Freelance Writing: Working Without a Net

I’ve been asked more than once how I deal with the lack of security that goes along with working as a freelance writer. Since I’ve started freelancing, I’ve come to understand why actors and other creative types are said to be insecure. You are only as good as your last performance (gig), and there are no guarantees that you will get another assignment. Talk about working without a net! At the same time, I feel more secure as a self-employed freelancer than I did when I was working for someone else.

Why? It’s quite simple, really. When I work for myself, then I’m in control of my business. I can decide whether I have enough on my plate or if I need to devote more time to applying for freelance writing jobs or pitching potential clients. I have been in the position of being laid off from an office job due to circumstances that were beyond my control and that had nothing to do with my job performance. I would rather succeed or fail based on my own efforts than work for someone else.

Does that mean I always feel secure? Not at all. But then again, I didn’t feel particularly secure when I worked for someone else. (At one place where I used to work, the woman in charge of Personnel liked to fire people on Friday afternoons, so a lot of us made a point of not answering our phones after lunch that day. The logic was that if she couldn’t find you to summon up to her office, she couldn’t fire you….)

I guess the bottom line here is that we can all control how we feel about who we are and what we do. Security is something that comes from within, even though it can be a struggle to feel that way at times. Just like the lady in the photo here, if we focus on being afraid and think about whether we are going to fall, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Even if we don’t feel particularly secure at any given time, we can project a confident image (which is half the battle) to our clients and potential clients.

Do you feel secure in your freelance career or is that something you struggle with?

Comments

  1. As a successfully self-employed person for eight years, I did manage to make a huge mistake – depending on one client, and letting them lull me into a false sense of security. No hard feelings, although I’m in a position where I’ll have to temp for awhile, until I get my business back in order. I’ve learned a very hard lesson, and the best thing to do is move on from there. I’m not yet sure if I’m ready to jump back in with both feet, but I’m definitely looking forward to the day that I can actually do that.

  2. I don’t feel secure in my office job or freelance right now, so I’m not sure where I fit in. I know that I don’t like working for someone else and having my fate in their hands. I am confident that my work quality will never be an issue, but I feel a bit unsure about the random moodiness of my publisher (he has a history of impulsive decisions.) However, I just landed my first freelance feature for a magazine in my city and I’m nervous as heck about it. Even though I write features for my job, this is a new editor, a new format, etc. and I want to establish a relationship (and feel this first impression is vital.) So, I feel a bit insecure in both realms!

    However, I have to think that anything would be better than being at the mercy of one person and one opinion. I imagine that being solely freelace would have many frustrations, but at least there would be new avenues to explore with control over your situation (to an extent.) I just have so much respect for you guys, as I am trying to put myself in this position and start something on my own (wish I could just jump in and find work!) So know that you are in a position that many would like to be–find security in that!

    I look forward to hearing from everyone…

  3. I have had enough success to know that I can get jobs and I have enough margin that I have some time before I need to hit specific goals. However… my exact level of confidence depends a lot on my most recent experiences. I had some payment issues with a client who had given me a lot of work and I had to balance sheet turn from black to red. This was particularly bad timing because I have memberships in professional organizations which were coming due at the same time. I took a deep breath, charged what I needed to, made several stern calls to the client, and redoubled my job searches. I *think* that everything will be ok now, but the experience of seeing what happened to my emotions was more educational than what happened to my balance sheet.

  4. I’m in the midst of either a December slow-down or the realization that I’m in over my head. It’s a toss up and I’m putting on my game face and trying harder to get jobs now than I did in November when I had plenty of work (hey could the lack of marketing in November be related to my slow December!?).

    When things get light and the unhelpful voice in my head tells me that previous clients are never going to call again, I try to keep in mind the stories from more experienced freelancers of clients who work with them, are happy with the job, and then are silent for a year or two until they have a next job and they get back in contact. Not all clients are that sporadic, and some are one time only, to be sure, but that thought helps keep me calm.

  5. I made the same mistake too with that one basket. I’ve learned to keep several irons in the fire–and to keep on stoking each fire.

  6. Jill, in my experience, if you don’t have a job before Thanksgiving, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get something else really big before the New Year. In most companies, so many people are taking off during those six weeks, it’s hard to get any new projects started, so thus less likely for freelancers to be booked. It’s not impossible to get work in December, but I think overall it’s less likely. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t wonder if you’re doing something wrong. Lots of people are probably in the same boat.

    As for the whole insecurity thing, well, I always tell people who ask me about working freelance that one of the tradeoffs is you’re always auditioning. There’s no such thing as slacking off a little bit on this project, or just showing up and being on time like you can do in a corporate environment (and don’t kid yourselves, those of you who may be about to protest–you know it’s true). You always have to score on every drive, to go for the football metaphor; you can’t think to yourself, “There’s plenty of time, I’ll get the ball back.” It’s a tradeoff people may be less willing to make than they realize.

  7. I haven’t gone full-time or taken my creative services biz full time yet. I work a day job I don’t care for, but don’t feel I have enough clients or good clips/clients yet. I’ve made a decision that once I am able to secure a certain percentage of my income with my clients, I will quit. Until then, I’ve only got one foot in the door. I’m a chicken!

  8. Well, JR, you and I are in the same boat (I’m really enjoying this discussion!). I’m going more creative this time around (I was a computer technician for ten years, burned out five years ago, but the money was excellent), and I don’t feel I have enough experience yet to just branch out. I’ll stay with this temp gig for as long as I can, but my ultimate goal is to work for myself – I did it for eight years, and it made me a much better person.

  9. I recently wrote an informal review of Seth Godin’s book “The Dip”

    http://notsoliteral.blogspot.com/2008/12/book-review-of-seth-godins-dip.html

    Essentially, he has helped inspire me and formulate when and how I’ll quit my day job. Essentially I set the terms that will help me proceed towards my strength and then I go at it full bore. Once I have a solid footing with independent work, I make the jump.

  10. I’ve been freelance for eight months now, after having been an in-house SEO. When the owners of the company decided to close the business, I took contract work to tide me over while I was jobhunting, and haven’t run out of work yet.
    I spent the first few months thinking of myself as an unemployed person who worked a lot, and am only now beginning to feel as though I probably won’t starve in the gutter (I figure it would have happened by now if I really were going to end up without enough work). But I do sometimes miss the salary.
    Let’s say I realize that I have no reason to feel insecure, and look forward to having my emotions catch up with my rational realization.

  11. Rebecca:

    I’ve interned while in college in a state media relations dept, but aside from that I’ve never had a full time “creative” position. I always say that I’d like to be a freelancer or business owner because I’m simply independent and want to work for myself… BUT, the experience of working at a creative agency (adv, pr, marketing, etc) with other creatives is an experience I also relish. For those who have worked in the industry and then go freelance, I feel they are decidedly advantaged.

  12. @ Rebecca: I think you hit the nail on the head. Feeling insecure is an emotion, and not based on logic. It can be difficult at times to remind yourself of that fact when Logic has decided to take a holiday, though.

  13. As a relatively new freelancer (and having NOT cut the cord from my day job) I appreciate your honesty in this post. It’s that “security” thing I can’t let go of.

  14. @ Grandy: Thank you. :)

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