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.

when an adult child moves in, it’s rough on everyone

My son in his mid-twenties is moving home today. He had been living with three other guys in a house within walking distance to the beach. The lease is up on the house, and the landlord can make more money with other tenants. So, on his way home my son comes. move back home 1

And the move will affect us all.

It’s not the first time we’ve had an adult child return to the nest. Our second born and her roommate had to move out of their home when it was invaded by pests. Since they couldn’t scrape up the dough just yet to move into another apartment, they each went back to their respective parents’ homes.

Our daughter wasn’t any trouble. She worked full-time and hung out with friends while she saved up for her next place, so she wasn’t around that much. She was home for nine months or so, which although a relatively short period of time, still entailed giving up the freedom she had had in her own place. She’d become accustomed to sharing a two-bedroom, one-bath cottage with just one friend before moving back into a house where four other people, three of whom were adults, already resided. And she was stuck in a small bedroom again.

I had been using her room as my office, the first time in forever that I had a room of my own. So, I had to move my desk, computer, files, and office mess to my bedroom. She slept on the folded-up IKEA pull-out bed already in the room instead of setting up her own bed, which we stored in the garage.

Today, I moved that same pull-out bed back into my office to make room for my son’s full-size bed. Since my daughter had come back home, my mother-in-law had passed away and in the garage are now stored some of her possessions, including furniture. There’s not enough space for my son’s full-size bed.

So by myself, I played musical furniture. I removed two mattresses from the base of the pull-out bed, plus a 2.5-inch memory foam topper. I folded the bed frame back into a seat and inched it into the room next door. I squeezed the foam topper into a vacuum-sealed bag (not as easy as it looks on TV, folks) and did the same for two of the pillows and the down comforter. I also had to move the wicker settee from my office back into our bedroom, which had gone into my office so my husband could put his desk into our bedroom. He had been using my son’s old room as an office. move back home 2

Needless to say, I’m very achy. One of the mattresses belongs on the IKEA piece, but the other does not. I had to do the best I could to roll it up and keep it in a semi-rolled state with Dollar Tree bungee cords. The closet in that bedroom is now packed with all these extra items. And my husband and I had made it so nice when our son left.

These are the easy things to do when an adult kid moves back in, though. What will be hard with the move will be a bruised ego to our son, who is still looking for fulfilling work after graduating college. It’s also an adjustment for his younger brother, who became used to being a fourth-born “only child,” and to my husband and me, who will have to accommodate one more person’s mess, noise, and presence.

Moving is never fun, but it’s especially not so when it involves emotions.

 

and the hits just keep on coming (finding a new job is tough, period)

job wantedWhen I left my last part-time job in December, I believed the part-time life was behind me. I thought I’d go back to just freelancing, not thinking about what I’d be leaving behind. But it became apparent soon after the revelry from my birthday, anniversary, and the winter holidays came and went why I’d taken a part-time job in the first place: to get out of the house and to supplement my oftentimes meager freelance income.

Now I want my job back.

I have applied to several positions in the past twelve weeks, some freelance and some not. I’ve had two interviews, one just yesterday, of which I already found out I did not get the job, and one of three weeks ago that’s still pending. It’s with a city agency and the wheels of city hall do indeed turn slowly. I’m beginning to believe, though, that I didn’t get that job either. It’s a position I’ve applied to for years and years, nearly every time the city accepts applications, which occurs every six months. I did pretty well in the interview, but I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve always looked younger than my age, but there’s no denying I’m a mom of thirty-year-olds, not a thirty-year-old myself. I now have to be aware of age discrimination. It’s a fact of life.

There were 120 people being interviewed that week for who knows how many open positions (no one was saying), though I’m thinking it’s no more than a dozen. Now I’m second-guessing myself that I probably didn’t check off enough boxes on locations I’d desire to work at or I didn’t pick hours that included all seven days of the week. I used a friend and a superior as a reference and he’s supposed to let me know if he gets contacted, but so far crickets.

