No day job, no problems? Think again. Freelancing isn’t all fun and games, and working in sweatpants. The perils of working for yourself are many and sometimes unexpected, so here’s what you need to know before you march into your boss’s office to resign today.
Is your office job starting to feel like a slow and painful death? Does having to show up at the same place at same time every day just for appearances’ sake grate you at your ideological core? Well, you’re in good company, and I’m not just talking about yours truly. More and more, people are choosing to forgo a traditional nine-to-five job and work for numero uno: themselves. In fact, freelancers are on track to become the majority of the American workforce within a decade. But before you throw caution and your employment benefits to the wind, you should know that freelancing isn’t for the faint of heart. Here are just a few things you should know before taking the plunge.
You’re going to be poor… for a while.
Everyone has that friend—the one with a client list dozens of names long, and who just can’t seem to catch a break in their workflow. How very untragic. It’s not that this friend is lying to you. They may indeed have an enviable roster of big-name, on-time-paying clients who subsidize their Manhattan pied-à-terre or SoHo House membership, but here’s the thing: it took years to create that list. That and their parents might be footing one (if not many) of their bills. Whether you’re getting help from Mom and Dad (or anyone else), remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. So in the meantime, load up on (reasonably priced) espresso and get to work because if you really want to support yourself by yourself, it’s going to take some time before you see a desirable amount of zeros in your checking account.
Working from home carries the risk of turning you into a trash human.
Take it from someone who, more often than I care to admit, brushes her teeth at noon. Don’t be like me. Get up at more or less the same time every day, and make your bed. That will discourage your from working in it. Also, put on actual clothes (read: not yoga pants). When you don’t have to go into an office, it’s very easy to let yourself go, and before you know it, your life has turned into some quasi-Grey Gardens scenario. One of the best pieces of life-advice I’ve ever received was “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” So put yourself together. The effort you put into yourself will translate to the work you put out.
Enviable clients aren’t the best clients.
No matter what field you’re in, we all have our dream clients—those big names that stand to add some serious clout to our resumes. All I can tell you is: don’t believe the hype. The biggest names in whatever game you’re in usually aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They know how badly people want to work for them, and that often means paying too little, late, or sometimes nothing at all. I’m not telling you you shouldn’t take on clients like this. You definitely should. Those names will mostly likely attract your other, potentially less sexy clients who will pay you a living wage (and keep you from living in the streets). Just get ready to be disappointed by your heros.
You’re probably charging too little.
No matter what I tell you, you are going to learn this hard way, but here goes nothing. You are definitely charging too little for your work. One of the reasons businesses use freelancers in the first place is to save some money, which is fine… to a point. If you’re just starting out, chances are you might even be taking on work for free just to build your portfolio. It’s all par for the course in the world of freelancing, but as you build up your resume, you have to be decisive about your worth and abide by it. Even if you could really use the paycheck, you have to look at freelancing as a time-in versus money-out equation. There’s no reason you should be accepting minimum wage for work that requires a bachelor’s degree. Learn to say no to jobs that don’t pay you what your experience and talent merit–otherwise, you’ll just screw it up for the rest of us. One of the biggest problems with freelancing is there’s always another freelancer who’s willing to work for less. It’s a vicious cycle that we all have to stop together.
Vacation? Sick days? LOL! What are those?
#NoDaysOff isn’t just an annoying hashtag you see on Instagram–it’s a way of life for freelancers. If you’re not busy looking for your next client, you’re tirelessly working to keep the ones you have. That being said, getting sick mean losing money, when you work for yourself. And don’t even get me started on finding affordable health care. Gone too are the days of paid vacation. You’re out-of-office message will now read something likes this: “Sure, I may be in a different timezone trying to spend some much-needed time with my family back home, but by all means, feel free to call or message me at every possible hour, even for the most menial of requests. I need the money. Please don’t fire me. Happy Thanksgiving!” Just kidding. Definitely do not do that, but you get the idea. Until you’re in a comfortable financial place, you will be lugging your laptop with you everywhere. I once had to use my phone as a WiFi hotspot at the dry cleaner’s. I’m not kidding.