I’ve been working as a freelance writer for a few years now. It was a long-held dream to work for myself – I loved the idea of flexibility and being able to work my own hours. It seemed like an ideal working life for a parent of small children.
Now that I’m firmly entrenched in the freelance world, sometimes I think I’m the luckiest gal in the world. Today was one of those days – warm breeze rustling through my office, enough work to get on with and even time for a quiet coffee break in the garden. Bliss!
However, on other days, the reality is pretty different from the dream. Sure, it’s flexible but everything comes with a price. Sometimes ‘working my own hours’ means working at 10pm because that’s the only time I am able to fit it all in. Or it means hustling for work because I’m desperately short of my income goal that month.
Here are my surprise pros and cons of working as a freelance writer.
Pro: Life is simpler
I can’t imagine what the mornings/afternoons must be like for most people. Up by 6am, in the car by 6:45am, daycare at 7:05am, on the bus by 7:23am, at work by 8:15am etc. Although my days are packed in, they’re not so time sensitive. I do like to get the kids at daycare and preschool reasonably early but if we’re running late it really doesn’t matter. Some days reading a picture book before we get up just seems more important than making sure we’re on time. I love that flexibility.
On the rare days I have to stick to a schedule and get to a meeting, I struggle! I’m sure it gets easier, but I have to say it’s a luxury to have a simpler morning routine.
(Note to self: this will all change next year when the eldest starts school…. enjoy it while you can!)
Con: Falling into the productivity trap
When it comes to running a freelance business, it often feels like there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. Not only is there all the client work, but there is the invoicing, marketing, checking on SEO, analytics, social media, networking. The problem I have found it whenever I have a spare minute, I feel like I need to be working. Even on the weekends.
I’ve realised that I can’t fall into that trap where I have to be productive at all times of the day. Our bodies and minds need times of stillness. I need that Saturday morning on the couch reading the paper. I need to zone out watching TV in the evenings and I definitely need to have dedicated days off each week.
Pro: I do the work I like and am good at
This is probably the biggest benefits of working as a freelance writer. I’m finally doing the work I like to do, all the time. Writing, strategising, learning. I’m not bogged down by office politics or other people’s agendas. I just get my deliverables and work as hard as I can to achieve it. If there is a project I don’t think would be the best fit for my skills, I don’t do it. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to help out businesses and see my work being read and enjoyed.
Con: Marketing myself
I struggle with this as I’ve never been good at talking myself up. I have always equated marketing myself with showing off and as a kid I was taught that was a negative trait to have.
I’ve really tried to improve this by becoming more active on social media, writing this blog, improving my SEO and networking. But it remains a struggle and I often still cringe before I fire off a post. I will keep trying because I know that marketing myself is vital to ongoing success but I never knew it would be this hard!
Pro: I don’t have to ask permission
I love the fact that I can book a holiday or take a day off and I don’t have to ask anyone if that’s ok. I just have to ensure my clients are taken care of and the work is done. It’s quite liberating. Obviously, there are downsides to this like no one taking care of my work if I’m on holiday but I’ll cover that in the next point!
Con: There’s no one to take over when times get rough
When you’ve been contracted to do work, there’s tremendous pressure to ensure everything gets done. So if you get an unexpected injury or illness or you want to take a holiday, you need to have contingency plans. For me, I plan my work around holidays and try to go away when I know I’ll be less busy.
When it comes to injury or illness, it’s important to have a network of supportive contacts who you could potentially outsource your work to. I’ve offered to help out copywriting friends with work when times get tough and I know they’d help me out as well. Having that freelance network is vital.
Pro: No pointless meetings
How many hours I must have wasted in meetings that don’t go anywhere. You know the ones, where people seem to agree on various deliverables and a few weeks later, you end up back in the same room talking about the exact same goals with nothing being done in the meantime. There’s none of that in freelance world. You say what you’re going to do, you do it, you get paid. Simples.
Con: Imposter syndrome
Every freelancer gets this at some point, I know I do. Imposter syndrome is when you compare yourself to others, start doubting your abilities and think that you’re a fraud.
It affects freelancers a lot because you’re putting yourself out there ALL THE TIME. You’re constantly pitching for new work, marketing your services and forced to prove your abilities. Sometimes it just feels too hard, you know?!
The thing is, we all have different skills and experience and it’s silly to compare ourselves to others. The way I try to get over this is to admit when I’m not sure and learn as much as I can. Doing a great job and getting a cracking testimonial is another way to combat imposter syndrome!
Pro: Healthy and cheap lunches
You know when you’re at work and feeling a bit tired (or hungover… we’ve all been there!). Suddenly at lunchtime, you find yourself with a dirty burger and a big bag of hot chips. No such temptations at home! We don’t really keep too many treats around the house so my lunches are pretty healthy by default.
I’m also forced to stop work every day for a break as I actually have to make lunch rather than run to a cafe. Not only am I saving my waistline, but I’m also saving money too!
Con: I never see my friends
I’m sure this is also to do with my phase in life but I feel like I never see my friends anymore. When I was working in the city, I could schedule a coffee or lunch date with the other city-based girls once in a while.
These days, when I’m not with my kids, I do work. Sometimes there’s just not enough time left for friendships. However, my girlfriends are important to me and I can’t let life get in the way. I try to make sure I organise something at least once a month without kids and partners.
Pro: I get more done around the house (sometimes)
I try to work using the Pomodoro method which is 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes break. Which means every half an hour, I’m wandering around my house having a break. So in typical #mumlife, I end up doing small chores. I wash clothes every day so use one of my breaks to put them on the line. Another one I might make the beds and in another one, I’ll do a quick tidy up of the bookcase. When chores are broken down into manageable 5-minute chunks, then they’re much easier to complete.
Con: No peak hour = not enough podcast time
Ok… I admit this is not a real problem. But as I used to listen to podcasts on my daily commute, I now don’t get anywhere near enough time to listen to my favourite shows.
So I need to get creative. Now I try to listen to a podcast when I do chores. Every night when I clean the kitchen, I put earphones on and listen the latest episode of ‘Flying Solo’ or ‘the Hot Copy Podcast’. It’s a win win, it distracts me from cleaning and I get to catch up on my favourites!
Pro: I have less resentment and work at the times that suit me
When it comes to productivity, I’m definitely more of a morning person. Thanks to years of working early news shifts, my body just clocks off automatically by mid-afternoon. By 4pm, I just can’t focus anymore and I’m ready to log off. I can work ok in the evening, however, I just need to take a break in this mid-afternoon slump.
When I was working in the city, I hated this time of day. I resented being at work when I wasn’t productive. I particularly hated being stuck on the bus in peak hour sandwiched between scores of other sweaty, tired people. The traffic wouldn’t move and I’d be standing there thinking about the millions of things I needed to do when I got home.
However, one benefit of being a freelance writer is that time of the afternoon is actually pretty great. Sometimes it’s my exercise time so I load the podcasts on my phone and do a walk around the block. Other days, I have quality time with the kids. We do puzzles, read books and throw balls around the yard. Being able to work during my productive times and use the other times for me time means I’m happier all round.
Phew, it looks like there are more pros than cons in my list! What about you, do you have any other surprise pros or cons of working as a freelancer?