Quitting freelancing, debunked

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quitting freelancingMy April Fool’s Day post, “Why it’s time to quit freelancing,” was intended to cite common complaints about the freelance business with sufficient winking and nudging to make it obvious I was goofing around—and not quitting freelancing. The feedback on social media made it clear, however, that some of the bullets contained painful truths and warranted further discussion.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, each of these falls within three categories: 1) items you have little or no control over, 2) items you can control with physical efforts, or 3) items you need to manage with your mindset. So, let’s pull the previous post apart and debunk it piece by piece:

  • Awful freelance jobs. Aside from the defeatist idea that there aren’t good clients or jobs out there (you really think I believe that?!), the tell should have been my comment that “it’s not worth the effort to find them anymore.” Yes, finding and retaining great clients requires effort—as well as skill, networking, and some luck—but it’s absolutely worth it. Frankly, technology has made the process a whole lot simpler than when I first started.
  • Pricing pressures. Blaming low rates on content mills, bidding sites, and other freelancers is letting yourself off the hook. All you can control is your own pricing, from the numbers you choose to the way you present them to prospective clients. If you’re in a creative freelance segment (skill, industry, or client type) on the lower end of the rate scale, you can make peace with that fact or you can take steps to change it. Your choice.
  • Retirement. As a GenXer who assumes the purchasing power of Social Security will be lousy by the time I close up shop, I’ve always been a diligent saver. There are tons of options for freelancers to build a retirement account—far more and better plans than when I started in 1999. (Currently, I use a solo 401(k) plan, and had a SEP-IRA before that.)
  • Interest level. Your interest level is going to wax and wane, no matter what you’re doing or for whom. The keys are to find projects that keep you challenged and surround yourself with people with high aspirations. (Conversely, do yourself a favor and stay the heck away from people who drag you down with negative and whiny comments about freelancing.) Freshening up your perspective can help: Check out Copyediting’s recent posts on attending client conferences and industry conferences, and participating in mastermind groups. Note that a mastermind group doesn’t need to be specific to your line of creative freelancing—I belong to a monthly group that brings together businesspeople with wildly diverse backgrounds. It’s not only great for fresh ideas, it’s a level of accountability you can’t really get on your own.
  • Lost clients. I won’t pretend that this doesn’t bother me at some level—but it’s a reality of running any enterprise. Your best defense is to diversify your client base so that the loss of any individual client doesn’t bring your freelance business crashing down.
  • Freelancing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This was me at my most sarcastic! The freedom of freelancing can’t be separated from the responsibilities. Yin and yang.
  • Other job opportunities. One of my clients (also an independent creative) mentioned she’s recently been tempted by some of the jobs that she sees on LinkedIn. When I look at corporate jobs and think back on why I left my last one, I’m not even slightly interested in quitting freelancing. But I do keep an eye on those jobs in case I see something that might be a good fit for a person in my network.
  • Other interests. A professional can’t afford to use writer’s block or creative block as an excuse, although I do empathize with a Facebook commenter who noted that editing can be boring. Then again, I try to focus on the aspects of the business that are interesting. I don’t write or edit in my free time.
  • Lost revenues. Like lost clients, deadbeat clients are a fact of business—they’re not unique to freelancing, and I stand by my contrarian take on the Freelancers Union’s #FreelanceIsntFree campaign. As with the bullet about pricing, you’re letting yourself off easy if you believe the government is the best solution to nonpayment. There are numerous actions you can take—contracts, deposits, staying on top of invoicing—to diminish your odds of getting skunked.
  • Simplifying my life. Hmmm. While a 9-to-5 would make life simpler in some respects, it would make it far more complicated in others. A longtime friend and colleague recently took a full-time job with his largest client. I respect him and his decision about quitting freelancing. The truth is, he’s been so busy that it’s almost impossible to pin him down on a lunch meeting. And let’s face it, if you’re any good at a corporate job, it’s more like 7-to-7.

As sanguine as I am about the benefits of being a freelancer, I’m a realist. The April Fool’s Day post wasn’t intended to make freelancing sound horrible, nor is this debunking aimed at making it sound fun and carefree. It’s…a business. If it’s your chosen field, you owe it to yourself to drive hard on the aspects you control or manage, and to ignore (or at least accept) the aspects that you don’t. No foolin’.

Thank you to all who shared the link via social media on April Fool’s Day, and my sheepish apologies to anyone who was genuinely worried I was quitting freelancing!

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  1. says

    I knew you weren’t a quitter! : )

    Great post, Jake, your writing skills were on full display. Especially liked your point about the quest for good clients being worthwhile. FWIW: I used to take a scattershot approach: same email pitch to everyone. Lazy, ineffective, and boring for all parties, me included. Doing serious research and making a custom pitch to one prospect at a time has been much more effective, and helps keep my energy and interest levels up. It’s also made me feel and act more professional. More motivated, too.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  2. Caryl Wenzel says

    I really thought it was real (which seemed unbelievable to me). I had forgotten that it was April Fool’s Day, so I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Both the original and the debunking were great reads. One can’t succeed if one doesn’t try. There may be obstacles, but the rewards are great.

  3. says

    Thanks, Mark. Excellent point about customizing your pitches being effective on a couple of levels. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but I think your psychology analysis is right on.

    Caryl, I appreciate the kind words. And I agree 100% about the rewards.

  4. says

    Great points all the way around, my friend. I particularly like the “freelancing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” point. You’re not “free” to work here and there. Yes, you can set your own hours, but you still have to work. And frankly, it’s hard work. I’ve never worked so hard before. I’ve never felt so personally and professionally rewarded before, either.

    • says

      Thanks, Lori. At the risk of sounding horribly selfish, it’s easier for me to see the sense in hard work when I know I’m the primary beneficiary! 🙂 I don’t begrudge my last employer, who paid me well–but I helped make him a PILE of money, too.