What It's Really Like To Be A Freelancer
The Debrief: It's lie-ins all round and loads of money. Right, guys? RIGHT?
Imagine me as I write this, if you will, sipping my mimosa on my veranda at noon, warm breeze gently whisking my silk dressing gown away from my leg to reveal a smooth, toned, tanned thigh; my heeled pom-pommed slippers hanging loosely off of my feet as I occasionally take a drag from my lady-pipe, gazing nonchalantly into the distance at the wonderful view for inspiration and then tapping away on my top-of-the-line Macbook.
Or, am I actually in my £10 pyjama playsuit from ASOS that I got in the sale, hair all greasy because I forgot to put the boiler on, eyes bloodshot and sticky because it’s 1.22 am (third deadline-plagued late night in a row because I’m an organisational pariah). Writing on a borrowed laptop because mine broke last week and I have to wait till a client pays me so I can buy a new (or used) laptop. Sitting in crappy shared house, puffing away on a roll-up (cheaper than pre-prepared ciggies).
I don’t want to ruin the illusion of what it’s really like to be a freelancer, but let’s put it this way: I don’t own a silk dressing gown or pom-pommed slippers.
Being a Freelancer: The Carrie Bradshaw Delusion
Even if we hate her, we secretly love Carrie Bradshaw. But let’s think about this logically for a moment. Freelance writer Carrie Bradshaw (a fictional character) wrote one newspaper column a week. This column paid for her quaint Manhattan flat and her expensive shoe fetish. Never did we see her cook (she used her oven to store winter sweaters) so that must mean that she dined out at least twice a day, not to mention paying for taxis to and from all the glam hotspots and paying for any other necessities she might have had such as toilet paper and Vogue.
Being a Freelancer: The Real Deal
When first embarking on a freelance work-from-home career, one must be prepared to first sell their soul to the devil. The only way you can live the freelancing dream, pick and choose who you work for and which days and how many hours you work, is if money isn’t an issue. In which case, move it along please; this article isn’t for you.
In real life, freelancers actually work for peanuts in order to gain experience, clientele and ultimately money. On sites such as peopleperhour.com, writers can be asked to write essays of 1,000 words or more for as little as a tenner.
This alone shatters any delusions people may have that freelancers live an idyllic life. We are rich, we get to sleep in all the time, we get to travel the world for free, we laze about in pyjamas all day (OK, there might be a smidgeon of truth to that last one).
Take actors if you will. For every successful and famous actor there are at least 100 struggling wannabes out there. For every successful writer there are at least another 1,000 aspiring writers/authors trying to 'make it'.
Do you want to be a money-making writer? Great! Here’s a job for you. A new dentist office has opened up and wants content for their website and brochure. All done by tonight. For £20. Up for it?
Or, here’s a good one that pays £100. 50 pages of content for a dating site. But wait for the catch. The owner (male) has already given you the headings, like, 'Why women need to be ignored to get them to chase after you,' and, 'Wait until the fourth day before calling her – you don’t want to seem too keen.' Your job is just to elaborate and add a splash of colour to the informative text already provided.
Sorry, but I don’t think your emboldened sentence: 'Do not listen to any of the "advice" in this site' will get them to leave you a good rating or reference.
Being a Freelancer: The good, the bad and the ugly
Is working 'whenever you want' and not having a boss on top of your head really all it’s cranked up to be?
Freelancing: The Good
For the sake or order, let’s start with The Good. 'The best thing about being a creative freelancer is waking up everyday knowing that you are doing something you love,' says Katy Hackney, a freelance hand-illustrated pattern designer from Northamptonshire.
'I love the variety that comes with each day; when a client comes to you with a new idea for your work and a new approach. I love waking up in the morning and having my own plan for the day. I am constantly writing lists and making myself small daily goals.'
Lucy Panou, an Essex-based freelance fitness and lifestyle coach says, 'people think we’ve got it made. Blog posts sprinkled with fairy dust and Instafood shots so "lifestyle" that even Nigella would succumb to the double-tap. Sun-drenched coffee mornings typing away on the Mac, low and slow eggs on the hob... But that’s not exactly what it’s like.
'The good is that it's pretty badass. To follow your dreams and to be able to work for yourself, you have to have a drive and a passion so distinct that you inspire yourself to push past failure. It means you have a deep and genuine care for your vision and those it touches. You have purpose, intention and focus. You're a go-getting, life-changing, all round anarchist that respects but somehow can’t face the 9-5. That can feel pretty special.'
Xeni Kouveli, a freelance designer, creative consultant, digital influencer and owner of style blog Style Love says: 'Being a freelancer can be amazing but high-anxiety at the same time. If you are super-organised, you get to work on your own schedule and if you stay up late on a weeknight after a few pints and can’t get up the next day, you can have a lie in. If you are lucky enough to have the luxury of being selective, you get to choose who you want to work with. But most importantly, you don't have to drive to work every single morning, still half asleep.'
'People tell me how cool it is that I get to choose when I work, how much I work and who I work for,' says Daniel Coutsavakis, a freelance film maker and video editor.
