This summer has brought some wildly uneven and unpredictable effects on businesses across the US, resulting in both staggering job losses for some and ramped up sales for others.
While a lot of attention has been paid to transitioning to a remote workforce, less has been said about how to effectively tap flexible workers like freelancers, consultants, and contractors.
Business Insider curated advice from several experts on how to integrate flex workers into your organization’s talent strategy and came up with three main takeaways.
1. Understand the tax and legal implications of worker classifications
Issues caused by non-compliance with legal and tax regulations can destroy any short-term cost savings of hiring flex talent, said Michael Cole, lead employment counsel at Gusto, an HR and payroll platform for small businesses, “so you really need to think through the classification issues.”
In tax parlance, there are just two classifications to choose from: 1099 contract workers and W-2 staffers. But Cole cautions that state and local labor rules can cause expensive headaches for employers who try to apply their own interpretation of the rules.
The classification has management implications as well.
Most contractors expect a high degree of independence, and a major test of what differentiates a 1099 contractor from a W-2 employee is how much direct control a manager has over how the work is performed. In other words, you could get into hot water for micromanaging a freelancer.
2. Consider hiring someone to incorporate flex talent into your long-term strategy
Will Lopez, head of Gusto’s accountant community and founder of accounting firm AdvisorFi, stressed the importance of people-focused, transparent leadership when designing and executing a staffing change, especially during a crisis.
Hiring a “flexible talent resource manager” can help. The job falls somewhere between HR and procurement, borrowing a little from each: finding the right people that can boost your team and negotiating and managing contracts with talent sources.
Like remote work, flexible talent is much more than an emergency measure to get through a tough time, says Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder and CEO of We Are Rosie, a company that contracts marketing experts out to national brands like IBM and Bumble.
“Reconsidering your long-term labor strategy to incorporate more flexible talent is going to be critical moving forward because it solves agility challenges, it solves efficiency challenges, and it also solves diversity,” she said.
While highly specialized contract companies like We Are Rosie provide clients with an account manager to scope out projects and scale support according to specific needs, Olson recommends that organizations assign someone to coordinate the different contract labor relationships a company has.
3. Commit to train, delegate to, and trust your new talent
If your team needs to take on flexible talent, it’s important to actually trust those new workers to get a job done. When hiring experienced contractors, you should feel confident they can complete an assignment with little training.
Once you’ve established the parameters of a project, the contractor should be able to deliver their contribution with relatively little direct management.
“You can’t be served if you’re not delegating,” said Tricia Sciortino, CEO of Belay, a virtual assistant service that provides bookkeepers, website managers, and social media mavens. “You’ve got to be ready to really let some stuff go. Show them how to do something, let them have it, and free yourself up.”
The news that the arts, entertainment and recreation industry has seen the largest quarterly percentage decline in vacancies of any sector makes the need for government action even more pressing, Bectu has said.
The Tate Modern lit up in red as part of the #WeMakeEvents #RedAlert protests on 11 August
“The arts and culture sector was growing twice as fast as the overall economy before the crisis, but now this sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“The sector is on its knees, with huge numbers of job losses, tens of thousands of freelancers with no support, and large swathes of the sector still in the dark about when they can reopen.
“The news that vacancies are down so dramatically only further underlines that our cultural workforce needs ongoing support until the sector can stabilise.
“The government’s cultural recovery fund is welcome, but we are concerned that the focus is on helping institutions to survive, rather than on protecting the staff and freelancers who are the backbone of the sector.
“Ministers need to look again at the scheme or risk permanently damaging our world beating culture sector.”
With COVID-19 shredding whole sectors of Britain’s economy, certainty and predictability have gone out the window. If you find yourself being either furloughed or sent to work from home, now is the time to seriously explore Freelancing as a viable option.
Business confidence is collapsing and unemployment and chronic underemployment are on the rise. Employers are looking to reduce their costs by either cutting jobs or adopting outsourcing more aggressively.
In many ways, this process was already underway before the pandemic hit. So, rather than panicking or bewailing your financial plight start thinking strategically. We are seeing a flush of new small businesses emerging, mostly run by home and promoted exclusively via social media.
Why StartA FreelancingBusiness In A Pandemic?
