The tough parts of freelancing no one warns you about
In the beginning, freelancing was a side hustle. It was a creative outlet after my day jobs. It was a way to build my portfolio with clips I couldn’t get during my internships or main jobs. It was a way to pursue stories I was really passionate about. And most importantly, it was a way for me, a young, low-income, black woman writer, to earn extra cash.
A year ago, I was wrapping up a contract writing gig that enabled me to pay down debt and boost my emergency fund. I wanted to try my hand at freelancing because I had bad experiences with my previous jobs. For once, I wanted to not answer to anyone but me.
A year into my full-time freelance writing, my idea of a freelance lifestyle has definitely changed. Though it’s great for me to be a freelancer, there are plenty of tough truths that people don’t tell you about the freelance life:
It’s hard to find the right clients
I’ve sent proposals that went unanswered, been underpaid on invoices, paid late, or—only in one case—been stiffed outright. This has happened with content and editorial clients. It takes time to find clients that will pay reasonable rates, pay on time and treat you well overall. And even though I had a portfolio of work and a network of clients, it took a while to build up my clientele. Keep an eye out for red flags.
Budgeting is more important than you thought
Budgeting was easier when I worked part-time or full-time and freelanced on the side. When you transition to freelancing full-time, it’s much trickier. You’ve got to have significant savings to keep you afloat until you land reasonably paying anchor clients. And you’ll need to be prepared to part with that savings in order to sustain yourself. You’ve got to take care of yourself, but you can’t overspend. Give every penny a purpose. Line up your support system, too. If you need help with your expenses at some point, have a plan of who you’ll need to call and start applying for gigs and jobs.
Pitching is time-consuming and rough on your ego
While freelancing on the side, I had either a full-time or part-time cover my rent, food and other living expenses. But once you go full-time freelance, you find that the unsteadiness of constant pitching means your income depends entirely on the willingness of editors to accept your pitches, edit your drafts, publish your stories and pay within a timely fashion. This churning makes it hard to come up with really fleshed out pitches, in my opinion. And if you have multiple rejections per week (or day), your bank account and self-esteem will suffer a bit. This is another reason why anchor clients are so important, for both financial and creative stability.
Doubt from within and from others
Whether it’s rejection from editors, loved ones asking when you’ll get a “real job” or recurring waves of imposter syndrome, freelancing can upend your confidence. The one thing that helps me get through this is looking through my portfolio and remembering the stories I was proud to write. I also look at my accounting software data to see how my business has grown since I began freelancing full time a year ago. Yes, there are rough patches during every job, but you can’t let it get you down. If freelancing is your full-time thing, you have to stay focused on yourself and tune out the negativity. It’s helpful to seek advice from or meet up with fellow freelancers who understand your position.
You have to run the business
Unlike a regular company, you’re a one-person show. You do the client calls, marketing, billing, taxes, contract signing, supply ordering and everything else that goes into the day-to-day operations. You also have to make tough calls in your business like deciding to get rid of clients or what to pay yourself. Many have to deal with challenges like healthcare childcare.
There’s a lot of positive talk surrounding the transition to freelancing, including from this blog. Some people may get the impression that freelancing is easy. It’s doable, but it is a challenge at first. If anyone’s going to keep it real with people, it’s going to be me.
What other snags have you hit when transitioning to full-time freelancing? Tell me in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.