'Sure, it allows me to work when I like and there is some good money to be made, but what people don’t really think about are the times when the work dies down and the money dries out along with it. It’s the collateral damage of chasing your dream and doing what you love.'
Freelancing: The Bad
Welcome to Freelancing; the Myth-Busting Edition.
Myth 1: You get to work your own hours.
So, if you’ve just finished working and it’s 5 o’clock and a client calls you and tells you they need a piece by tonight, you’ll just say 'no,' right? Not to mention the constant email pings, messages and phone calls and the fact that your 'work' desk is only two meters away from you at any given moment. 'Work Mode' never fully shuts off. Ever.
Myth 2: You make LOADS of money.
What you are offering is offered on Freelancer.com for a third of the price. Who cares if you’re better? They are cheaper. 'Many jobs aren’t as well paid as they’re worth,' says Daniel, 'but some of us, especially at the beginning, have no choice but to take them due to the fact we don’t know when the next job will come along. Also, it’s not good business to turn jobs away, no matter how boring or time consuming it could be.'
Myth 3: You don’t have a boss.
That’s right. We don’t have a boss. We have, like, 100. Whoever we take on a job for, they are our boss. If they want it with pink ribbons and bells on at fuck o’clock in the morning, then that’s when we have to give it to them.
'The guilt I feel if I pop to have a coffee with a friend is ridiculous,' Katy tells us. 'I always feel that I should really be getting some work done. Constantly looking for new clients, wondering whether you will be able to pay the bills or meet the next deadline… it’s quite stressful! Sometimes the work is plenty, but sometimes you find yourself twiddling your thumbs. There seems to be no in-between. Self-doubt always creeps in and it’s a long slow process to get your freelance business off the ground.' Yup, we're really living the dream here.
Freelancing: The Ugly
The dating advice guy didn’t even pay me in the end. The 50 pages took me two full days to do (clenching my teeth at the crap I was writing) and although he said he loved the work, he just somehow disappeared into thin air when I sent him the invoice. Was Xavier even his real name? Who knows…
'I’ve met some time wasters along the way,' says Katy. 'There have been people who have asked me to design things that are so far removed from what I actually do and what I stand for, but I found the strength to decide against it although there was a part of me that felt bad for turning down the work. But at the end of the day I’m a pattern designer, not a comic book illustrator.'
'I love how people think we lie-in all the time,' says Lucy. 'I get up at the crack of dawn most days. My alarm clock has become my Christian Grey and me its bitch. I don’t have set hours; I work round the clock, all day, every day. Yes, Sundays too. I’m constantly on the go; texting, emailing and WhatsApping till late at night when my eyes resemble porous sponges. Gestures of goodwill have made me the all encompassing, energy providing, emotional punchbag that I cringed at before willingly embarking on my quest. And let's not discuss my non-existent bank balance.'
Xeni says that the ugliest part of the job is the anxiety caused by last-minute projects. 'Sometimes you get a project where you have to work longer hours. You literally work until you drop. Also, security becomes an issue; you need to find the money every month to pay the bills which keep coming in regularly even though your income isn’t. Having customers that keep delaying payment or even refusing to pay you can really wind you up. That’s when you wish you did have a boss who’ll pay you anyway and deal with pesky clients himself. Instead, you are the boss so you have to sort it out yourself. Unfortunately, crying under your desk whilst rocking back and forth and pulling your hair doesn’t do the trick.'
Being a Freelancer: Is it all worth it?
I wish I could give advice about freelancing, but it'll be like John Candy giving dieting advice or, Donald Trump telling you how to live on welfare. I’m still trying to find my freelance chi. The only thing I know for certain is the following: -
(A) In the beginning it’s hard; you have to take any menial job under your job description just to build up a name for yourself, get some experience and start getting clientele. The best thing is to set yourself a timescale of how long you are willing to be a mule for (Six months, 1 year, 2 years…) and try to stick to it.
(B) Scheduling is key. Give yourself weekends off or at least one day off a week when you shut off your phone and lock your laptop in the closet. If you can't do that, give yourself a 10pm shut down limit. Do something. Do not let this monster disguised as your dream eat you alive.
'You have to find an inner strength to realise your dreams and you must stay optimistic that things will all work out,' says Katy. 'Every day brings new challenges and you must be disciplined for it to work. You learn a lot about yourself along the way as long as you keep at it. It’s very overwhelming thinking of the bigger picture, i.e. where will I be in a year’s time or in five years, but the best thing to do is set yourself small goals and chip away at them. There are so many others out there pitching for jobs, you have to have a niche, something that makes you different. Stay focused, but most of all love what you do otherwise there’s not much point in it all since it’s definitely not as glamorous as it’s made out to be. If you love what you do, in freelancing, the good will always outweigh the bad.'
'When the going gets tough and I’m on my fifth coffee of the day,' says Lucy, 'I have to remind myself to keep creating, keep loving it, and to keep adding value to peoples lives, which is the reason I started this the first place.'
Bet your 9 to 5 doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
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Main picture: Ada Hamza
At work? With your gran?
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