Regardless of what you call it, more and more people are looking to try to pick up some work on the side to get through this global pandemic and survive financially.
With so many companies looking to redefine what work gets done in house, however, starting a freelance business offers sound opportunities to survive in an economy that’s going to be slow to emerge from its economic trauma.
Marketing, web design, cybersecurity, eCommerce, tech support and IT services, are all services primed for freelance agencies. Here are 5 compelling reasons why Freelance businesses are not just surviving, but thriving in the pandemic:
Freelancing Makes Sense Financially
Freelancing makes sense for prospective clients and Freelancers themselves. In a volatile environment, where revenue flows are unstable and costs are eating away at many businesses, tapping into a wide base of Freelance talent makes plenty of sense. Converting fixed costs to variable costs in a downturn is business survival 101.
For Freelancers, the cost of setting up a business is low as are client acquisition costs. In many instances, all a Freelancer needs is a kitchen table, a laptop and a stable Wi-Fi connection.
In a networked world, it’s also increasingly easy for Freelancers to collaborate on projects collectively rather than flying solo. This opens up opportunities to bid successfully on larger value or more diverse projects.
The gig economy was on the rise before COVID-19 hit us like a tsunami. Before the pandemic outbreak, many employees were working at least part-time from home.
Starting a Freelance business can embrace any aspect of a business, product or service. From sewing masks in a home workshop to writing safety protocols or promoting takeaway dining menus.
The digital economy has removed many of the impediments to operating competitive Freelance businesses. And today’s productivity tools to enable Freelancers to manage their workloads are cheap and efficient.
In an era where limited physical interaction is a positive, Zoom conferencing and Skype calls are liberating a new generating of Freelance start-ups.
Combining a strategic vision with a dash of creativity will point you in the right direction to build your Freelance business, whether that be an online retail storefront within Amazon, or services such as graphic design, content writing or fine-tuning a website’s Google performance.
Creating Your Own Home Office
As business shutter their head offices and office towers stand empty and abandoned, the home office is enjoying its time in the sun.
Carving a home office out of a spare room or the garage is not a new phenomenon. What is new, is how technology has transformed a Freelancer’s ability to work, communicate and deliver a product or service from home.
If you’re in the media or marketing business, one of your first tasks as a Freelancer is to transfer your archives onto a digital format. Old videotape footage can provide fun segments or backdrops for a marketing or a content stream. Take advantage of the latest VHS to USB technology and bring your content archives to you on a USB stick.
Take the time to consider how you prefer to work and what common tools you’re likely to need within arm’s reach. Similarly, get your filing system sorted to minimize clutter and put in place a tracking system to monitor your Freelancer output and ensure you meet your deadlines.
Once you get past the laptop, mouse, monitor and printer shortlist, ask yourself do you need quick easy access to whiteboards, a cork pinboard or a reference library to do your work?
A good quality camera, microphones and headphone will set you up for success in your home office. Add in calendar tools and high-speed Wi-Fi and your productivity will flourish. These days you even have your choice of ergonomically sounds conventional or stand up desks!
Manage Capital InvestmentIn Your Freelance Business
They say, ‘To make money, you need to spend money.’ Up-front investment is going to be required if you’re starting a new freelance business. Beyond that, it’s mostly thoughtware unless you come up with a great idea you need investment behind to put into production.
Many industries are struggling to reinvent themselves like restaurants reorganizing their home delivery, takeaway or pre-packaged meals services. Surging demand for PPE and hygiene products has proven to be a boon for home workshops who differentiate using clever design and on-demand batch production.
Develop NewRelationships, Access Fresh Talent
The nature of business relationships in the Freelance space is noticeably different than in the traditional physical economy. In the gig economy, client turnover is inevitable. Freelancers quickly discover its okay to lose clients. Indeed, some client churn may be necessary as you revisit your pricing as your experience and reputation grow.
Starting a Freelance business provides Freelancers with an opportunity to learn new skills and explore latent, underutilised talents.
For clients, they enjoy that ability to access a pool of fresh, diverse talent that may bring with them new ideas and new skills than can breathe new life into a struggling business, while still delivering services at an affordable price.
