freelancing lies (is it really possible to make it work all the time?)

My freelance work has nearly dried up. I’ve been freelancing for more than thirty years, but it was nearly ten years ago that I knew this type of work could help support the family. At that time, I began working with a large financial information network and got some pretty steady transcript work. famine

The job sufficed for nine years, with there being peaks of extreme volumes of work interspersed with months of slower volumes that dissolved to just a trickle for a few weeks, but there was always something to do–not every day, but I still earned something, even if it was just forty dollars a week. This steadier income was a great addition to my other freelance assignments too, which were fewer and farther between.

Upgrade after upgrade that this big company made to its software resulted in the latest iteration, which allows the company to block certain freelancers, giving the great majority of the work to a handpicked few, many of whom are in third world nations, where the operations reside. As of mid- to late May–so over a month–I have had zero work from a company that has files available. (I’ve figured out a workaround to see what is up for proofing but still can’t access it.)

So here I am, experiencing yet another hurdle of freelancing: when the client decides to shut you out instead of you being able to cherry-pick your clients.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Freelancing is a fickle environment. You can have the greatest relationship with a client, but for whatever reason–they want to save money, they have new freelancers they want to acclimate,  they decide to use former employees or interns–you can lose clients and money very, very fast.

There’s a reason auto financiers and mortgage companies request proof of three years of a freelancer’s income instead of just checking last year’s tax statements, as they do with people drawing regular paychecks. The reason is there’s no such thing as a regular paycheck for a consultant. I actually had pretty steady income for a few years in a row, but then one of the publishers I was with for decades went bankrupt, fewer books were put in print, fewer people were needed to edit those books. Bam! The door got shut on a very long relationship.

Another client I picked up a few years ago by seeing an ad on its website and requesting and passing a test hasn’t sent me one single book this year so far–and we’re halfway through the year! If I get something late this summer for the fall books I will jump for joy. But I’m not counting on it.

Today, I came across a 2014 article on FlexJobs, a company that promotes freelance work (and whose jobs have never, ever panned out for me in over a decade of searching the site as a member and not). The article titled “6 Lies About Freelancing, And the Truth,” by Jessica Howington, sets out the “misconceptions” of freelancing and purports to give the “facts,” to which I say “Phewy!”

Those of us who’ve lived the life know the facts, which are exactly as laid out as falsehoods in the article:

  1. “It’s always feast or famine.” Unless you’re contracting for a company and taking on the work of someone the company would typically employ (with none of the perks of being an employee, like benefits and a sliding pay scale, of course), the work is going to be sporadic. My industry, publishing, has two seasons, spring and fall, and that’s when 90 percent of the work comes in. So, yes, I either am sweating to get through multiple assignments or I’m twiddling my thumbs and writing blog posts.feast
  2. “You’ll always have to juggle multiple clients.” Again, if you’re a lucky soul doing the work of a regular employee (and, again, without any of the benefits), you won’t be juggling multiple clients. For the 92.7 percent of the rest of us, we will.
  3. “People freelance only out of necessity.” I honestly don’t know anyone who would choose to pay for their own non-company-sponsored health care plan, have zero paid vacation and sick days a year, have no retirement plan, work while their kids are having a noisy play date in the room off your office/dining room/bedroom, stop working to pick up the other kid from school, have no one to chat up around the water cooler, and. . . . You get the picture. But the FlexJobs article swears that people freelance “mostly for better flexibility and more freedom.” I don’t know about you, but I am not loving the freedom and flexibility of not having enough money to take a vacation.
  4. “You need to have your own business.” The article claims that basic business skills like dealing with taxes, legalities, and contracts are only for those running “actual business, ” not “independent contractors, moonlighters, and temporary workers.” Hah! I’m an independent contractor and I for damn sure have to do my own taxes, sign my own contracts, and keep track of my own expenses, as does anyone who makes money as a non-employee. What crap.
  5. “Finding clients is always a battle.” Hell yeah! It is a constant battle. Clients aren’t seeking you out unless you go on those sites that make freelancers humiliate themselves by bidding against each other so the client can take the lowest bidder. Another crock of crap.
  6. “Clients treat you badly.” According to the article (and thank you so much for reminding us of this), “Clients are going to treat you fairly and will do so based on your abilities. . . . If you treat your clients well and are willing to work at the relationship, you’ll find yourself with several repeat clients.” News flash, Ms. Howington, I have done nothing but be professional as a freelancer and do great work, but, guess what, I’m still without work. Freelancers can lose work on a whim, so please stop filling people’s heads that this is a chosen work relationship. Most people do it out of necessity, as in they are raising kids and have to be present or they lost their job and need some income.

Again, the lies we are told as freelancers are the truths we experience.

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