Monday, 22 September 2014

The Perfect Life of a Freelancer: 6 Myths BUSTED

I have a friend who’s seriously considering going freelance. She’s a bit like me, different industry, but just starting a family, got a bit of experience under her belt, it’s the perfect scenario, right? You get to work from home, you’re totally in control of your hours, you don’t have to worry about childcare, you can work in your PJs, you don’t have anyone telling you what to do. It’s living the dream!

I was there once. I thought it was living the dream. I thought that making the break for freelance working would be the best leap of faith I would ever take. And it is. Please believe me it is. I love it. You can read about it here.

But I can also honestly say it is the hardest thing I’ve ever sought to do in my entire life.

It is simultaneously the best thing and the hardest thing.

So I just wanted to set the record straight. In case anyone out there was considering it, I don’t want you to read the ‘perfect life of a freelancer’ blogs and think that this is the easy option, that if you do this your problems will be solved. There’s loads to consider – there are things in my life that make this possible, things that if they weren’t in place it wouldn’t be possible.  Here’s a real look at the ‘perfect life of a freelancer’…..

1. The work isn’t consistent, regular or guaranteed
When you see me on Facebook or Twitter looking ‘busy’ please know that I am. I am busy. But not all of my ‘business’ translates into cold, hard cash. The blogging, the emailing, the researching, the tax returns, the planning does not pay. Only the client work pays, and it’s bloody hard work getting those clients! Probably about 50% of my work is client work and 50% is the rest – things that need to be done, things that will hopefully bag me more client work, but not things that will pay me that day.

Most of the time I will have paid work one week and then go for two or three weeks without any paid work (I've only been doing this 10 months so I'm working on it!). Thankfully that one week of paid work will give me enough money to pay my bills, but just so you know, the work isn’t consistent. Or regular. And that’s if you get any at all.

2. The money doesn’t magically appear in your account when you need it
Your work might not stick to your schedule of when you need money. Even if you have some great projects lined up they often overrun, you can’t invoice until they’re complete and then you would usually give 30 day terms on your invoice. So it could be 3-4 months between receiving the commission and receiving the payment (in my line of work, anyway), and that’s assuming the client pays on time.

If you’re relying on your income to pay your basic bills then it’s vital you build up a good buffer of savings before you quit your job, as there are often cash flow problems which mean the money isn’t necessarily there at the point in the month when you need it.

As you work, commit to saving a percentage of each payment to ensure that this buffer stays topped up. And remember, live within your means. Sometimes myself and my husband feel super rich – but would we move to a bigger house or purchase a car on finance based on my income? No. We try to keep our bills as low as possible so that when my money is in short supply, we can live from my husband’s money (we can’t, but we don’t want to be dipping into those savings more than we have to!).

3. You can work in your PJs!..... at 5am.
Working in your PJs is living the dream, right? Except when it’s 5am. Even when I commuted from Stratford to Colchester every day I didn’t get up at 5am. So now, when I’m meeting a deadline and I get up at 5am to do it, I certainly don’t feel like I’m living the dream! But that’s what I do. Because right now my daughter isn’t in school. Right now she demands my attention from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed.

Image courtesy of marin at

4. You don’t need to worry about childcare.
Honestly? Childcare is my biggest worry. I would love to put Ruby into childcare for one or two days per week, but I can’t commit to such an expense when there will be some weeks when I don’t need it. I am counting down the months until she qualifies for a free space (and that’s a long way off!). I have an amazing support network of friends and family who will happily babysit when I’m on deadline, but it doesn’t work out to be a regular thing. The result is that I often work weekends, evenings and early mornings when my husband can deal with Ruby, and that the maintenance / pitching / research side of the business gets put on the back burner. You cannot work at home and have young children at the same time. You will need a support network of babysitters and you probably won’t get a lot of sleep – but the benefits far outweigh these sacrifices because you are raising your children and spending time with them – just don’t think it will be an easy ride!

5. You can fit your work in around your life.
You can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s easy to think that you can just send a few emails or do a bit of blogging or pitch for a bit more work in and around your normal routine, but it doesn’t work out like that. You need to be disciplined. You need to set some hours. Those hours might be irregular and not your usual 9-5, but you still need to set them. Life happens, and before you know it, days (or even weeks!) have whizzed by and all you’ve done this week is check your emails rather than pitch for paid work. 

It’s easy to think you’re working when you’re not, it’s easy to think you have work when you don’t, it’s easy to think that money is on its way when it’s not. You can’t sit back and enjoy the ride, there is constant tension between your family commitments and your work and sometimes you have to make sacrifices (but so worth it!).

6. No more bosses breathing down your neck, hurrah!
You might be your own boss and be able to manage your own workload, but you still have clients. Some clients are great, some clients are a pain in the ass, but all clients pay you money so it’s your job to keep them happy and coming back for more! And nowadays, when so much communication is done via email it’s difficult to tell whether you’re keeping them happy or not! Cue those feelings of insecurity and dread every time a difficult client’s email pings into your inbox. 

The fact is, you still have to work with people and you still have to work to a brief so don’t think that your ‘boss from hell’ problems will disappear, problems will arise, people will take advantage of your good nature and things will get lost in translation. Just breathe through it, stay chipper and go the extra mile to ensure they use your services again (at least when you work from home you can go cry into your duvet and eat chocolate before coming back and facing the world!).

So there you have it. Six freelancing myths busted, giving you a slightly more realistic picture of the ‘perfect life of a freelancer’. Don’t let it put you off, just make sure you’re prepared for the journey!

Have you had to face up to any of these myths? Have I missed anything? 
I’d love to hear your comments below!
On the flip side, read about why freelancing was the best decision I ever made HERE.

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