On the twenty-first day of March in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen, I, for the first time, sat down at my tiny desk in my home office and took the first step on my self-employment journey.
Unshackled by corporate rules or company culture expectations, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it takes to be a full-time freelance writer and (obviously) decided to give it my all from the start. I focused on things like setting up an invoicing procedure, ordering business cards, updating my website, making sure my portfolio was up-to-date, scheduling monthly finance reviews - all the while also starting to chasing client leads and potential pitch outlets.
Fast-forward five(ish) months and here we are. There have been days where I frantically worked through breakfast, lunch and into the night to meet a deadline, and there have been days where I binge-watched Freaks and Geeks until my brain turned into mush.
For the most part though, it's been a pretty awesome ride. I'm a moderately anti-social person by nature, so while I do get hit with the occasional bout of cabin fever, all it takes is a jaunt to my local coffee shop to get my people and caffeine fix for the week. Still, there have been times where I've been plagued by self-doubt or even bouts of depression when I think about the career choice I've made. What if I'm not good enough? What if I only write boring marketing-related blogs forever? Will I ever make more than $5 an hour again? What if I never get a pitch accepted by Lucky Peach or Vice or Rolling Stone?
There have been highs and lows, and I've read countless first-person essays regaling all sides of it. I just wanted to share a few of my personal observations to (hopefully) add some value to the conversation.
Straight up, it is easy to be lazy when there's no one looking over your shoulder making sure you get stuff done. Sure, any freelancer worth their salt will meet the agreed-upon deadlines for projects, but if you never set those deadlines by fishing for more work... you get the picture.
Of course, I'm in the rare and extremely fortunate position to have a steady income that covers things like the mortgage and utility bills. I'm not talking about me - I'm talking about my saint of a husband who has supported me (mentally and financially) since day one. Even with what I consider to be an above-average work ethic and a rabid desire to contribute to the household income, it can be tough to just sit down and bang out work on some days.
I took the nearly universal advice to set up a "work only" space, which in my case is a tiny desk with a tiny chair in my second bedroom. I've added to it since then (upgraded from a Chromebook to a refurbished MacBook Pro, bought a monitor during an Amazon deal, etc.) but to be completely honest, I do the bulk of my work from the recliner in my living room so as to be near the window A/C unit because the second bedroom can get stuffy as hell.
This of course means that my TV is situated directly across the room from me, mocking me with its procrastination potential. And that's just the start of it. Facebook, Buzzfeed, Slate... it's not like I have to worry about appearing to slack off. There's no one else here! And it can be tough to stay on track sometimes.
Sometimes, the work I've accepted is less-than-mentally-stimulating. But hey, we all have bills to pay, right? I've been super lucky to have a ton of referrals, but if you think that all freelance writers are making their living writing about their favorite movies, books, food, or travel destinations, you've got another thing coming.
The majority of my work is optimized blog posts for a range of businesses to help them maintain or improve certain keyword rankings on Google. It's tricky, because Google changes their algorithms and SEO rules constantly, but it's also pretty formulaic in terms of approaching these projects. Sound exciting? It can be, but it can also be pretty monotonous.
I'm not complaining - this is the type of content marketing and copy work that I'm good at and people need. But after you've written 34 articles in a row outlining the benefits of one product in the same format, it can get mind-numbing on occasion.
In today's social media age, it's nearly impossible to avoid comparing yourself to other people and other freelancers. You're on vacation in Maui? I'm at home pulling weeds! You got a sick byline? I'm happy for you, but also I kind of hate you.
Figuring out an incredible pitch idea and then actually getting it to the right person at the right pub at the right time... it's almost to overwhelming to fathom at times.
Still, this is one of those challenges when I have to take a step back and be like, "Dude! I don't have to answer to anybody but who I choose to! I am the master of my own domain!" And if someone else is out there rockin' it, that should serve as proof that I can do it too!
5.) No days off
I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day barbecue! It was just another Monday for me.
I have to ~really~ plan for when I need to unplug for more than an afternoon (and that's if I'm having a slow deadline day). If I want to go on vacation with my family or friends, I better let my clients know, get all/as much of my work done ahead of time as I possibly can, and prepare to check in at least a few times from the road.
That might not seem like anything crazy to a lot of people, but I'm of the firm belief that when you're on vacation, you're on vacation. Historically, I haven't checked in AT ALL when I'm out of the office, but when you run your own business, that's a luxury that you simply can't afford.
1.) Total ultimate freedom
I feel like freelancing full-time is a lot like Jafar becoming a genie at the end of Aladdin - he gets "ABSOLUTE POWER!!!!" but with everything that goes along with it. And I mean that in the best way possible, as far as self-employment goes. This Monday, since my dad and brother were in town from the East Coast for a wedding, I played hooky and hit the beach with them. Guess who I had to run that by to make sure it was okay? NOBODY!
I have complete control over my schedule. I never have to worry about asking for time off or clearing anything with anyone higher up than me - because there is no one higher up than me! When it comes to work now, I'm the Alpha and the Omega, king of everything the sun touches. And that's pretty badass.
I love taking naps, and ever since I found myself knocked up, I've been taking them allll the time. Guess what? When there's no one to frown upon it, you get to take them whenever you want! That might not apply to every freelancer, but as one who enjoys a midday snooze, it's an absolutely glorious perk.
3.) schedule control
I definitely have to fend off people who think that since I work from home, I can take two-hour lunches every day or chit chat on the phone at 11 AM. While I can do these things if I want to, I do try to set limitations on personal errands during work time.
That being said, I've been able to help out friends who've had their cars break down or run to the grocery store for one quick thing between assignments. Now that I'm pregnant, scheduling doctor's appointments is a snap, and when I do want to take that two-hour lunch, I don't have to fight as many crowds!
4.) Interactions with dummies minimized
I never get dragged into moronic debates in the lunchroom with mouth-breathers from down the hall any more. As someone who's admittedly not great with obligatory small talk, I cherish the general silence of working from home.
That being said, there are more than their fair share of idiots commenting on articles or on social media about whatever topic it is you've recently published an opinion on. While it's hard to deal with those sort of anonymous trolls, at the very least you don't have to deal with them face-to-face, which is pretty nice.
There's much more to the richly rewarding/endlessly challenging world of freelance writing. I hope some of my experiences help shed some light on the realities of working for yourself and the perks that await!