The Truth About The Freelance Life

In today’s professional climate, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the freelance lifestyle is no longer reserved only for writers and graphic designers. In fact, the freelance career path has seemingly been taking the workforce by storm.

According to The Freelancer’s Union there are 53 million freelancers in the United States, representing 34% of the country’s entire work force, a number predicted to reach 40% by the year 2020.

Approximately 1.9 million Canadians are classified as self-employed and without having employees of their own, according to Statistics Canada, while another 2.3 million are classified as temporary employees. Combined, these two groups represent approximately 21.5% of Canada’s overall work force.

So with this brave new world of entrepreneurs, self-starters and freelancers, comes an entirely new set of lessons and considerations. I myself transitioned from a corporate, stable job as a security analyst into the freelance realm when I switched gears to pursue my writing and marketing career just over a year ago. And let me tell you something… I really had no idea what to expect, despite the brave face I put on (fake it til’ you make it, right?).

So if you’re considering making the leap from the corporate world into the freelance world, what do you need to know? What does the freelance lifestyle really entail? Luckily, I have some first-hand experience to share with you.

1. Organization Will Make or Break You

I cannot stress this enough… your ability to self-manage and stay organized will make or break you in the freelance world. Sure, you have freedom that the corporate realm could never provide, but that can be a double-edged sword. Because with more freedom, comes more responsibility to be accountable and self-aware.

As you commit to projects and deadlines, take the time to find a scheduling/organization process that works for you. Invest in tools that help you map out tasks and timelines, be mindful of distractions and be honest with yourself in terms of how long each project will (realistically) take, so you can effectively manage client expectations.

After all, you won’t have a manager peering over your shoulder to monitor productivity, so it’s up to you to stay on track.

2. Mind Your Own Work/Life Divide

I remember when I first switched gears into the work-remote lifestyle, one of my friends looked at me and said “Man, I’m so jealous of you. If I worked from home, I would probably watch Netflix all day. What a life.”

I mean, sure. You could watch Netflix all day if you wanted to… if you also wanted to get fired (no offence). While working remote provides you with more freedom, be prepared to blur the lines between work and home. While I could always count on the same 9-5 demands within my job at the bank, when I left the office, work generally didn’t come home with me. On the contrary, as a freelance/remote employee, work literally lives at home with me. It’s not all working from beaches and charming coffee shops, all the time.

Most days now, I actually work more hours than I ever did in the office. Working with clients in different timezones, adhering to the schedules of developers and other freelances etc., and always having your laptop and iPhone (AKA your life and soul as a freelancer) within reach at home, it’s easy to forget to un-plug.

Of course, the appropriate work/life balance is one that you have to determine for yourself. And trust me when I say that I’m not complaining, either. I love the professional lifestyle I currently lead. My days may be longer now, but I genuinely love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like I’m slaving away in an office cubicle from the crack of dawn until late at night. Ultimately, you just have to establish your own boundaries and remember to reserve time each day that is entirely work-free. Stick to that ‘you-time’ just as you would any other commitment, and you’ll prevent yourself from burning out or losing grasp of your personal life (because hey, that’s important too).

3. Freelance Doesn’t Have to be Short Term

Freelance doesn’t necessarily mean short-term, or a one-off project. With so many start-ups and small businesses adhering to a more modern, lean structure, freelancers are commonly integrated into the core business strategy of companies now more than ever before. After all, utilizing freelancers can often be an extremely cost-efficient model for a company (less overhead cost).

Instead of assuming you’ll need to live project-to-project, keep an eye out for longer-term projects that allow for an extended working arrangement. And if you are in the position to name your price, ensure you have done your research and know what other freelancers are earning for similar work (with a comparable skill-set and experience). Be competitive with your rates, but also know how much your time is worth, because as a freelancer, your time is everything. It’s up to you to advocate for yourself.

4. Become An Expert Communicator

In almost any job, communication can make or break you, but it’s especially important for freelancers. Remember that you won’t necessarily have the face-time experience that full-time employees have on a day-to-day basis. This means that you will often have to over-communicate with your boss and team members to ensure things aren’t missed and project details, expectations and timelines are understood and transparent.

If you aren’t in the office, use tools like Slack or video chat to keep the lines of communication open throughout each project. Always be open to feedback and revisions, ask questions and allow yourself to get a little closer and connect with the project and the people whom you’re working with (even if it’s temporary).

5. Know the Value of a Killer Portfolio

Networking will get you in the door, but your portfolio is always the closer. I remember speaking with a friend at work one day, who had hoped to pursue a job in the PR industry. While she went to school for PR, she had been working a job for the last year and a half that — while a good job on paper — offered no value to the industry she hoped to work in. She needed to build up a relevant portfolio in order to close that gap.

When she asked me how I made the jump into my current industry, I explained that I had spent the last few years taking on projects (on the side) that I knew would build up my portfolio, so that when the time came to make a jump, I would be the most qualified candidate. Sometimes, this will mean adopting some serious ‘side-hustle’, or at times taking on smaller projects (or ones that don’t pay your ideal rate) in exchange for the value they bring to your portfolio. 

You have to get familiar with your market, what they’re looking for in the individuals they hire, and make sure your portfolio encapsulates all of that and more. When you do that, finding work will never be an issue.