I get the blues, mostly because I’m longing for a feeling of belonging again, which I had when I was recently working and something that you lose once your kids age out of the house and you no longer fill your days with soccer games and swim meets and cross-country races. There are always other parents to chat up at those events.

There are times I feel guilty for getting so down, though. My son has been looking for a permanent full-time job since graduating college three years ago, and a week ago one of my daughters got word she either needs to relocate with her company or find a job here. She’s looking for work here first. If nothing comes her way in the short span of two months (!) the company gave her to decide, she’ll pack up her belongings and head more than 3/4 of the way across the country.

I don’t have it so bad. I do have some work, though my freelance career has begun to tank royally, and I am married to the main earner in the family. Plus, there’s plenty to do around the house in repairs to make, walls to paint, and more, so I don’t want to feel sorry for myself when the kids are in much more dire straits than I am. Still, it doesn’t diminish how I feel.

My son will be moving back home at the end of the month. (Will my daughter soon follow?) The lease is up on the place he shares with three other guys and the rent is going up. He can’t swing it on his part-time job.

The media have been putting out plenty of stories about how the economy is picking up and there’s a galore of jobs. I just did a Google search and nearly 200,000 new jobs surfaced in March alone. 200,000 jobs? Really? That means one for each able-bodied worker in the country. Sorry, that’s a fabrication. It has to be. I’ve been searching the jobs boards for nearly six months now. I see the same jobs pop up or never leave the boards. So, I doubt these “200,000” are new jobs, but more rehashed old jobs or jobs that employers stick out there to check out the current field of candidates, without the intent of actually hiring anyone.

Yep, it’s hard to believe there are hundreds of thousands of jobs available each month when three out of six of members of my family can’t find a singe one.

i am failing at enjoying life (or, don’t quit your day job)

My freelance smoggy rainbowwork is slow, and since leaving my part-time day job five months ago, I have little to do that’s enjoyable. I wish I could have a do-over and take my job back, because after all the complaining I’d done about one supervisor and how things had gone to pot, things changed after I left. A new supervisor is at the helm, and all is good at the old place. If only I’d stayed.

So here I am with a serpentine schedule, some days going left, others going right. Some people would give their eye teeth to have a flexible schedule. They’d take up a hobby or continue with one they have and love. They’d travel, laptop in hand, and work whenever it was convenient to them, maybe looking out over a vast ocean or a forest filled with ferns and canopies of green. Maybe they’d squeeze in volunteer work, helping their fellow man and woman by serving food or rocking babies. They’d possibly simply take time to breathe, thanking their lucky stars for the time they have left on this earth.

But I’m not there yet. I’m sad, and after learning last week of a chronic illness I have, I’m depressed as well. The work I now have is not the work I love. I haven’t had the editing work that sustains my being in over a year. I feel I made a mistake in quitting the part-time job too and wish I had somewhere to go during the day to make my time feel valuable. I tried to get my old job back after another coworker left, but it’s obvious that the new manager does not want to make it work, even when he had an effortless opportunity to do so.

So I’ll trudge on, hoping something comes of the jobs I’ve applied to and interviewed for in recent weeks. There is hope over the rainbow. At this point, though, I’m just waiting for the rain to end.

what i did today while i wasn’t working (or, how bored can one get?)

bored

It’s going on three and a half months since I left my part-time job to go back to freelancing “full-time.” Anyone who solely freelances will understand my use of quotation marks. For those with a regular workload, allow me to explain. People who freelance either can’t come close to working full-time because there’s not enough work, even when having more than one source of income, or they’re flooded with work from different sources and are putting in hours equivalent to two full-time jobs.

How I Spent My Day

So what am I doing while I’m in a deep rut in freelancing and having no part-time job to scoot off to a few days a week? Let’s explore my day thus far, shall we?

