5 Things I Learned in My First 6 Months as a Freelancer
While the obvious things like taxes, health insurance, and decreased financial stability are oft cited as some of the gravest perils facing the freelancer, I personally came in to contact with several things I was not expecting when I took the plunge away from a full-time job to swim in the unknown waters of self-employment. Here are some of the things I have discovered:
Money Has a Different Relationship to Time
We are trained to think of time in terms of an hourly wage. How many hours do I need to work to make X amount of dollars? However, a freelancer’s life doesn’t always work that way. While some freelancers opt to work by the hour, many work by the project or on a retainer model that disassociates their time from their money in a way that isn’t typical in most work environments. When I began to freelance, I kept feeling as though I was wasting time, even though I was making more working a 3 hour day then I previously had been working 8. Still, it took a long time to shake the idea that I should be doing more, or finding a way to fill up 8-9 hours every day.
“Boss” Mentality is Hard to Break
When we have a boss or manger, any work-related request they make is expected to be obeyed promptly and without question. My default mode was to think of my client as a boss and take their suggestions as non-negotiable obligations. What I (thankfully) quickly realized is the client is not the boss, I am. If a requested service wasn’t outlined in the contract or agreed upon previously, I am under no obligation to fulfill the request. We can discuss it and possibly add it to the services being rendered, but whether I accept or deny performing the service is 100% up to me.
Next Steps Can Be Hard to Figure Out
In a traditional job, the work that needs to be done is handed to you. You are part of a larger team, and only required to handle your part of the project. Even when things are slow and there isn’t much to do, you will still get paid so long as you show up. As a freelancer, once the work stops coming in, you have to figure out how to get more. Staring down the barrel of days upon days with no work to do can cause you to freeze with overwhelm, unsure of how to proceed. This is when it’s important to buckle down and focus, creating a strategy to land more clients. With time, you will start to see where most of your work is coming from and refine your technique so that you are consistently able to put a plan in to action to get more work when you hit those inevitable dry spells.
Being Home Alone All Day Isn’t Great for Mental Health
As someone who adores peace and quiet, working at home alone all day was a big motivating factor in my choice to be self-employed. I would often come home from my traditional job and nearly sob with relief at being able to shut and bolt a door between me and the rest of the world. I was quite surprised when I discovered what a toll being home alone was taking on my mental health. Without the requirement to leave the house every day, I simply never did, staying in for days and days at a time without stepping foot outside. I began to lose motivation and energy, wanting only to sleep all the time or do nothing at all. Making a focused effort to try and maintain healthy sleeping patterns and leave the house at least a couple times a week was essential to keep me balanced and focused.
Fear is a Powerful Motivator
There can be a lot of fear in the life of the self-employed person. It’s painfully clear every moment that your success or failure rests squarely on your shoulders. There’s a ton to think about and prepare for, so much work to do, and often no idea how to do it or manage it all. What I discovered was that fear and excitement feel remarkably similar. Instead of giving in to the fear and allowing it to paralyze me with despair, I used it as if it were fuel, boosting my rocket ship onward in a cloud of excitement rather than terror. Visualizing having to go back to an office was usually enough to kick-start my fear in to giving me a boost of productivity.
While there has definitely been a learning curve and I am still working out all of the kinks, I would not trade the freelance life, even for more ease and stability.