What I Learned from a Year of Full-Time Freelancing
One year ago this week, I said goodbye to my office publishing job for the final time and embarked on my full-time freelance career. I was scared out of my mind and it didn’t help matters much that there were people in my life who didn’t look on my decision with much approval (“You mean, you’re going to sit around in your pajamas and write for a living? Isn’t that throwing away your career?” “No, Karen, it actually means I get to do whatever I want and make more money than you while doing it.”). Looking back on things, that decision was one of the best of my entire life, probably THE best.
I love freelancing. I love taking the jobs I want and turning down the ones I don’t. I love finding clients who appreciate me and know how to work with freelancers. I love setting my own schedule. I love being able to travel as much as I want and work from the road. I LOVE WORKING IN MY PAJAMAS (and making more money than Karen, and I’m not sorry!).
But I do realize that my journey isn’t what everyone experiences when starting a freelance career. I had a friend who started freelancing full-time shortly before I did. She found it didn’t work well for her and she went back to working full-time for a single publisher.
A full-time freelance career is right for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone (even though I’ll be the first to preach its positives). If you’re considering a full-time freelance career, here are the top five things I’ve learned from my first year of full-time freelancing.
1. You have to accept that YOU hold the power. All of it.
I am admittedly a control freak. It’s part of the reason why I love freelancing — I don’t like some rando person suddenly able to control when I wake up, when I drive to work, when I can leave, where I sit, when I eat, what I do with 40+ hours of my life each week, all because they employee me. However, one thing I had to get through my thick skull before I felt confident enough to quit my steady job was that, when you freelance, YOU hold all the power. All of it.
My big fear with freelancing full time was that nagging “what if.” What if I randomly, suddenly lost every single client, all on the same day? What if some of my best clients suddenly hated me? What if I became a loser who never saw the sun because I was too busy writing crappy articles for pennies in my basement?
A big part of me realizing that all of these “what if’s” are ridiculous was reading the book “You are a Badass at Making Money” by Jen Sincero. In the book, Sincero talks about how, if you want to make money, all you have to do is believe you’re capable of making the money and you will. It’s all in the mindset. You are in complete control of your income and your work.
This mindset makes some people uncomfortable; they don’t like being saddled with that responsiblity. They’d rather complain that their boss hasn’t given them a raise for years.
For me, this mindset is incredibly freeing. I like having the power. If a client parts ways with me, I can find a new one. If I want more money, I can and will find it. And guess what — It’s true. Anytime I want to find more money, I find it, one way or another.
So, if you want to freelance full time, you’ll need to accept this. The power is yours. This is freeing, but it also means there’s no one else to blame. If you’re not making the money you want as a freelancer, it’s no one’s fault but your own. You hold all the power, my friend.
2. You’ll occasionally have to do some things you don’t want to do.
Now, the thing is, when you decide that you’re going to make the money you want to make, as a freelancer, that doesn’t mean you just get to snap your fingers and easy money appears. You’re going to still have to work your tail off to get that cash and you’ll have to do some things you don’t want to do.
I’ve seen this as a real problem for some new freelancers. They only want to work on specific types of projects, even though they’re more than qualified for others that are available. They turn down available work because it doesn’t seem 100% fun. And then they ask why they can’t pay their bills.
Yes, one day you can get to a place where you can turn down work that’s unappealing and that’s a big benefit in freelancing. But at least for a small portion of time, on occasion, you’ll have to take some work that you don’t necessarily love (at least if you want some money), and that’s okay.
I’ve worked on plenty of jobs I don’t LOVE. But usually I find that there’s something to like about every job I’m on. The client is really fantastic and nice. The work is easy. Sometimes the work is just a nice mental break from some of the other work I do.
So, if you want to be a successful full-time freelancer, you just have to pick up some jobs you don’t love all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re selling out or giving up. It just means you have bills to pay.
3. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I am generally booked on jobs about a month in advance. At any given time, I usually can know that I’ll make what I would like to make for the next month. The rest of the year is a big question mark.
Yes, I have regular clients that I can rely on to give me daily, weekly and monthly jobs, but I also have a lot of clients who only need one big project or who have intermittent needs that ebb and flow. So my income fluctuates a lot from week to week, though it all evens out each quarter.
This can make some people VERY uncomfortable. After all, if you’re staring down the barrel of Christmastime in October, you probably want to know you’ll be able to afford gifts for your family in December.
However, being comfortable with this reality of freelancing goes back to that confidence in your own control. Since you control your income, not knowing where part of your income will come from next month isn’t a big deal. You’ll find the income. Easy.
Now, that doesn’t mean I sit back and just wait for the money to come to me. I do my due diligence to reach out to editors, query potential clients and submit pitches. But, at the end of the day, I’m very comfortable with that regular question mark. It doesn’t bother me.
Would it bother you? It’s something to consider.
4. You have to just go for it.
At the end of the day, you have to just go for it. Period. The time will never be right.
Now, that doesn’t mean to just quit your job randomly one day and assume freelancing will save your ass with rent due in a week. Before I began freelancing full time, I worked at my regular job part time for a few months, so I could build up my client base. At that time, I was working about 60–70 hours a week so that I would have a seamless transition when I finally went full-time freelance last fall. Before that, I was working full time at my traditional job and working about 15 hours per week freelancing for a few years.
Not everyone has to do this (I’m a workaholic in addition to being a control freak), but it can help, for sure.
However, there’s only so much preparation you can take before starting your full-time freelance career. There’s only so many times you can tell your naysayers that you’ll be fine.
If you feel there’s not much else you can do, then there’s nothing left but to take the plunge.
5. You need to know what you’re getting into.
I’ve mentioned some of the hard truths of the freelancing lifestyle (and if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you already know they’re plentiful). Fully realize what you’re getting into before you start freelancing full time. It’s amazing and wonderful, but also hard. It takes a lot of mental fortitude. It takes thick skin (and occasionally a stiff drink or two).
But it’s also a life I wouldn’t trade for anything. When people ask me when I think I’ll go back to a “normal job,” I just laugh. Thanks, Karen, but no thanks.