I’ve been working as a freelance writer for 5 months now. I still feel pretty new to this whole thing, but I have gotten some interest in hearing about my experience. So I thought I’d write a (long, long) post with all my opinions and any tips I have to share.
Hopefully, if you’re wondering whether to break out and try your hand at full-time freelancing, this will help you a bit. I’m not trying to persuade or dissuade anyone (because I totally see the pros and cons of both working in a company and freelancing). I’m only giving a completely honest view of it.
This is not a post on how to START freelancing. Don’t worry, that will come soon. I plan to write a detailed post with tips on how to start freelancing if you have no portfolio and absolutely zero prior experience (like me).
In the meantime, here are my honest opinions and what you can expect the life of a freelancer to look like:
It feels very lonely sometimes
Freelancing is a very lonely career. Most of the days, it’s just you and your laptop and thoughts. If I work from home, I could go for a couple of days without seeing another person. Most of the time, I don’t mind too much, but sometimes the aloneness could really get to me.
So I mix it up by going to work at a cafe a couple of days a week (I don’t go every day because 1. one of the best things about freelancing is that you’re not required to get dressed, and 2. the cost of cafe visits really do add up). At least then, I get some human interaction even if it’s just chatting with the Uber driver or exchanging cash for an iced tea.
But sometimes, even sitting in a crowded cafe, you can feel like you’re all alone amidst strangers.
You have to have very good time management
When you know that everything is up to you, and that you can lose a client (and your paycheck) if you don’t deliver on time or satisfactorily, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Especially if you take on too many assignments (which is easy to do when you first start out).
I think the key to not feeling overwhelmed is to treat freelancing as a regular job. Which means waking up at a set time, starting work as early as possible, and not going past the normal end-work time (let’s say 5 or 6 pm).
Unfortunately, I am TERRIBLE with this.
I know part of the appeal of freelancing is the lack of structure and working on your own time. But this also means that you can end up feeling like you work a lot longer than at a normal 9-5 office job.
A typical day for me used to be like: I wake up at 9 am and start work around 10. After a lunch break, I’ll work until dinner. I’ll have a long dinner and then start work for another client, finally closing my laptop just before bedtime.
This is literally working all day. Yes, I take breaks in between and get distracted more often than I like to admit, but they’re not long enough to do anything fun. And this is honestly due to poor time management. It’s better to do everything within a normal 9-6 day, leaving the rest of the night to relax and do fun stuff.
Luckily, I’ve now reduced the amount of my work. But I’m still working on better time management, because I still find myself working late into the night far more often than I’d like.
It’s okay to take less jobs for your sanity
When you have too many jobs or clients, this starts to get very draining after a while. It’s not easy to write day in and day out. Sometimes, you really do have writer’s block and just can’t seem to form sentences.
So I decided that I’m going to take on less work so I have more time to do the things I enjoy, like reading, watching shows, or working on this blog again!
Because what’s the point of freelancing and working on my own time if I feel like I never have any time?!
So I’ve been slowly shedding the work that I really didn’t like doing. Of course, getting rid of some work means I’ll make less money. To me, it’s a fair trade-off to shed sucky jobs and have more to spend on projects that make me happy.
And this leads me to:
It’s important to pick jobs that interest you
One of the good things about freelancing is that you get to pick and choose what you do. So ideally, you should only take the jobs that interest you.
When I first started, I was so happy that anyone wanted to hire me at all that I accepted everything or took every interview. I was scared that if I passed by the opportunity, another one wouldn’t come. But I now know this isn’t the case at all.
I had jobs that paid way less than my ideal, which made me feel under-appreciated. A few times, potential clients came to me first and I took the interviews even though I wasn’t at all interested in the job description. At the time, I had been a bit disappointed that I wasn’t hired, but I know that if I had been, I would be miserable with the work now.
And since then, I’ve been offered other jobs that pay more and are more suited for me. There will always be more jobs. And there will be clients that pay what you deserve.
So if you’re just starting out, don’t feel like you have to take everything that comes your way. You don’t want to be stuck with a job that you don’t like and pays poorly.