For an economy ravaged by the financial blight of a pandemic, Freelancing is in many ways, a development of the gig economy. For Freelancers, it offers control and stability over their working life that is missing from the conventional economy. All you need is a strategic vision of where you want to go with your new Freelance business, an idea to set your startup on its way and a dash of inexpensive tech kit. Freelancing is a savvy way to survive and even thrive during a pandemic.
Nick Dauk is an internationally published travel writer and freelance copywriter. In 2018, he left his stable job at a sports broadcasting company to pursue a career as a writer.
Freelancing has its perks, like being able to travel and work from around the world, but Dauk says it was also stressful in the beginning to find clients and develop a consistent revenue stream.
For people aspiring to write full-time, Dauk recommends securing a few paid gigs before quitting your day job, being flexible with rates, and being open to doing all types of writing, from editorial and social to copy and product writing.
When I said I was leaving television to become a writer, my coworkers choked on their laughter.
“A writer? Like… a book writer?”
The broadcast operations center of the sports broadcasting company where I’d worked for six years was relocating from Florida to New Jersey. I was left with two options: Apply for a position in another department that would inevitably be relocated as well, or accept a severance and press my luck as a writer.
My peers believed that leaving a coveted job that paid $55,000 a year at the age of 27 to pursue writing was hilariously naïve of me.
Still, I chose to leave the company, and despite the odds, I made it through my first year as a writer, word by word, penny by penny. And in that year, I went from making $0 to $30,000 as a freelance writer, without touching a dime of my severance or working another job. (Spoiler alert: Not a cent came from publishing a book.)
My initial goal was to secure a book deal before year-end
I wanted to publish a memoir sharing my misadventures from five years in college and eight years working in retail, years that were littered with triumphs and failures.
But publishing takes time, effort, and luck… and my student loans and other bills wouldn’t wait for a miracle.
Instead, my income came from two freelance writing gigs: a digital marketing company (DMC) and a content marketing platform (CMP).
A year before quitting my job, I began freelancing for the DMC, completing zero to four jobs per week at a rate averaging $90 each. I learned marketing-style copywriting by creating content for major companies in fields like healthcare, manufacturing, HVAC, and product prototyping. With feedback and guidance from SEO experts, I grew a vital skill set to help keep my finances afloat.
DMC: $10,080.42 for 107 articles, 2,200 to 3,600 words each
In addition to the DMC, I created an account with the CMP, a platform that anonymously connects clients with writers. My rates and workflow there varied, averaging $0.05 per word.
CMP: $18,762.32 for 741 articles, 150 to 1,200 words each
Unfortunately, NDA and anonymity agreements limited what I could share publicly on my resume, meaning that I was an accomplished writer with zero ability to prove it to prospective clients or employers.
But after only six months, I was almost ready to call it quits
Manuscript rejections, coupled with inconsistent CMP clients and infrequent DMC assignments, annihilated my confidence by six months in. Just before I gave up completely, my luck changed.
My luck continued from there. A friend of a friend commissioned me to write blogs and product descriptions for a small clothing company. A Guatemalan magazine asked me to write a film review. A pop culture website paid me to write quizzes about sports, film, and TV.
Little by little, the paychecks added up.
Clothing brand: $598.56 for three blogs at 300 words each, and 88 product descriptions at $5 each
Costa Rican magazine: $394.23 for four articles, 700-1,300 words each
Guatemalan magazine: $50.00 for one article, 500 words
Pop culture website: $291 for 48 quizzes, $0.65 per 1,000 views
One year and 700,000+ words later, I’d made $30,176.53.
It was a $25,000 pay cut from my former job, where I was paid to literally watch sports television all day.
Still, I’d make the same decision again in a heartbeat. With only a laptop, I can travel the world and work from a hotel in Bucharest or a cafe in El Salvador. I can do something different each day, like write an op-ed about Spiderman or write listings for multi-million dollar homes in Palm Beach. The constant variety is challenging, but invigorating.
At the end of the day, I’m a writer at heart and I’ll never take for granted the opportunity to do what I love. Here are my five tips for other aspiring writers.
1. Don’t quit your day job
That is, until you’ve already become a paid writer. During my last two years working in television, I began freelancing part-time with the DMC and CMP, so I was already able to generate some income the minute I left broadcasting. Still, freelance writing was inconsistent: I made $1,500, $90, sometimes even $0 per week. Don’t roll the dice like I did; try to secure consistent, dependable income through a full or part-time writing position before leaving your current job.
