To people stuck in an office job they hate and dreading the daily commute, being a freelancer seems like a tropical paradise. A career as an independent seems stressless and satisfying. Fueled by the Corona economic crises, many are discovering that this ideal picture is far from the truth. However, that said, freelancing can be a breath of fresh air if people know how to manage the challenges specific to it. As a matter of perspective, I have been a freelance translator and editor for more than 15 years, some half of it full time, working previously (and currently) as a teacher, a salaried position. I did not regret my change of direction and plan to continue even beyond the formal retirement age.
Financial stress – Not being able to pay the bills is stressful and disenchanting. Freelancers generally have to begin their business from scratch and do not receive a dependable monthly check. Coping with this worry involves preparation, budgeting and managing expectations. The two safest ways to begin a freelance career are to have a nest egg to get your through the first year or so or start part time until a customer base sufficient to allow you to drop the other job is established. Either way, the knowledge that the mortgage is taken care of allows the translator to make correct long-term decisions. Beyond that, since income is not predicable regardless of how many years a person in the business, it is vital control spending on luxuries, whether vacations or furniture. Freelancers can invest in their personal life but it is clearly not advisable to go out on a major shopping spree after each great month. Just as important is the acquired ability to avoid emotional extremes, positive or negative, in regards to extreme months. A great month does not mean that the whole year will be fantastic nor does a poor month mean the end of the business. Poor months are even great opportunities to consider strategy or implement marketing. Enjoy success and worry about failure in moderation. By planning, budgeting and keeping a perspective, the financial stress becomes background noise most of the time.
Crisis of confidence – Being a freelancer as compared to a salaryman, as the Japanese used to say, is the difference between a sailboat and an ocean liner. While passengers in the latter may have little control of their destiny, they are buffered if not protected from the waves. Freelancers may be able to choose their course and zoom but inevitably are hit by disturbing blows. The event may be a customer complaint, losing a long-term customer, an extended downturn and even a major change in the industry. In any case, independents often react by losing their confidence in themselves, questioning their path and doubting the future.
The way to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is a combination of cold reasoning, acceptance and faith. When you lose a customer or are accused of doing poor quality work, rightly or wrongly, it is vital to analyze the event carefully as if you were not a party to it. It may take several hours or days before this objectivity is reached but, once achieved, it is vital to identify the fundamental causes and devise strategies to avoid similar incidents. This acceptance that errors and misunderstandings can happen even to the best of us reduces the negative thinking that can overwhelm people. Even if, to quote the great John Belushi line from Animal House, you f***ed up, the failure does not erase the hundreds if not thousands of successful projects you have completed or the make the skills that you have attained disappear. Thinking logical and keeping the faith are vital for a long-term freelance career.
Emotional stability – Productivity and happiness are correlational statistically. Contented workers, including freelancers, produce more and better products. Social isolation, poor home relations and burnout reduce morale. Working at home can create all three of these situations. First, for a freelancer, being stuck at work all day long often implies a lack of human contact. Even for those with a family, the hours and demands of being independent force an unnatural structure to those relations. Free time for hobbies and friends is a bit of a fata morgana, somewhere in the distance. Freelancers must integrate emotionally satisfying activities in their lives.
Since life by projects is unpredictable by nature, such activities must be scheduled. Regular schedule sessions for any social activity ensure that the entrepreneur gets properly dressed from time to time and does not forget how to conduct a casual conversation. Children and significant others are no less deserving and important than work and should receive their due even if it must be arranged in advance. It is very beneficial to spend some time every week on some activity that makes you happy. The investment is not wasted as it rekindles enthusiasm for work. In the long term, socially active people are more stable and productive than hermits.
Life balance – One of the most significant differences between employees and entrepreneurs is that the ease of becoming addicted to work. The high that freelancers receive from the work and the resulting payment often leads to seven-day work weeks of 12 hours of day, at least until they collapse. It is remarkably easy to fall into the trap of “one more project” and wonder why one day the brain and body go on complete strike. No good deed goes unpunished.
While work is an important and hopefully enjoyable part of life, it is vital to maintain a balanced life. Ultimately, family life contributes to and is just as important as a career. Friends provide the social release needed to clean the soul. Physical activity releases tension, one of the major causes of errors and burn out. It makes no sense to make freelance life as miserable and confining as salaried life.
Life as a freelancer can be a paradise as long as it is managed properly. Maintaining a level headed balance in regards to money, emotions, social life and life style makes getting up in the morning to start work feel like waking up in Tahiti, at least of most of the time. Of course, an occasional vacation to some exotic place, even a tropical island, is also recommended. After all, the purpose of making money is to enjoy it.
* Remember to caption all pictures so blind people can also enjoy your posts. All pictures from the Pixibay.com site.