Making It As A Freelancer Series: The Pros and Cons
I was 23 when I became a freelance writer. This decision I made when I was working at a video production house, and I became privy to how much a freelance cameraman was paid: the salary for a day’s work was half my monthly salary.
Some would say it’s a bold decision; I’m of the opinion it was reckless. I hadn’t worked in a publishing house or for a fastidious editor; and had never helmed my own newsdesk. With zilch experience and only a “fervent passion for writing”, I was a rouge wandering in the great unknown. It was easy back then: I had no financial obligations and I could always go back to finding a full-time job if need be.
Many people I come across are surprised at my career choice. Jetting off to far-flung places of the world… Working along pristine beaches with the wind in your hair… This is a rosy picture some freelancers might have once foisted upon you. Is being a freelancer really that peachy? Let’s ferret the truths out.
Pro: Make your own success
Sustainability and sustenance are without question apex priorities for anyone looking to become a freelancer. It’s a rocky road to stability, and indeed it’s a journey replete with many agonising moments that call for Rocky Road. But in this day and age, when loyalty is no longer insurance, market volatility the norm, who can say holding down a full-time job is tantamount to stability?
At my last day job, I was ferrying buckets of water and my shoulder was once used as a tripod for a hand model perched on a stool. Not that the work was beneath me, but it simply wasn’t why I had forayed into the video production industry — I didn’t study film when I was in school. And I thought then: if my boss, being the superbly-nice fella that he is, doesn’t rank my career advancement as top priority… what will other bosses, who might not be as kind as he is, do for me?
The best thing about being a freelancer is that you chart your own path to success. Freelancers don’t wait for career advancement; we make it happen. Let’s face it: in the workplace, in order for you to rise through the ranks to become a manager, someone else would have to vacate that position. Why should your personal success hinge on job availability?
Con: You are a one-man show
It’s a precursory step to what I love the most — getting paid — but this step is one I hate the most: invoicing. Until you are in a position to afford additional help, you have to take care of all the nitty gritty yourself. Not a people person? Well, tough! You’ll need to be the face of your company and attend meetings with clients. An illness can also put a crimp in your schedule. Come tax season, you’ll probably reminisce about that one brief conversation you had with your accountant and how dearly you miss his services that you once took for granted.
Pro: You are in a position to shatter that income ceiling
When I first started out, my pay cheques were very forgettable. I was naive, and for a while I was charging 10 cents per word. I did not dare charge any higher because I questioned my own value. “What if the clients reject the work?”
Slowly, I built my network of contacts and agencies kept coming back to me with new projects. That was when I knew my worth: I may not be the world’s best writer, but I sure am a dependable one. And I do pretty-good work: many projects of mine go swimmingly without a hitch. So I began testing the waters and upped my fees. Today, I have more recurring projects than when I first started out; and my annual income has seen a year-on-year increase.
Consider the converse: I only have a diploma, and I have no intentions of furthering my studies. That means if I got a full-time job, my salary would range somewhere between $2,500 to $3,000, if I’m lucky. It would remain stagnant for a couple of years too.
As long as you’re good at what you do, and you do not rest on your laurels, you will become the trusted freelancer agencies and clients tap.
Con: My loneliness is killing me
My peers are ascending the ladder rungs of society while I’ve become a social recluse. I do enjoy cordial relationships with the people I work with — I mean, we’re connected on Facebook: we’re practically married — but these are transactional in nature. When you work in an office, you get to meet like-minded companions and you trudge through the mud together. Freelancers do not really get to cultivate such meaningful relationships.
Also, where work is concerned, when you hit a cul-de-sac, it helps to get a fresh perspective. My mom is my only colleague, and a writer she isn’t, so she isn’t much of a help.
Pro: You call the shots
Just a few months back I relinquished a long-term bi-monthly magazine project. The clients were friendly. The marketing communication manager was full of praise for the work; and it was a good thousand dollars — and then some — per month into my bank account. It was also an easy gig.
But it was no longer satisfying. I had also farmed out the project to junior writers, but I still had to check every single piece of work. It became a cycle that I dreaded. And so I gave it up. If you told me three years ago that I’d be willingly giving up paying projects I’d have laughed at the improbability.
When I did I felt liberated, no longer tethered to a project that didn’t excite me. Doing so also gave me the breathing space I need to undertake more-challenging projects.
Con: Work-life balance is not a guarantee
In my early years of freelancing, I could pencil in yoga as well as group exercise classes in the afternoon and still meet deadlines. Of course I only had the one project to worry about. As your career gains traction, however, this splendid work-life balance will become increasingly elusive. Freelancers don’t actually operate outside of space and time — we’re on the same clock as our clients, agency partners, etc.
Most freelancers I know have difficulty taking time out for vacations. Even when I’m on vacation, I still have to catch up on my deadlines. There’s no one that I can unload my work onto, and even if there is, would this person deliver good work? Would he poach my clients? These are important considerations.
Pro: The world is your shucked oyster
When others find themselves in a work rut, they uproot their lives and get new jobs. But the work they have to do is essentially the same wherever they go! Different clients, same job scope. Very soon, the novelty of a new cubicle or job title will wear off. Can you imagine doing a job you simply do not enjoy for 30, 40 years?
Being a freelancer is like being a gypsy without the eccentric dance moves (or maybe with). You go wherever you want to go. I write for a public relations agency, and I get perks like having food delivered to my house. I work with a global ad firm and get to be a humour writer for an ad campaign. I work in tandem with two editors, who take me out of my comfort zone with projects I cannot yet score on my own; and now I have a portfolio that I’m proud of. I get to learn about design production when I’m doing editorial works for a design agency.
Through these endeavours, I become a well-rounded writer, and I’m not just talking about my physical size. Instead of learning from just one person — a boss — you get to see different points of view, and discover how other luminaries think as well as run their own tight ships.
Ready to make the switch? Check out our next instalment of Making It As A Freelancer Series: Success Strategies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.