2. Be flexible with rates
I once accepted a $0.05/word rate for a new client which averaged $30/hour when working with them. They’ve now become one of my primary forms of income despite offering the same rate. Be flexible with your rates when possible and many clients will show their gratitude with continued business.
3. Broaden your definition of “writer”
“Writer” in my mind used to mean “book writer.” “Writer” in my career now means copywriting, entertainment writing, travel writing, editorial writing, product writing. I write what I’m asked to write. Write what you’re passionate about when you can, but don’t forget that being a career writer means taking what work is available.
4. Don’t be discouraged by rejection
The real reason why I sent my coffee plantation article out into the ether one last time before quitting was thanks to an Englishman named Jack I’d met in Copenhagen the week before. When I told him I was a copywriter, he said it sounded “sexy, kinda like Mad Men,” and I’d never been prouder of my job. Jack made me rethink my decision to quit and soon after, I found success.
5. Remember that there’s more to life than writing
Freelance writing takes patience, endurance, and resilience, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing your entire life. If you decide to pursue a career in writing, finding a healthy work-life balance is key. Writing shouldn’t define your existence, on or off the clock. Never forget that writing is just one chapter of your life’s story.
In this era of smart devices, the workforce is becoming more mobile and work can increasingly be done from anywhere. As a result, job and location are being decoupled. That means that freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than what is available in any given area.
The average UK workplace now comprises of a mix of full-time, part-time and short-term workers. Gig economy workers allow companies to ensure they can remain nimble, cost-effective, and able to adapt to changing market conditions in a fast-paced, technology-led environment.
Finding the security vulnerabilities
Businesses’ increasing tendency to employ independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time workers is making IT contracting an increasingly common gig economy role, with the recent suspension of IR35 due to the pandemic extending this trend.
It’s a development that is line with how modern enterprises approach IT in general. Being able to deploy more or less IT resources as required is considered best practice for using cloud services. It’s quick, it’s versatile, and it meets the changing needs of the business.
It’s not inherently secure, however. The risk model has moved from a model built around controlled environments, i.e. corporate networks. The perimeter – the first line of defense – was a known entity and yes, it had flaws, but IT departments were usually aware of where the weak points were.
In modern IT environments however the perimeter can be described as ‘distributed’ at best, and at worst non-existent. Simply put, the risk is that companies can no longer enforce security on the end device, as they may have no jurisdiction or control over it.
IT workers play fundamental roles in 21st century organizations because every business is reliant on information and technology in order to function. Large amounts of critical data and at least a few critical assets will need to be stored and managed in order for most business to serve customers, meet production deadlines, and more. It is therefore common for permanent IT employees to be subject to strict security supervision. When these roles are performed by remote third parties, short-term contractors or non-permanent staff however, security must also adapt.
Polishing the security armor
Plugging into an organization’s network to access critical company systems from beyond the physical boundaries of the workplace is now commonplace. Companies need to ensure they have stringent security measures in place to better manage the high risk that this entails. They must also limit the access of contractors to only what they need, instead of trusting them with sweeping access to everything. Risk factors include accessing networks from personal devices that lack enterprise-grade security, or from home networks that could be easily compromised.
In this scenario we are a long way from a world where security teams are able to enforce policy on devices within the traditional network. Now, often they will have no control at all over the device being used by the external party to connect in and, similarly, not being able to ensure the security of the location where the device is connecting from; for instance a home WiFi network.
Our previous research indicates that 90 percent of organizations with more than 250 users grant third party vendors access to their critical systems, and 72 percent position third party access in their top 10 security risks, indicating it’s a familiar problem for security teams.
That doesn’t mean it is being acted upon though. The majority of organizations use strategies that are just not optimized for efficiency, and don’t systematically enforce corporate security policies across on-site and cloud infrastructure. Any solution for third party privileged access must provide basic security best practices that mirror established policies for internal employees.
Technical advances also mean the shortcomings of obsolete technologies – such as VPNs – to secure remote workers can now be overcome with relative ease. Usage of biometrics and Zero Trust policies should be employed to reliably authenticate remote vendor access to the most sensitive parts of the corporate network. This can be achieved with the flexibility and ease-of-use that modern remote workers need by using the remote workers’ own mobile devices for biometric and multifactor authentication.
