When I tell you I’m a freelancer, you don’t need to shed a tear for me, I’m doing just fine, thanks. The truth is that freelancing is an incredible career path, not a last-chance saloon.
The pity talk sounds like this:
‘Oh, I tried freelancing once and it was so hard, so I took a paid role.’
Or, ‘Wow, is there enough work out there as a freelancer, how do you survive?’
Or this from a regular editor: ‘What are you hoping to do after freelancing?’
Honestly, these people have it all wrong.
Like so many Australian creatives, I worked in-house as a journalist for many years. Even then, however, I craved a freelance life. Eventually, I worked up the courage to walk out on that corporate job to pursue a lifestyle doing what I love, for clients that value my work.
And no, that doesn’t mean I earn peanuts. In fact, my earnings as a freelancer are significantly higher and grow every year.
I’m also one of the only working parents at the school gate five days a week to greet my beloveds. And I get to wear jeans every day.
Freelancing has shaped big decisions in our lives, too. I’m so sure I’ll never work in an office again that when we bought a new house a few years ago, we looked out for a place that allowed me to have my own office space separate to the house. We purpose-built my office, which gives me the all-important division between home and work. I unlock my office door with butterflies in my tummy, eager to get started on the assignment in front of me, looking forward to the peace and quiet that only a solo work environment can offer. And excited to see what opportunities come my way today.
Plenty of other talented creatives is working freelance in Australia these days, too.
One talented freelancer I know is at the top of his game professionally. He departed a high-profile role after spending his entire adult life working for one of the country’s biggest newspaper publishers. He was keen to give the freelance life a go to see if it fitted, and knew within the first month he’d made the right decision.
He picked up a couple of ongoing clients that pay most of bills right away, and still had the capacity to pick up some ad hoc work.
“I’m actually on talking rather than sniping terms with my spouse, and I feel happier and vastly more in control – whereas I had always suspected that the life of a freelancer would be the complete opposite,” he reveals.
“Yes, there are peak loads and competing priorities, but certainly no more arduous than the role I left behind. You do lose a few of the institutional perks – annual and sick leave – but not having to commute to work every day and having total control over my own schedule more than makes up for that.”
He’s vastly happier now.
“If I want a pay rise, I don’t have to go cap in hand to a boss and be told ‘There’s no more money’, or worse, that I’m not worth that much. Now that I’m freelance, I just have to lift my rates or find a better-paying client. In other words, I control what I earn, and that’s a good feeling.”
Another creative type I know well was employed for four years and hated the schoolyard mentality of full-time employment, with a boss at the helm.
“Now that I freelance, I could never go back to being an employee. That shitty commute in traffic, that ‘employee’ mentality, having to deal with bullying and people who were rude to be, and feeling like a school child that has to sit in the one chair from 9am until 5pm. Even getting in trouble if you arrive late or leave early, even if you finish your workload for the day. I could go on and one. I liken employment to jail.”
Another common perception about freelancing is that you’re starting from zero. But it’s not always that way as another freelancer friend points out:
“I’ve worked for almost two decades in my field, and it just so happens that now I’m sending the invoices out and choosing who I work for, which feels amazing.”
Others agree that working part-time hours and earning the same money as your full-time colleagues are pretty amazing. And doing those hours whenever you want, wherever you want is incredibly liberating.
What’s your favourite part about the freelance life?