Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

No, Freelancing Isn’t Code for Broke

No, Freelancing Isn’t Code for Broke

It started with a party. A few years ago, I attended an industry party and was in the middle of a conversation with a few fellow journalists of color. During this talk, one of the journalists congratulated me for actually getting articles published. 

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’m freelancing,’” one colleague said with air quotes, “But you’re actually freelancing.”

I recall nodding and explaining how difficult it was to get my freelance career started. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that some people used to freelancing as code for unemployment or taking on contract work in between job searches. At first, I thought I would build up my freelance business to support me while I looked for the right job, reasoning that I’d be able to apply for higher level jobs if I had the portfolio to support my application. 

Over time, of course, my industry continued to contract. Publications laid off a percentage of their staff, laid off their whole staff and shutter entirely. It became clear to me that freelancing would be a way for me to stay in the industry as it continues to shrink. Now, I see freelancing as a way to sustain myself financially by having multiple streams of income.

Freelancers who have been doing so for a while are used to hearing well-meaning comments from their loved ones who don’t quite understand how they make money. I’ve definitely heard comments about how the right job is just around the corner. I recently had a colleague in an ancillary industry make a similar comment to me, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

I don’t ever want to minimize the very real struggles that many freelancers feel, but not all freelancers are broke. And in fact, it’s kind of insulting to assume so. It’s akin to assuming all artists are starving and all actresses are waitressing. 

Of course, stereotypes resonate with people because there is often a tiny amount of truth to them. One of the most popular articles published this year about freelancing exposed the stark inequities of freelancing. Not to mention that there appears to be a gender pay gap among freelancers, too, per a 2017 report from Honeybook

However, the freelance life isn’t totally bleak. Generally speaking, U.S. freelance writers earn $66,436 on average, according to the recruiting platform ZipRecruiter. Meanwhile, news reports make $39,622 on average, but they can make up to $75,000 or more, according to Payscale

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have supplemented my reporting in writing work with content marketing work to increase my income. Other freelancers may supplement with multimedia or translation work. 

What I wish someone had told me when I started freelancing was that freelancing is a pathway toward some stability in my ever-changing industry. Is it the same dependable paycheck as full-time staffers earn? No. Am I prepared to work in an office or at home in my pajamas? Yes. In some ways, I feel quite liberated, because not one person can “let me go.” 

And as relationships with clients change or end over time, I’m still able to support myself, and thus am somewhat freed of the emotional devastation of being cast aside by an employer. After all, it’s hard to miss one client when you have work to do for multiple others. 

One would hope that people will learn to keep their opinions to themselves or offer up something useful like client leads. But until then, I look forward to making more money as a freelancer than I ever did as a staffer.

How have you addressed to people who make assumptions about freelancers? Tell me in the comments or email me a

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