In the world of work today, the physical boundaries of our workplace have become increasingly blurred. This is especially the case as we move into a post COVID-19 workplace, where flexible working is expected to be the new norm. In such environments, endpoint devices may have varying levels of security and the office environment may be a café, car or home office. Hence, cybersecurity needs to match the flexibility of modern working.
The place where organizations can reliably enforce policy is at the point of connection and the access that they require into systems. This needs to be acknowledged and implemented.
Americans need jobs. The national unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent, and in many states, like California, it’s even higher—nearly 15 percent. Yet a recent judicial ruling will make it harder for the Golden State labor market to recover.
On Monday, California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman ruled that Uber and Lyft drivers are employees and must be compensated that way. His ruling upheld Assembly Bill 5, passed last year, which designates most “gig” workers, normally contract workers, as full employees—meaning that they’re entitled to benefits, minimum wages, and other protections. The rideshare companies argued, unsuccessfully, that the law should not apply to them. AB5 was a bad idea when it passed last year. It’s an even worse one in our current economic climate.
Contract work has many advantages. In our Covid-19 economy, flexibility has become crucial. Many gig workers, like freelance journalists, prefer flexibility and vigorously opposed AB5. Some people do gig work to supplement income from other jobs and to ensure against lost income. Turning contractors into employees makes them more expensive to the employers who hire them, which means fewer jobs.
Most critically, converting freelancers to employees—from 1099s to W2s—destroys the flexibility that made it possible to hire contract workers in the first place. If employers must pay their workers like regular staff, they’ll want, in turn, to impose all the normal conditions that apply—such as telling their employees when they’re expected to work. This will make it harder for people to do freelance side work for extra money.
Rideshare companies are already dealing with flagging demand. Now they face higher labor costs, which means even fewer jobs in a tight labor market. Uber says that it may temporarily shut down in California—just when households most need the option of extra income.
The labor market could suffer long-term damage. Washington University accounting professor John Barrios argues that long periods of unemployment erode skills and make it harder to find work. Gig work keeps people active in the labor market, even when the economy is in a deep recession. Doing some work, even part-time, helps people avoid falling into the long-term unemployment trap. Just staying in the habit of going somewhere and earning income is valuable. It provides structure and boosts morale.
Gig workers do face risks. When the demand for Lyft and Uber dropped, their incomes dropped with it—unlike those of salaried employees. Gig workers have fewer options for health insurance and don’t get sick leave. Still, while turning drivers or freelance journalists into employees may sound helpful, what it really means is that only a fraction of gig workers will receive these benefits. The rest will be let go.
Instead of trying to force an earlier, industrial model of labor relations onto a radically different economy, we should develop new institutions to support more flexible work. The federal government’s CARES Act extended unemployment benefits to contract workers. Good, affordable health insurance not tied to employers is also critical. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi suggests that companies employing gig workers should be required to contribute to funds that their workers can use to buy health insurance or finance paid sick leave.
In deciding that AB5 applies to rideshare companies, Judge Schulman may have interpreted the law correctly. But it’s a bad law and should be repealed. Uber and Lyft are funding a ballot initiative this fall that would let drivers be contract workers. Independent contractors for firms with less money and political clout also need the option for flexible work. Healing the California economy won’t be easy, but one important step would be ending AB5 entirely.
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SAN JOSE, CA / ACCESSWIRE / August 12, 2020 / Most people still work the traditional 9-5 (or 8-5). And while that route brings security, many people become disillusioned over time. “It’s not what they signed up for,” says Kevin David, a long-time entrepreneur and proponent of setting your own hours.
Two weeks of vacation doesn’t make up for micromanaging bosses, being paid less than you’re worth, and the sneaking suspicion that you didn’t really need your degree for this. “More and more people are moving away from traditional job structures. Working your way up the ladder isn’t the only option anymore – people can sense there’s a better way,” says Kevin David. “Freelancing or starting your own business is becoming the new norm.”
Hundreds of thousands of people working from home or losing their jobs entirely due to the pandemic have hastened this revolution even further. In 2014, freelancers made up about 14% of the working population. Now, the entrepreneurs and freelancers account for 35% of the workforce – and that number is growing daily!
