It’s always around this time of year that I start to question why the heck I ever became a freelancer.
As everyone else (or so it seems) is turning in their W-2′s and talking about how they will spend their tax refunds, I’m gathering together a mountain of receipts, tallying up miles driven, calculating my expenses against my income, and kicking myself for not being more organized the year before. Ah yes, tax season.
With that said, freelancing is a wonderful thing. Sure, maybe I hate myself for a few days out of the year, but for the other 360? I love my life. It’s unpredictable, it’s stressful, it’s a straight-up breeding ground for self-doubt, but gosh darn it, I have no one to answer to but MYSELF. I set my own schedule. I go to sleep and wake up whenever my body wants. If I need to take a day off, I take that day off. I am constantly pushed to try new things and grow creatively to keep income flowing (for better or worse). And most importantly, once my daughter arrives this summer, I’ll be able to stay at home with her for as long as I need to (although paid maternity leave sure would be nice!).
Here are some things I’ve learned about being a freelancer over the past two years:
Taxes are expensive. I pay taxes on a quarterly basis and while I dread writing a meaty check to the IRS every three months, it’s a small price to pay to be able to live life on my own terms.
Time is finite. Time is precious and the time to make things happen is now. In the past I tended to drag my feet when it came to taking charge of my goals and making things happen, but recently I’ve been able to break out of that mindset more often and it’s paid off tenfold. After all, if I don’t go after my dreams, who will?
Charge what you are worth. Oh gosh, I hate dealing with pricing. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I hate sending off e-mails with my price sheet and wondering if I charged too much or too little for the task and the client at hand. I hate asking for raises. But even more than that, I hate working for free. Sure, it’s okay to do pro-bono work every once in awhile (especially for a person or a cause I truly love!), but when projects get dragged out longer than expected or additional assignments get tacked on without any extra compensation, it leads to resentment and discontent. And really, that hurts both parties. This is why it’s paramount to charge what you are worth from the very beginning. (Remind me of this the next time I tense up over a pricing inquiry!)
Money is a renewable resource. This is probably the biggest lesson I keep learning and re-learning over and over again. When the jobs are rolling in and the money is flowing, I feel powerful and confident and hopeful. But when the gigs are less frequent and my bank account is starting to dwindle? Not a good feeling. Money often feels elusive, like it will never return again, but somehow, some way, it always comes back. Recently I’ve learned that the best way to break out of money ruts is to get creative! Being forced to come up with new sources of income is a great way to push my creative boundaries and try new things that I may not have otherwise had the confidence to pull off. Many of the ideas that I put into action out of a need to pay the bills (i.e. rubber stamps and e-courses, to name a few) have turned out to be my most profitable revenue streams yet! BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BE BOLD.
E-mails are a necessary evil. I’m going to be honest: I don’t love dealing with e-mail. While I would choose it ANYDAY over talking on the phone, it still has a way of taunting me. Lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to stay on top of my inbox every single day, but admittedly, I still fall short.
Be honest. Even when you are your own boss, you’re still going to deal with unpleasant circumstances. When an unhappy customer e-mails me about an issue, I listen to their concerns and offer solutions to the problem (even if it means my feelings are hurt or I have to eat the cost of an item). When I make a mistake on shipping, I own up to it and fix the problem on my own dime ASAP. When I find out a client and I have a miscommunication, I take a step back and apologize where need be. But most importantly, I have to be honest with myself. If something doesn’t feel right or I’m not 100% in love with the product I am about to launch into existence, I have to own up to it and make the necessary changes (even if I hate every minute of it!)
I am never stuck. Knowing that I have a college degree and real-world experience in my back pocket provides me with a mental safety net. I feel confident that if someday freelancing is no longer a viable option for myself and my family, I can always go back to a more traditional career path. (However, after having a taste of self-employment, I am more motivated than ever to stick with it as long as I possibly can!)
The beauty of freelancing is that it really is freedom; just so long as you are doing things that make you FEEL free.