  1. I got up around 7 a.m.
  2. I ate my breakfast and fed the dog, giving him a shot of insulin before cleaning up the breakfast dishes.
  3. I got showered and dressed.
  4. I sat at my desk, looking for work online, both freelance and part-time. This took approximately 1.37 hours.
  5. Took the dog for a walk around the block. Picked up the yard (because said dog rarely considers going when we’re out walking).
  6. I went back to my desk to look for more work. Did a deep dive into reading reviews on job sites for a position I’m contemplating submitting my resume to.
  7. Realized this ad runs nationwide on the company’s website and there are probably 6 bazillion applicants already. Do I throw myself into the pile? Probably will. It’s a so-called full-time work-from-home sitch, which probably means full-time on occasion. I know how it works.
  8. Watched a YouTube video of a husband-and-wife team painting a couple pieces of furniture, because apparently people can make a buttload of money doing this. (For reals?) Thought about how the unphotogenic husband, a doughy Casper of a guy, should maybe consider not being in the videos. The wife too, for that matter.
  9. Took out an unpainted framed chalkboard I picked up at 50 percent off at Michael’s two days ago and decided to paint the frame black and then white before distressing. Because point number 8.
  10. Thought I’d throw out my dog’s old food he no longer eats and fill the ginormous container with the food he currently eats.
  11. Vacuumed the area.
  12. While I was unloading multi-pound bags, I thought I’d pour my twenty-pounder of Jasmine rice into plastic containers . . . and did so.
  13. Ate lunch while re-watching last night’s This Is Us episode. I knew I’d nodded off during it, but when watching again, I realized the nodding off was actually stage three REM sleep throughout forty-eight minutes of the one-hour show.
  14. Sitting on the sofa, I realized I should wash the slipcover, so I threw that in the machine with a few pillow covers and throws.
  15. Vacuumed the area.
  16. Went back to my computer to print out a shipping label for something I need to return to Old Navy. Packaged the item and put the package near the front door to go out with tomorrow’s mail.

Being Bored

It’s now 2 p.m. I’m sitting back at my desk and I’m wondering how is it that people don’t work.

I was at a baby shower on Saturday talking to an old friend who’s only held occasional part-time jobs over the years and hasn’t worked in maybe five years. She has no kids at home. When I told her I was already looking for work after leaving a job in December, she said one word: “Why?”

I told her I’m kind of bored and, I guess, unhappy too. She said she has so much to do, and I get that. There are plenty of productive ways to keep order in a house and a life that don’t involve a paycheck. But I’ve realized over the years that I’m happiest when I’m doing work and making money.  Maybe it comes from that feeling of being behind in income and saving for retirement while I raised four kids over a great span of years. Or maybe it comes from even before that, when I lived at home. Having a job was my one way of getting out of the oftentimes chaotic household I grew up in. For once, I was able to earn a little on my own and have some freedom.

Same Time Last Year

I think back to this time last year when I was painting my kitchen cabinets. I did it over a span of five weeks, taking down a few doors and drawers and painting them and the boxes before moving on to another section. Last fall, I tore out the stinky living room carpet one section at a time and hauled it out to the patio before patching the floor and then laying down planks. I cannot believe I did those things while holding down a part-time job outside the house and working freelance from home while also doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and bill-paying as well. So, yes, I can handle a household project or two, but I’m still bored if there’s little more to do.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably KonMari the heck out of one closet that’s brimming with paperwork and stuff we never use, but right now I’m going online again to find some work. It’s obvious I’m not happy if I’m not feeling productive, and to me being productive is both working around the house and working for money. We all want to be happy after all.

when the honeymoon of leaving a job is over (or, what do i do now?)

face realityIt’s been more than three months since I left my last part-time job. It was a job I took with excitement. After practically a lifetime of working freelance from home and raising four kids, I looked forward to getting back out into the “real” world, working in a field I really liked and collecting a steady paycheck. Because of circumstances somewhat beyond my control (a difficult boss, health issues, the reality of the cost of commuting to a job that paid very little), I decided to leave my entry-level job. I continued to work remotely while I held the part-time job and would have to leave better-paying work at times to drive to my barely above-minimum-wage gig. It was starting to make little sense. So, when two coworkers were promoted and replaced with inadequate substitutes and another left for a full-time work-from-home job, I began questioning my part-time career choice. So, I packed up my things and I quit, swearing to my besties at the office that I’d come by every so often.