But how can you turn a side-hustle into a full-time career that’s capable of replacing the money, benefits, and security of your current nine-to-five career? Kevin David has a few tips.
Grow Your Freelancing Business Simultaneously Advises Kevin David
“It’s easy to give advice like ‘Just quit! You’ll be fine!’, but the reality is a lot more difficult for most people,” says Kevin David. “People have to pay their mortgages, take care of their kids, feed their pets. That’s why my advice is that it’s usually best to have at least a small financial foundation built before you quit the grind.”
If you have the kind of job that only takes you three hours a day to complete and then you’re mindless with boredom – that’s fantastic! Now you have something to fill those hours. Start writing or coding or editing photos or whatever it is that you are longing to pursue.
But if you have a more consuming or difficult job (or if you are closely monitored by your company and/or boss), you’re going to have to sacrifice your after-work and weekend hours at first. “Think of it as an investment,” advises Kevin David. “It’s going to suck, but try to envision how good it will feel to quit once you’re making enough money to leave the terrible position you’re currently in.”
To help get you through the double grind, set a timeline for yourself. For example – you can leave your job in six months if you hit your financial goals. It will give you a sense of urgency to have a deadline as well as a sense of relief that soon you won’t have to be working a double load. Tell your friends or your spouse about your deadline so someone is helping to hold you accountable.
Kevin David Urges You to Figure Out Your “Why”
“I meet so many people who want to ditch the nine-to-five and set their own schedule,” says Kevin David. “But you’d be shocked how many of them come up blank for a minute when I ask them why.”
Kevin believes that to successfully change the way you work, you have to be able to turn to your big why and let it guide you when the road gets rough. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids. Maybe you want to retire early and travel. Maybe you’re not a morning person and you just want the freedom to wake up and start your day at ten if you so choose.
“Whatever your big ‘Why’ is, find it, define it and use it to motivate yourself,” says Kevin.
Make the Leap Says Kevin David
Moonlighting and working on your side hustle is great, but it’s not the place you’re meant to be forever. “The goal is not to have two jobs forever. That’s even worse than before,” says Kevin David. “At some point, when you’ve saved and you have clients lined up and you feel pretty good about it… commit. You have to take that final leap of faith to be free. You will never feel completely ready – it’s freaking terrifying! But once you’ve met your goals, you have to trust yourself and try. The alternative is living in that cubicle for the rest of your life.”
Kevin David has been an entrepreneur since the tender age of fourteen. He had a brief stint as a corporate accountant and even worked at Facebook for a while. But there was always a nagging sense that he could be doing more with his life than making money for other people. Once he stumbled across Amazon FBA and launched his first product, he knew his life would never be the same. Now Kevin David travels the world, holding workshops and conferences to help people who want to break free and become their own bosses.
So, I have about 2 years experience in using Autocad and 1 year with Revit. (despite being called ‘experience’ it’s actually just the time since I started using those programs doing my school projects.)
It has been months since I’ve started looking for a job to help me financially, I’m pretty confident about my cad skills and can even do schedules in Revit. Yet no matter how much I search for those freelance jobs, I just can’t find any of them…
I have even tried offering my services at several freelancing sites, with no result till this day.
The people offering jobs at those sites have millions of applicants in few minutes that are willing to do the job in dirt cheap price. It’s impossible to compete with all those people.
What do you think I’m doing wrong here? is it just that I’m looking for jobs the wrong place?
In 2014, Tiffiny Costello left her full-time job and began working as freelancer in marketing strategy and website development.
At first, Costello says being her own boss was “freeing” — she could travel wherever she wanted, and make her own schedule.
But after a while, the reality of being a freelancer began to take a toll. Costello had to deal with clients who would call and text relentlessly, belittle her industry expertise, and demand she redo work or do extra tasks outside of her contract.
After six years, Costello quit freelancing and accepted a full-time job position.
Now she only has to focus on “one job, instead of 13,” works with a group of encouraging coworkers, and can leave work responsibilities at the office — factors that Costello say have all greatly helped improve her mental health.
It was six years ago, when I jumped the 9-to-5 ship for the bright and shiny freelance life. Like the Titanic, nobody could have warned me of the icebergs I was steering towards, until I was already crashing towards an icy mental breakdown.
