What You Need to Know About Freelancing

I’ve been freelancing in the fashion industry for almost 14 years now. I never anticipated my career would last this long. When I got scouted by a modeling agent on the street at age 18, I was in my second year of college. I refused to give up the pursuit of an education for a modeling career, so I did both. By the time I was 20, I had won a national grant that allowed me to work at a biomedical research lab of my choice. So then I did all three until I graduated.

I felt like a double agent changing out of my lab coat to put on a pair of heels for a Calvin Klein casting. My fashion clients didn’t know I worked as a researcher; my lab partners didn’t know I worked as a model. After graduation, instead of pursuing a graduate degree, I opted to model full-time so I could travel and have a chance at a career where I could make thousands of dollars a day. My mom wasn’t happy. Neither was my dad. Looking back, I realize that parents don’t hope their kids grow up to be freelancers. It’s too risky.

Current statistics show an increasing number of people are turning to freelancing. By 2020, about 40% of the American workforce is expected to be comprised of freelancers. A part of me thinks, “yes, the freedoms associated with freelancing are so wonderful”, and another part of me feels, “these people have no idea what they’re getting themselves into”.

The Ups and Downs

Freelancing can be a very rewarding lifestyle if you are able to get to the point where you have a steady stream of clients that enable you to feel like you are freelancing full-time. It is not fun when you are waiting for the phone to ring or for paychecks to come in. As a matter of fact, there are huge stressors related to not having someone cut you a bi-monthly paycheck that has your taxes and health insurance neatly deducted for you.

The problems I’ve faced in my career as a freelancer are numerous. To start with, dealing with ‘lulls’ (as my agent would call them), is something I found really challenging. I walked around feeling powerless, frustrated and ashamed that I was not getting work. In the fashion industry it’s common to constantly be asked by others, “Have you been busy?” There were times that I wanted to scream out loud, “Actually no, and I’m freaking the f — k out right now”, but I did what every other freelancer does when they’re not working: I lied about it. I lied and hoped the next time I got asked that question, things would have turned around for me.

Be a Pessimist — Plan for the Worst

I was always able to work past my lulls and not have to run out and get another job, mostly because of my mother. My mom is a worry wart and taught me and my siblings to always plan for the worst. It turns out this is a great philosophy to live by if you’re a freelancer. Whenever I made money, I saved it in preparation for those months when work was slow. In order to save money, I lived below my means. If I could afford a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan, I lived in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. The reality is that my savings saved me.

I not only have my ‘worst case scenario’ mom to thank for my financial stability, I also have my father and his love for self-help books to thank for my retirement account. When I was in college, he gave me and my siblings a book called “The Automatic Millionaire” that mentioned SEP accounts, which are like 401k accounts for self-employed workers. A few months later I opened an account and I have contributed to it for almost a decade now.

It’s alarming that recently on a photo shoot, 10 out of 12 people on set didn’t even know what a retirement account was. It’s not just the models that get ‘aged out’ of the fashion industry. It’s also the photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and fashion stylists, among others. Clients want to keep up with what’s hip and new and that means ‘young’ in our industry.

Saving and financial planning is important for everyone in my industry, but as a model I knew I had less time to get to a good place financially. I chose a career where being 28 is considered ‘old’. I’ve been lucky to work as long as I have but the shelf life of a model is usually half, if not less, than the time I’ve spent doing it. Whenever I see an 18 year old model holding a Prada bag at a casting I think to myself, “What is that bag going to get her?” It’s kind of a common joke in the fashion industry that models end up at the end of their careers with no money but great closets. It’s a joke that I don’t find funny.

Keep Your Options Open

I knew that I was going to have to do something else at some point, or ‘transition’ into another career if I wanted to continue making money long-term. It was because of my parents and because of my savings, that I have the capital to pursue my passion and start my own business. I didn’t expect that I would be launching a tech company, especially because I didn’t even know what GoogleDrive was when I made that decision.

My learning curve has been steep to say the least. I spent months researching and educating myself about technology, design, business, marketing — you name it — in order to develop my app, TycoonApp. I have learned more in the year I’ve dedicated to launching this app than I have in the past ten years. I think that going to college and working as a researcher gave me the foundation that has enabled me to dive into something like this. Working as a freelancer and having to navigate my own financials set me up to recognize a problem and want to solve it. I’m not religious but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. So far it has.