The Honeymoon

The early couple months of leaving the job were amazing. My last day was seventy-two hours before my birthday, and I was delighted to not have to find someone to cover my shift so I could take the day off. I spent my birthday the way I wished. I did miss being out of sight and out of mind, however, when I received no happy-birthday wishes from any of my previous coworkers. My name was still on the birthdays list on the whiteboard in the break room. Did no one remember?

But Christmas and New Year’s, two and three weeks later, were quite pleasant. I had time to shop, cook, bake, buy a tree, decorate the house, and hang out with family and friends without worrying about having to run off to work or fitting those tasks in around a schedule. I also had time to have coffee with a good friend I hadn’t seen in at least nine months, go on a hike with another I hadn’t spoken to for even longer than that, and meet up with yet another longtime girlfriend. I was beginning to picture not only what I had missed while holding down that job but what I had in store for me in the immediate future and beyond, namely the freedom to do the things I wanted.

The Reality

But then reality hit. It’s now three and a half months later and not only have I not seen a single one of those three friends since, but I almost never hear from the couple-dozen people I used to work with either. I haven’t set a hiking boot on a trail, nor shared conversation over a latte, even though there’s a Starbucks on nearly every corner. I missed the constant companionship of acquaintances and good friends at work whom I could see on the regular. I also realized that people are busy, too busy to incorporate old friends who are not in the everyday picture into their lives.

The Phases of Leaving a Job

I have read that there are stages of retirement or leaving a job, something like the stages of a marriage. You start out with giddy anticipation, enjoy a honeymoon phase of doing those fun activities that had been postponed while working, and then  spiral into the reality of your new situation, which often comes with disenchantment. What at first had sounded like a permanent vacation or at least a sabbatical turns into the reality of not having enough to do to feel fulfilled. Boredom, laziness, and feelings of disillusionment can set in, and money can become an issue if the income you were used to is not there. It’s great to meet friends for lunch or a round of golf, but it’s not so wonderful if you’re on a fixed budget after a source of income has dried up.

The Next Stage

Most people do adapt to their new situation. They learn to live within their new financial means. Many fill their days with other activities to substitute for work, like volunteering or traveling.

I’d thought my freelance work would make up for what I was losing leaving my part-time job. But freelancing is a fickle work situation. (Think feast or famine.) One of my sources of income–the work I enjoy most–slowed way down this year. I had had four assignments in January and February of 2018. This year I had zero. In fact, I’ve worked on only one, single, small assignment since then.

Yes, I’m saving money by not commuting. (I spent at least $1,500 a year in gas and another $1,300 in car repairs while commuting). But when the money doesn’t appear in the form of a paycheck, it’s harder to see the savings, and many people chuck the “freedom” of being out of work with what they left: They look for another job.

A New Job?

Today, I have a phone interview for a part-time position. I’m not sure I even want this job. It sounds like it comes with a good deal of responsibility and I don’t know the exact number of hours per week or even which days and times of the day I’d be working. I also don’t know what it pays,  but from reading some of the job boards for this institution, pay likely is low, though probably a bit more than what I’d left. And the commute is shorter, not in-my-immediate-neighborhood shorter, but about half as far as the last job.

So, I’ll give the interview a go, but if I take this job or any job, it will be on my terms this time. No more nighttime work; no more weekends. I think of all the Saturdays and Sundays I gave to that last job and it kills me. That is one thing I do not regret about giving up that position.

Plus, I’ve just gotten used to my old routine of being home again. Even though I’m not bringing in the money right now, that can change, and I do like being able to throw a load of laundry in when I think of it or running to the store or walking the dog when I get the whim and not when I’m exhausted from having been on my feet and then stressed from driving home.

