The Essentials of Freelancing

Or Bring a Pillow and Get Comfortable

I started my first business in 2009, and it meant I needed to get a smart-phone. Most of my freelance work for this job was coming out of the SLC area in Utah, and I lived in Portland, Oregon, and I was then writing grants/proposals/contracts in about a dozen other states, as well as the business I could pick up on my own. I had no real tech experience to speak of (a little html coding, from which I built my website, and an understanding of how to do video conferences and calls). That, with a functional working knowledge of Microsoft office (save Excel, which still gives me feelings of dread when I open it), was all I had when I started. I proceeded to track invoices, profits and losses, expenses, and learn how to politely excuse myself from social events to take a work call that was from a different time-zone. I lost money the first two years and barely broke even for the next two, but I gained both hard and soft skills that enabled me to find a few more stable gigs. This did mean moving into my car, something that many interpreters/entrepreneurs are familiar with.

I installed a clothing rack, where I hung a suit-jacket and skirt, in case they were necessary, and stored multiple pairs of socks and stockings, as well as dress pants. A few single-color button ups were also kept in there, as well as black undershirts (I learned that I required more than one complete outfit change after I had a child throw up on me at an assignment, and then a bird poop on me right after I changed). Baby wipes, a tide pen, clear nail polish, a sewing kit.all of these were locked in a plastic safe box that was chained into my car. Along with these was an extra bra and shoes, snacks, and blanket and pillow. I’m sure the undergarments and shoes make sense, but I’ve been met with some confusion when the blanket and pillow come up.

Well, if I drove to a 9–11 job that was supposed to be two hours away, and I made it in an hour (no traffic, a back road, what have you), I still wasn’t getting out of work until 11 pm. If I’d been working that day, I probably had been on the road most of the day, and I was beat. I’d set my phone alarm (now an essential tool I couldn’t manage to live without), and would crash in my car for 45 minutes, before straightening my hair and makeup and walking in. They got an interpreter without brain fog, and I got a tiny nap in my (sometimes) 18 hour day. Everyone was better off, and I could plan to decompress after an assignment where I was dealing with some heavy vicarious trauma without having to worry about driving with tears pouring down my face. I didn’t schedule jobs around whether or not I was going to get to swing by home for an hour-long nap, as I could just grab one when I got to the gig, or when the gig was over, so I wasn’t driving while over tired. Once, I showed up to a school that had forgotten to announce it was on a late start day, and I got to sleep for two hours!

Most of these impromptu power naps have been in parking garages or on the property of the place I am scheduled to interpret (if it is large and there is some shade). Other times, I’ve parked in parks, near malls, and in tree-lined neighborhoods. This caused a problem once, as I was waiting for a venue to open, and I was parked on a residential street. It was past dark, and a “concerned neighbor” had called the police. I awoke to a flashlight and a uniform, but my white-lady-ness, as well as invoices and IDs, earned me a “sorry to bother you” before he headed back to his car. I know that would not have been the case for any interpreter of color who’d been startled awake by a badge. I decided to leave the fancy neighborhoods to themselves, and park where no one cared what I was doing.

Thing is, I’ve loved it. For the last decade, I’ve been a mother, a caregiver to a sibling with quadriplegia, a business owner, and student in graduate school (pursuing first my MS in Education and now my MA in US History). Without the flexibility of a freelance schedule, there’s not a chance I would have been able to take classes at a traditional university, as my MS required, and keep working (as my mortgage required). I was able to work extra during the weeks when it was just homework and no projects, take time off to see my kids’ performances or take them to the hospital, and take on less jobs when it was finals crunch or there was a group project.

Mostly, though, I learned that, for me, as someone with an inconsistent sleep schedule at the best of times, these simple additions to my car’s basket of tools and necessities extended the freedom I enjoy so much as a freelancer. I travel three to five counties in two states every week, and I couldn’t be more excited. Plus, I’m cobbling together my whole 8 hours of sleep, in exactly the way I cobble together 40 hours of paid work.

If you find a system that works, people…

Carissa Martos is a teacher, author, ASL interpreter, and activist in Portland. Born in Los Angeles, she graduated from UC Berkeley before completing her MS in Education in Oregon. Married for 15 years, she’s raising a teen and a tween. She’s worked in everything from retail and health care to customer service, and her writing can be found at www.BleedingKeystrokesYellowWallpaper.com