In 2014, freelancing was really taking off. I decided to quit my full-time job and go for it.
My first client was the company I had just quit. I agreed to work for them as a contractor until they replaced me. They paid $40 an hour, 30 hours a week, and I managed their Facebook Ads (400+ ads — it was the account that taught me a lot of what I know about Facebook Ads). What a warm welcome into the freelance world!
At that time, only the brave entered the world of no dress code, open hours, and no coworkers. We were a self-validated crew of ‘entrepreneurs’ simply because we found quotes on Pinterest that talked about ‘hustling’ while we scoffed at peasants working their stable, 9-to-5 jobs with benefits and a 401(k).
I had also quietly departed from the sobriety train about three months prior to leaping into the freelance world. To be fair to myself, I would also get sober again, two years before quitting freelancing, but I am sure the confidence I had at the start of freelancing made me think I could also handle alcohol better than my history had proven.
Freelancing was, in the beginning, fantastic.
It was freeing. It allowed me to travel whenever I wanted. I went to Europe for five weeks. I went camping whenever I wanted. I had unlimited cell phone data, so I could hotspot from my car if I needed to get work done.
I was also annoying to go on trips with, especially with friends who were using their bygone vacation time and had no emails to answer, no “can you do this real quick,” beckons to respond to, etc. They were actually off work. What a simple way to live! *scoff*
I began to forget what not working felt like. I took pride in the fact that I worked as much as I did. It made me feel important. My bank account had more digits, I could write everything off, and answered to no-one — except my clients.
For the most part, my clients were great. I had low-maintenance clients who always paid on time and always kept things in scope. These clients were a dream to work for.
Then there were the scope-creeping clients, who would bombard my inbox, send text messages, and ask for things we did not agree on.
They often used multiple exclamation points in their emails — this is something that always raises my suspicion. Why do you need more than one exclamation point unless you are trying to passive-aggressively manipulate someone? Am I ridiculous for thinking this way?
It was, of course, my fault for not setting better boundaries. I should have always outlined in contracts that texting was never allowed. I should have always insisted on what my office hours were. But, I needed the money, so I was willing to work as much and do anything to keep my clients and obtain new ones.
I didn’t learn how to set professional boundaries until the last year of freelancing, and by then I was already on my way out because of poor-behaving clients, a surplus in the supply of available freelancers, and increasingly heightened anxiety with a side of deepening depression.
I once fired a client who wouldn’t quit texting or calling me anytime I had an extra space in between hashtags on his Instagram posts, or if I used hashtags that were not exactly describing the content (do you know how hashtags work, bruh?). He required that I revise photos four times before he would approve them, and then even after posting approved content to Instagram… he would delete them and request more revisions.
The major event that really broke me was when I quit working for an internationally-known nonprofit that I actually loved being associated with, but could not deal with the founder any longer.
The nonprofit was founded by a man who retired at ~39 years old (beware of ‘nonprofits’ headed up by rich white men who can afford to retire before 40…). I was constantly questioned about marketing, was told that he knew what would work better because he had read 30 marketing books (versus my 10+ years of experience), was questioned about the amount of time I would spend on my work (I work extremely efficient because I have been doing this for 10+ years, and have developed systems and workflows — and yet it was not fast enough for him) all while paying me $22 an hour and refusing to give me a raise, telling me I did not deserve a full bonus, even after taking over three departing team-members responsibilities, etc. etc.
Other team members were treated the same way. We were not allowed to be the true experts we were, because he wanted things done his way. And, he paid at a minimum, because we were working for a ‘nonprofit.’ He once reminded me that another coworker was also getting paid low, and she was happy to do the work. She had a full-time job. Freelancing was my bread and butter.
I started to hate marketing.
I started to believe that I actually didn’t know what I was talking about. I became scared to do my work, because it would just get tossed out and overruled. I took a lot of depression/procrastination naps. Imposter syndrome, anyone?
I finally gave notice that I was ending my contract, because I wanted to quit working for $22 an hour and free up space for something new to enter my world (do the math on self-employment tax; I was barely making minimum wage!).
