sometimes I’ll come in a little later, if, say, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the night before. And sometimes I’ll get to the office around 7:30 a.m. so that I can get a head start on the day while the office is quiet.

The point is that habits are just habits. The fact that you have them does not mean that they are optimal or immutable. You can change them, and you will likely find that your productivity increases in the long run.

photo by Bill Branson

Myth #3

Meetings suck and you will hate them.

They’re institutionalized procrastination! It’s all talk, no walk! Meetings are nothing but groupthink and politics, man!

It’s easy to laugh at the concept of meetings when you work by yourself.

During my first month at the new job, I turned down meetings like amulets from bogus Buddhists on the street. I was hired to write, not meet. But after a nudge from my desk neighbor to attend a digital “huddle,” my opinion of meetings changed.

We didn’t sit in a conference room; we sat on comfortable chairs and couches. As we went around the circle, each person updated the team on what they were working on. It was a chance to give kudos and ask for help, and it allowed me to see how this diverse team of developers, designers, writers, SEO specialists and project managers worked together to get projects done.

My advice: When starting a full-time job, don’t resist meetings, no matter how frivolous they seem. Attend and participate as much as you can. It’s crucial that you present yourself as a team player early on. You’ll absorb more than the information shared; you’ll also gain insight into the company’s structure, communication norms and culture.

If a particular meeting doesn’t seem to be useful to you or require your presence after the first three, politely decline future invites from the meeting organizer and suggest that you be looped in if there’s anything specific the group needs from you. I haven’t had to actually do that with more than one or two meetings, and yet my meetings calendar remains barren compared to those of my colleagues.

I love this image.

Myth #4

Coworkers will only distract you and hamper productivity.

When I worked from home, I could control my environment in ways that reduced distractions and increased productivity. I either worked in silence or to wordless music like jazz (beep beep bop) or techno (beep beep bop bloop). I always had coffee or tea on. I could have a snack or do a dance whenever I felt like it.

But sometimes I needed a change of scenery to avoid falling into a rut. In those cases, I’d walk to a nearby coffee shop that was always humming with people of all ages by about 10:30 a.m., but I rarely got distracted. To my surprise, I found that the activity actually kept me alert and focused. That’s because they were strangers, and their professional successes were not intertwined with mine. The only requests I got from them were to scootch my seat up so they could get to the cream and sugar.

Things are different when you’re in an office, particularly one with an open office plan like I work in now. I was afraid that collaboration would come at the expense of the monk-like concentration that I often need to write even the most basic blog post. Luckily, the people I work with tend to know when it’s OK to divert my attention from whatever I’m doing. (Rule of thumb: If I’m reading, it’s cool. If I’m writing, go away or I’ll bite you.)

My advice: When integrating into a new office, keep in mind that you are no longer a lone wolf — you’re part of a team. It took some getting used to, but this big-picture frame of mind is now my default setting. So it doesn’t feel like my colleagues are interrupting me when they stop by my desk to ask a question. It feels like a chance to get more done in the day.

Usually coworkers will ask for help with tasks that fall into one of two categories:

1. It’s difficult for them, but it’s easy for me. Writing a line and a button for a remarketing ad can be an intimidating, time-consuming task for some. When I send them 10 copy options in under half an hour, they can spend more time doing what they do best and less time wondering why I work here.

2. It’s difficult for them, and it’s difficult for me. These tend to be more creative projects that I don’t mind wrestling with, like interactive landing pages that need a strong and clear narrative. I get a life-affirming feeling when I work on projects that require pure, uncut creativity, and you should too if you like content marketing.

Think of your task list as a subset of the company’s high-level business goals, and you’ll begin to see coworkers as productivity-enhancers — not distractors.

If you’re a freelance marketing writer who is ready for a change, I have good news for you: Walker Sands is hiring a content strategist in Chicago. Visit that link to apply. Mention that you learned about the job on Medium, and I promise I’ll read the rest of your cover letter.

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