You’ll have to deal with inconsistent paychecks
How much you make is up to you. You can fill all your waking hours up with gigs and earn a lot. Or take it easy and just go part-time. If you’re feeling ill/lazy one week and just don’t really feel like working much, guess what, you don’t make much that week either. But you can make up for it the next week by taking on more work.
But a lot of the time, you’ll have no control either. Two weeks in a row, you could have a ton of work coming in, and then the next week… silence from all your clients. There goes your income that week. This isn’t like an office job where if there’s a lull in work, you still get paid just for sitting there.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It could be quite nice to get an unexpected little break (like having time to write this post!). But just make sure to have enough in your bank account to ride out the quiet periods.
Make sure you understand the client’s expectations fully before doing any work
Not all clients will be good. In fact, some clients will really really suck. Bad instructions, poor communication skills, unreasonable expectations, etc.
There was this new client I started working with. The first task was writing a blog post.
I spent 3 hours writing a great post that involved research, links, and making images…. Only to be told that this wasn’t a paid task when I submitted my work and my hours later.
I was so angry and frustrated.
Nowhere in our communications did she state that the first task was a free trial assignment. She went on to say that she only wants her writers to spend about 1 hour per post (which is completely fine, but you’ll be getting a shoddy 1-hour quality). We ended up agreeing to reduce my hours down to 1 hour for this first assignment. But from then on, I’m careful to make sure I understand the expectations BEFORE starting anything.
You work harder than if you’re at an office job
I honestly believe that you work way harder as a freelancer than when you’re in a normal office job.
I do most of my jobs through Upwork (previously Elance) and they’re all paid by the hour. Upwork has its own timer that you can use to track your time (which lots of clients prefer you use). And this timer takes a screenshot every 10 minutes or so. This ensures that the client knows you really are working on his task, and also ensures that you’re paid for your time.
So 4 hours of work really equals 4 hours of work. Even for the clients that don’t require a timer, I never pad my hours or anything else dishonest like that.
This isn’t like an office job, where any given day, you’re chatting with coworkers, surfing the net, attending department birthday celebrations, and making coffee… all while on the company’s clock. I read somewhere that out of an 8-hour day, the average office worker only has about 2 hours’ worth of real productivity.
But then again, with freelancing, there are no boring meetings to suffer through. So there’s that. :)
You will learn A LOT of random knowledge
I really do feel a lot smarter now than before I started freelancing. Because of the blogs I write for, I know:
- way too much about motorcycles any non-rider needs to know
- the features of a few dozen U.S. credit cards… by heart
- what a hearts & arrows diamond is (beware future husband… I will have very discerning tastes :P)
It’s kind of cool to have these random bits of knowledge.
Your entire life planning is up to you
To me, this is the scariest part about freelancing. You don’t get medical insurance or a retirement package or contributions matching like you would at a “real” job.
So it’s entirely up to you to determine how much money you would need to make each month, and find a way to somehow reach that goal. Not only do you have to earn enough for just day-to-day living, you also need to plan for emergencies and your future.
But then again, freelancing may not be your new permanent career and is more likely a temporary solution. So if you think eventually you’ll go back to a “real” job, you may not have to worry about this too much.
So, is it worth it?
Freelancing is hard and it’s an uncertain career (if you can even call it that!). You’re on your own to figure everything out. If I really take the time to think about it, it’s all very scary.
But you also get to work in bed. You don’t have to get dressed or brush your hair or even shower if you don’t want to. There’s no commute through rush hour traffic. You get to work completely on your own time (except for when you have to do an assignment you promised, then you may stay up until 5 am doing it :P).
You get to travel whenever and to wherever you want without having to put in a vacation notice months in advance. You can choose whether you want to work or not on your trip.
So in short, it’s all about having total freedom and being able to make an income enough to support that free lifestyle.
Is it worth it? For me, right now – I definitely think so. And no matter how much I may complain about it sometimes, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Have you tried freelancing? What are your experiences and please share any more tips!
Keep an eye out – I will have another post on how to start freelancing with absolutely no prior experience.
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