Thinking about going freelance? It’s not as scary as you think. Here’s everything you need to know about making the leap into an unknown and wondrous world
When I tell people I work as a freelance digital editor, I get one of two responses:
“Ooh, do you get to work in your pyjamas all day long?”
“Wow, that’s so great – I wish I could do it”
To which I respond “sadly not” and “you can!” There’s no magic skill to being self-employed. But much like learning to ski, or moving to a new country, you simply have to go ahead and do it before you can reap its delicious rewards.
For those of you thinking of taking the plunge, here’s a few things I discovered that I really never expected:
Your motivation goes through the roof
There’s a scene in the film Julie & Julia where Meryl Streep’s character joyfully leaps out of bed at 6am to go to her Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. I always wondered, “what kind of gig would make you feel like that?” The answer is freelance.
I’ve always given 100% to any job I’ve had, but there’s something about being freelance that fires you up like never before. No-one is telling you what hours to work, or how to ace your latest performance review (surely the worst aspect of tired old office protocol).
Instead, YOU are your own driving force. If you don’t get out there and seize the work, no-one will do it for you. And that’s far more powerful than any external influence.
You work *much* harder than you ever did before
Once upon a time, I wistfully imagined the freelance lifestyle as lazy afternoons spent watching Murder, She Wrote. There would be work, of course, but not without a healthy smattering of daytime TV and garden naps.
The truth is, I have never worked harder. Being freelance means working all day, every day. Weekends, bank holidays and evenings: none are sacred any more. The traditional 9-6pm working day with a lunch break erodes into 9-8pm with a few snatched coffees in-between. Holidays are a scarcity, taking on the dimension of a rare and valued gemstone.
If there’s work, you’ll do it. You’ll say yes to every gig going, and then you’ll graft off-the-scale hard to keep it coming.
But because you take ownership, you never feel resentful
The biggest problem about working hard in a full-time job is that you blame other people for it. Someone – be it your boss, an inept manager or a colleague not pulling their weight – is making you slog like a dog.
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And that lack of autonomy is more crushing than the hours you actually put in. It casts a hefty psychological toll.
When you’re freelance, you work far harder but the weight of doing so vanishes in a puff of mystical smoke. You and you alone take full responsibility for how much you have going on. Plus, you actively want to be slightly too busy. Your entire mindset shifts.
Not having to commute is a beautiful, beautiful thing
Let’s face it, starting the day with a commute is a real downer. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up; with podcasts, an organic espresso or a carefully curated playlist. Battling against an unwieldy transport system, typically when you’re nose-deep in someone else’s armpit, is not a formula for happiness.
Having run the gauntlet of a sweaty city commute, there is nothing like that giddy delight that comes with waking up and strolling to your desk, a mere room or so away. No alarm clocks, hassle or stress; instead, the time and head space to warm up to your day.
Not everything about being freelance is easy, but this is one of its sweetest benefits. Relish it.
You’re far more focused at home
If I had a penny for the times someone said “but don’t you get distracted working from home?” I’d be chomping at Richard Branson’s heels by now.
First, let’s picture the riot of distractions in your average workplace. By the time you’ve leapfrogged the whole kitchen thing first thing – the chit-chat, the morning smoothie, the polite tussles over the kettle – it can be a full hour before you actually settle in.
Then the rest of your day is poleaxed by a constant stream of questions, meetings, requests and office tunes you haven’t chosen. Little wonder the average worker wastes 60 hours a month in distractions.
Working from home, in contrast, offers unparalleled zen and focus. You just get on with stuff.
Loneliness isn’t the big deal you think it will be
Which brings us neatly to another freelance myth: going solo may be more focused, but it’s also isolating.
Again, this isn’t necessarily true. A lot of the time, you’re working so hard, you don’t really notice the lack of colleagues. And when you do, you can arrange the contact you need on your own terms.
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When you’re based full-time in an open-plan office, you have no control over your working environment. But as a freelancer, you can stage-manage what kind of external stimulation works for you.
If you’re craving company, or simply the presence of other people, try co-working or base yourself in a coffee shop for a few hours. Then, when you just need to get your head down, you can beat a retreat. It’s the perfect balance.
You start to collaborate rather than compete
Even the best offices in the land have a layer of politics bubbling beneath them. And the effect of this is more corrosive than you might realise. You’re forever attuned to other peoples’ personalities and quirks. Inevitably, an air of competition prevails.
When you transition to freelance, this emphasis moves to more of a collaborative vibe. To begin with, I assumed most people would be guarded about their advice and contacts in a freelance world. But I’ve found the opposite to be true.
Whether you’re signed up to a freelance community on Facebook, or are part of a co-working space, other freelancers are more than happy to trade ideas and support.
It’s very much an open, inclusive sphere with the added advantage that if you find other people work, they’ll usually return the favour.
You can’t ever afford to sit back and be complacent
Freelance is often cast as an unreliable, last-chance saloon option. This absolutely isn’t true. But that said, there’s never a point as a freelancer where you’re plain sailing, one hand on the wheel.
When you’re self-employed, you’re forever hustling and thinking ahead to your next pay check or creative challenge. Some people interpret this as an insecure way of life, but I prefer to think of it as an exciting one.
You have to adapt yourself to the pitch and hurl of the freelance current. Adapt, pick up new skills, say yes and learn later. Be tenacious. Do this, and you’re arguably in a better position than someone who’s comfortably coasting along full-time.
We work in multi-faceted, rapidly changing jobs economy. As a freelancer, you become responsive enough to surf that tidal swell.
The scariest thing is making the leap
I’m not saying freelance is a golden solution for everything. It will suit some people, others will hate it. And there are plenty of merits to working full-time with a company, too.
But the fact is, being freelance gets a bad rap that is often undeserved. It seems scary simply because it’s an unknown. People don’t know how it will play out, so they build it up as a huge risk. And often they stay frozen on the fence as a result, unable to commit.
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I wouldn’t have gone freelance, had a move out of London not forced my hand. But now that I have, I’m so glad that I did.
The scariest thing about going freelance is taking that initial leap. You have to have faith that you can handle it.
Your capacity to thrive and be resilient is greater than you’ll ever know without testing it. Sometimes, the timing won’t be right. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always find another solution. But first, you have to try.