According to a study conducted by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk, one of the most well-known freelance job platforms today, approximately one out of every three U.S. workers currently operates in some type of freelance capacity. This is approximately 53 million people in total, a number equal to the population of 25 entire states.
Of these workers, roughly 2.8 million are classified as freelance business owners, which the study clarifies as someone who has “between one and five employees who consider themselves both a freelancer and a business owner.” But before we go any further, it’s important to define exactly what a freelancer is.
What Is a Freelancer?
If you go by the Business Dictionary definition, a freelancer is someone who: 1) works on a contract basis, 2) works for several businesses as opposed to working for just one, 3) is “considered to be self-employed,” and, 4) is able to decide which clients and which projects they want to work on. Business Dictionary also adds that “a common profession for freelancing is writing,” which is where I happen to fit in.
That being said, there are a ton of different jobs that freelancers can do to earn a pretty decent living. For instance, if you want to work primarily on your computer, your online business options include offering services as a researcher, acting as a social media manager, or teaching foreign languages. You could also work as a travel consultant, event planner, dating coach, or in any other variety of capacities. There really is no limit to what a freelancer can do.
While this is good news for someone who wants to work for him or herself, the reality is that the freelance life isn’t for everyone. In fact, it can often come with some fairly distinct disadvantages.
Disadvantages of Working as a Freelancer
Probably the most notable disadvantage of being a freelancer is that you don’t get a regular, steady paycheck. As most of the freelancers I talk to describe, “it’s either feast or famine.” This is especially true when you’re first starting out, as work can be fairly spotty until you’re able to secure some regular paying clients.
Another con of freelancing is that you have to be self-motivated or you’re not going to continue to get work. This often means working when you don’t feel like it, like during evenings, weekends, and holidays, because there is no such thing as paid time off.
Some other things that can make working as a freelancer a turn-off include: it can be pretty lonely if you do most of your work by yourself, you don’t have a supervisor or co-worker to bounce ideas off, and you have to constantly market yourself if you want to gain enough clients to sustain your desired lifestyle.
But, Freelancing Does Also Have Its Pros
Of course, it’s not all bad—there are many advantages to working in a freelance capacity. For instance, you get to set your own hours. So, if you have a midday appointment or errand you want to run, it’s no big deal. Just schedule your work around it.
You also get to pick your own clients. This was a big one for me, since I started my career in law enforcement, which meant that most of the people I interacted with day in and day out weren’t exactly happy to see me. Now, I only work with entrepreneurs and companies who are a good fit. If they’re not, then I let them go so they can find a writer who is better able to give them what they want.
Working as a freelancer also removes any ceiling on your income potential. Though you still want to be competitively priced, you do get to set your own rates and can work as little or as much as you like if you freelance. And if you have an extra expense coming up, it’s no big deal. Just put in a few more hours and you’ve got it covered.
It’s advantages like these that keep many freelancers pushing past the negatives, fighting to keep working for themselves despite how difficult it can sometimes be. Yes, there are times we feel like we’re going to lose our sanity, but the same is true in most any job, so why not figure things out so we live to see another day and can enjoy more of the benefits of working for ourselves?
How to Better Survive as a Freelancer
Fortunately, my experience has taught me many ways to better survive as a freelancer. Here are just a few of them that may help you too.
#1: Budget, Budget, Budget
In August of 2017, CNBC ran an article revealing that roughly four out of every five full-time workers—78 percent, to be exact—live paycheck to paycheck. While this isn’t necessarily good news, if you have a set pay schedule, at least you know when your next bit of money is coming. As a freelancer, you don’t always get paid regularly (in fact, you rarely get paid regularly), so you have to plan your budget or else you’ll likely find yourself trying to figure out how you’re going to survive on the bread crumbs in your cupboard.
This requires that you take the time to sit down every month, planning out which expenses you have coming up, as well as how much you have to earn to cover them. Knowing this up front gives you the absolute minimum you need to make to at least break even. Then, once you meet that number, you can make a better decision about what to do with the rest.
Personally, I work one month ahead so I know that I’ve always got the next month’s money sitting in savings when the calendar flips. I’ve found that this eases a lot of stress and worries about how I’m going to cover my share of the bills in the upcoming days, which is kind of like a payday in and of itself.
#2: Continue to Market Yourself, Even When You Have a Lot of Work
This was one mistake that I made when I first started out as a freelancer as I thought, “I’ve got a ton of work right now, so why do I need to continue to try to market myself? I’ll just wait until things slow down a bit and I’ll look for more work then.”
The problem with this type of approach is that it always puts you behind the 8-ball. In other words, by the time you actually have time to look for work, you’re already in need of your next check.
Plus, sometimes projects don’t start as planned, they either get delayed of stopped completely, leaving you suddenly without work. That’s why you should continue to market yourself, even if you already have full work days. For me, it’s less stress to figure out how I’m going to get through all of my work than it is trying to find ways to get more.
#3: Diversify Your Offerings
Another way to better survive as a freelancer is to diversify your offerings. What I mean by this is, sometimes you have to expand your services before your freelance business will grow.
When I first started out, I marketed myself solely as a freelance writer in the health and fitness niche. However, I soon learned that I could really open up my pool of potential clients if I offered content in other areas too. Since I have education and experience in personal development, personal defense, and small business ownership, I now work for clients in these realms as well. This has helped me create a steady stream of work because I haven’t pigeon-holed myself into just one small corner of the market.
I also do other things that bring in additional revenue. For instance, I now create my own writing workshops and write my own books. In fact, it was during the final edit of my seventh book, How to Earn a Comfortable Living as a Freelance Writer: What It Takes to Set Up a Freelance Writing Business That Pays the Bills…And Then Some, that I started thinking of the importance behind surviving as a freelancer.
After considering my journey, I wanted to encourage others in similar shoes, reinforcing that they can make this work, as long as they keep going. That’s the motivation behind this post, as well as the reason why I also offer coaching. I know how good it feels to live my dreams and I want others to feel this good too.
Thinking about your freelance business, what are some ways that you can diversify to offer more products or services? What other streams of revenue can you create so that if one has a slow period, the others can help make up the difference?
#4: Keep Your Faith
I cannot stress this one enough. There are many days working as a freelancer where the only thing that gets me through is my faith. And I’m not just talking about faith in a religious sense, but more of a confidence in the fact that, as long as I do things to keep moving forward, things will eventually work out.
Admittedly, some days it’s easier to have faith than others, but staying optimistic has helped me weather some pretty tumultuous times. At one point, I was even ready to go get a “real” job, had interviewed for it and everything, before I was able to restore my faith and remember that I could be successful as a freelancer. Now, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give up.
#5: Find What Works for You
Though these are the things that have helped me better survive in the freelance world, it’s also super important to find what works best for you. We are all unique individuals and, as such, we each have our own way of working and dealing with things. It’s also why you can read 20 different stories of success only to realize that each person took a different path to get where they are today.
It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all approach to building a profitable freelance business that doesn’t make you question your sanity along the way, but there isn’t. What there is, though, is the knowledge that, if others can figure out how to make a good living as a freelancer, you certainly can do it too.
It’s often said that, if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I like to say, “If you want something bad enough, you not only have to find a way, but you also have to find your way. When you do that, anything can happen. Anything at all.”