I then allowed myself to be convinced to continue managing the website. I did it for $900 a month (this is cheap in the world of web dev), but was looking forward to using the website as a portfolio piece, because I was learning to code, and was excited to take the project on — until the founder continuously overruled design and layout suggestions, to create a somewhat functional and horrible UI/UX of a website. Using this site as a portfolio piece was an idea that quickly floated away, along with my willpower to care about this client.
Quitting that client was extremely freeing, but true damage had been done, and I am still recovering from it. Freelancing overall caused a lot of damage that feels like PTSD. This client was simply the loud, long, grande finale.
My last year as a freelancer was filled with anxiety, depression, naps (so many naps), poor eating habits, long runs, too much coffee, ridiculous sleeping patterns, or no sleep at all.
And yet — people PRAISE this type of lifestyle (queue the Gary Vee followers). It is unhealthy to set no boundaries between yourself and work.
Although I was in therapy, my social anxiety started to get pretty bad. Previous disordered eating habits that I thought were long gone started to poke their head back into view. I started to experience symptoms of OCD: needing to clean every surface more than once, checking my door to see it was locked three, four, and five times before bed. All with a fairly consistent stream of manic, repetitive mumbling going on in my head.
But I was making a lot of music.
One night, I was on the floor of my apartment crying when I started to look up phone numbers and addresses to mental clinics in my neighborhood. I needed to know where they were, because I knew I was breaking. I started cursing at myself: for letting myself get to this point, and because I realized I was starting to have a breakdown, which made me feel more panicked.
I had been applying for jobs in Seattle after moving from Denver in January 2019. I knew I wanted to quit freelancing before I even moved. After applying for over 200 jobs, interviewing with no less than 25, the 100% rejection rate confirmed that I truly did not know what I was doing in the world of marketing. I was also having the most difficult time finding an apartment in Seattle.
I kept sinking. I even considered moving back to Texas, in with my parents. I had one client left, and wasn’t trying to find any new ones. I had no energy left.
Ultimately, I finally made the decision to talk to a doctor and he suggested and prescribed a prescription for Prozac.
Prozac was exactly what I needed. I am so thankful for it. Mental health stigma, as we all know, is alive and well. What is even more thriving is stigma around medication.
I have already heard plenty of opinions from people who don’t understand how SSRIs works… inform me that I should not be on medication. I am capable and ready to advocate for myself in these situations. I know that I made the right choice in deciding to take medication. I don’t need to convince anyone of that. The way I feel is proof to myself that it was the right decision.
I am still taking Prozac, and when I miss doses, I can feel why I still need to be on it. I hope to get off it at the end of this year, under the guidance of a doctor and therapist, of course.
I got a full-time job around the same time I started Prozac. I accepted a position at an independent hotel in Seattle as their marketing manager. It has been such a blessing, and the perfect farewell to freelancing.
Having a paycheck every other Friday, health benefits, and an office to go to everyday is an absolute treasure. I had forgotten the joy working with a team brings. It feels amazing to only have to focus on ‘one job,’ instead of 13. It’s also been enlightening to rediscover that I do know a thing or 587 about marketing. I am on a team that provides positive feedback instead of only negative. I cherish face-to-face interaction versus misinterpreting someone’s tone in an email. I love leaving my work at the office.
My full-time job is a blessing, not in disguise. I knew I was ready for it.
Freelancing is not what it was six years ago. It causes issues that are, in my opinion, not worth the benefits. There is no real accountability or incentive for bad clients to behave.
The constant weight that used to exist has now dissipated from the back of my mind, and has freed up space in my life to reestablish healthy habits. I can once again truly connect with people on other topics that don’t have anything to do with work, because I am separate from my job again. I’m not treating every person I meet like a prospect.
I know my freelancing story is not like everyone else’s. I know plenty of incredibly balanced, successful, strong freelancers. They are inspiring people I look up to. I think you should freelance if that is what works for you. It wasn’t working for me anymore.
Tiffiny Costello is a 30-something based in Seattle, Washington. She is a “professional hobbyist,” aka, a sound artist, cat-mom, trail-runner, designer, marketer, painter, writer, and more. She works as the creative director for a boutique hotel by day, and collects field sounds she uses to compose ambient soundscapes by night under the moniker “Housekeys.” Follow her on Instagram at @tiffinyasalways, on Twitter @tiffinyhaswords, or visit her website.