The honeymoon may be over on leaving my job, but I look forward to continuing in a long-term relationship with freelancing. Whether I take on a little side action is yet to be seen.

the sad and ugly truth about freelancing

coasterI have hit a dry spell in my career, as happens in the publishing industry, especially for freelancers. Not having a regular income after giving up a part-time, twelve-dollar-an-hour unrelated job a couple months ago to focus more on my editing career means regular paychecks, no matter how small, have gone away. Now I am once again in the up-and-down roller-coaster world of freelancing. And, frankly, it can be nauseating.

 

Last year my January was blazing. I had had four assignments from a publishing company I’ve worked with (you never work for anyone when freelancing, just with) for the past several years. It is work I really enjoy, not too serious of a subject matter and the editors who send out assignments are always pleasant.

This year, however, I received zero assignments from the same company. Having a slow start to the freelance transcript proofreading job I also do and no longer having income from my part-time outside-the-home job, I made a few hundred dollars this January as opposed to a couple thousand last year at this time. So what gives?

Such is the job of a freelancer. In other words, don’t quit your day job–something I am now regretting having done.

fish

Finding work in this field is very difficult. It’s by hook or by crook really. If you’re fortunate to find a major–or even small or local–publishing company’s request for freelancers, you are guaranteed to be competing with literally thousands of others who’ve also seen the ad. You may have to take a test and, if you pass, you’re put in the pool. That just means you’re swimming with an entire school of fish in your same predicament.

There are times when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and you’re contacted by one editor for a project. If you do an excellent job, which I always do, I might add, he or she may refer you to another editor who just so happens to have a rush job at the same time or soon after. The ball can roll a few more yards, if lucky, and you find yourself handling a few assignments in a row. Sweet!

At times like that, such as January 2018, I can be busy for a few weeks straight. But once the publishing season is over (and there are only two a year that last a few weeks each), you’re once again out of sight and out of mind and have to start all over to try to get noticed six months later. If you’re not constantly contacted, wham!, the editors have hooked up with another excellent freelancer and he or she is now top of mind. Make the slightest error in a job that requires perfection and you may never be contacted again.

 

the benefits–and drawbacks–of freelancing

Yes, there are benefits to being self-employed. The freedom to work around other events in one’s life is probably the most prominent. The work-life balance is definitely there if, that is, you want more “life” than “work.” Let me say that it’s helpful to have a spouse who has a full-time job with benefits because in freelancing there are none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I have to put money into an IRA account every year, which often amounts to a good chunk of my total earnings, or I will have no retirement savings at all.

There’s also the isolation of working at a desk in a home office, which can be your kitchen table, the section of your sofa closest to a wall socket, or a corner of your bedroom. (And people complain about cubicles? Hah!)

There are no coworkers to chat up about last night’s ball game or your picks for the Oscars either. Friends aren’t going to meet you for coffee unless they’re unemployed. And the interruptions you experience from roommates, family members, or the gardener running the leaf blower from exactly 10:34 a.m. until 10:58 a.m. straight every Tuesday on the other side of your fence all impede your concentration. Then there are the friends who text asking for one teeny-weeny little favor or your spouse wondering out loud when walking in the door at 6 p.m. why it is that the breakfast dishes are still in the sink or the laundry left unfolded from last night. I mean, we self-employed are home all day after all.

 

then comes the oversupply of work

Just when you’re used to dealing with the outside noises, the loneliness, and the work desert of freelancing, you can become flash-flooded with assignments. This is called a work glut, when you have several different entities requesting your time and talent at once. It’s then that you’d better be good at working well into the night and juggling those jobs because you can’t really tell Publisher A that you have a simultaneous assignment from Company B as well as Managing Editor C. When they hire freelancers, employers want them to be at the ready to take on the work overflow as needed. If you’re not available 24/7 12 months of the year, you’ll be passed over and another fish will be swimming for the bait before you can even kick off the wall.

Such is the life of a freelancer. You sink. You swim. Or you get out of the water. I’m starting to long for dry land.