My Top ten freelance myths
Being freelance is often seen as a bit of a luxury life – I think people who work in staff jobs of any kind see us living the life of riley, or ‘networking’ our days away on sofas in trendy hotels. Sure, we often call the shots and work our own hours. But there are lots of things people immediately assume about freelancers that aren’t true.
Recently I was on shifts at a newspaper (for those not in the media, shifts are essentially temping where you fill in on a day rate if someone’s away). In the lift, I overheard someone talk about a staffer who’d gone freelance. “That’s her ideal scenario, sitting in a coffee shop staring out the window” she said. I nearly stopped her and said ‘Can I set you straight?!’ but I decided not to. Instead I set to thinking about what else people imagine we freelancers do or feel when really we don’t…
1 We sit in coffee shops all day (staring out of windows?!)
I’m not sure about you, but the staring out of the window part particularly amuses me. Perhaps the girl they were talking about is prone to staring out of windows anyway. I’ll never know. But when I’m in a coffee shop I’m more prone to staring at the computer, my notepad, then the cakes. But the thing is I don’t spend huge amount of time working in coffee shops. Do you?! They’re not the easiest places to work (coffee, small table, computer… someone with kids… someone without kids…).
I think it’s insulting to assume we use coffee shops when we are quite capable of making home offices, using co-working spaces or bringing our laptop back to bed with us. The idea that we have the time to stare out of coffee shop windows instead of working, is actually bordering on insulting. Why, because we don’t have a staff job, is it perceived that we have the time to daydream, to just sit there and not be working or planning something? The flip side is that yes if we do fancy a five-minute stare out of the window without a manager questioning us, so be it. But we don’t spend all day doing it.
But this myth for me goes into that old worry that if we do a job – an errand, that is, a household task - during our freelance working day we are ‘abandoning’ our duties and our desk. I often feel this – that a pause of any kind is seen as shirking. But here’s an example to throw that on its head. Last week I spent some of my working day clearing out our flat as we’re trying to sell it, and selling furniture on Facebook marketplace. In the process, I came up with an idea, which I then pitched and was commissioned! The best ideas and new client plans don’t always come when we’re at our desk. Sometimes that pause or an action can be a real trigger for a work ‘moment’ and flash of clarity and inspiration. Like when we exercise too – and that’s another myth…
2 We exercise during the day or when we fancy
I actually exercised more regularly when I was in a staff job (and do when I’m on a contract somewhere and there’s a gym nearby as I was last year). Being in an office gives me more structure to fit in exercise. If I’m out in an office during the day I can go to the gym or a yoga class at lunchtime or straight from work but when I’m at home it can often mean leaving the flat to go and exercise so it can fall by the wayside.
Exercising is, I believe, a key component of freelance life. Personally, it makes me feel more balanced, less anxious and less stressed. Exercise can help clear my mind, it can help me formulate or finalise ideas and it gets me away from the desk and out of the flat. When I exercise, it truly helps my freelance feels.
The other part of this myth is of course, many forms of exercise cost money, too! Freelancers have to be savvy and find ways to exercise that still give us a working day and don’t blow the budget. A staff job means a regular monthly wage, which means you can budget for a gym membership payment. A freelance life means you get paid at random times, and therefore it’s harder to commit to a gym membership. Yes there are cheaper options – running for example. I have done a lot of running in the past but I’m stopping as it’s really damaging my hip! But I know I must budget for a gym membership as it really helps my freelance feels. The fact remains we don’t spend two hours at Yoga every afternoon – we’re too busy chasing invoices.
3 We love chasing invoices (and payments, and pensions…)
Talking of which – here’s another one. That we love doing maths and chasing cash. The thing with invoices is it’s really hard sometimes to impress upon people that getting paid is not a bonus, it’s an essential part of the work we’ve undertaken. In the past month I’ve had invoices returned because they haven’t had the right information on them (information I wasn’t asked to include such a certain address for the client) as well as people saying they will need to put me on their system… getting paid isn’t simple and it actually gives me a lot of anxiety – not just the getting paid part but the invoicing. I get nervous sending invoices and when they’re not right it throws me. Invoicing isn’t a thrill – it’s also not just an afterthought. I now ask ‘who should I invoice?’ as it’s often not the person I’ve filed copy to! So when you see us grab a receipt from a meeting, we’re not getting that straight back in the same way staffers get expenses. And we have to allocate time to sort out our finances – so many people on a Facebook group I admin ask about accountants and pensions. We don’t love the money side and we’re often in the dark about how to deal with it because we have no payroll or HR department to fall back on.
4 We're available 24/7
This has been something I’ve been guilty of letting a client believe, for sure. But freelancers have a set working day much like staffers and it’s important clients understand that.
Sure, if you answer a call or email at 8pm you are saying, despite your better judgement, that you ARE available. This came up at a talk I went to at the IPSE National Freelancers Day and a panellist said that they send new clients a contract, which includes agreeing to their working hours. It seemed to alien to me as I know many editors would refuse to work to my ‘contract’. I have a lot of client feels, which I’ll also explore in another post and add in a link when it’s done!
Just because we post on insta at 10pm or midnight doesn’t mean we’re there to troubleshoot their problem. We don’t want to work 24/7 – the idea of being freelance doesn’t mean we don’t have a time when we leave the office/bed/coffee shop. It’s hard not to just answer a client’s email, but I am trying much harder to push back when I need to. If someone says ‘can you do this by X?’ then I take a pause. Can I, really, without eating into my own time? If someone says at 5pm ‘Can I have this back tomorrow’ then realistically that’s 12pm earliest tomorrow. I find clients can have a tendency to send a request as THEY finish their working day, so it’ll be back with them when they start their day again. Also they can expect you to work overtime if they do – if an editor wants them to stay late, surely they can also expect me to respond out of hours. This for me then flows into the respect between clients and service providers such as myself. If I like and feel respect from the client I’m more likely to say ‘sure, ok’ when they want me to do something like call a case study on an evening. But it’s a myth that we are available 24/7 just because we’re freelance and if you can push back on that, I believe you’ll have a better work/life balance.
5 We work in our Pyjamas
Many people think we never get dressed. Am I right?! So much so, this has spurred journalist Sian Meades Williams to begin a book all about the Pyjama Myth (click on the link and have a look, Sian is also the founder of a freelance jobs newsletter which is super popular!). I personally love the ‘inbetween’ outfit of working from home. I wear things I wouldn’t wear to an office (like a leopard print t-shirt dress that says SHE IS FEARLESS on the front in neon stitching. Perhaps I should wear it to the office!). And I like having my ‘office wardrobe’ that I wear when I’ve got a meeting or am working in-house. But getting dressed is part of our routine and I believe few of us stay in our ‘jim jams’ until lunchtime. It’s funny to think of staffers in their work clothes imagining us in pyjamas, underwear-free. Please, we have cafes to go and sit in where we stare out of windows…
6 We love networking
I wrote about networking feels and have declared September as ‘Social September’ where I’ll be networking in various forms and keeping notes to write a longer read piece on the various ways we network and how they can help or hinder our freelance progress. But it’s assumed, I think, that freelancers love meeting and greeting, throwing our business cards at each other and having coffees and impromptu evenings where we all laugh with our heads thrown backwards about how FREE WE ARE! But for many, networking is a huge social problem and it can be hard to know where to go networking for the good of our business. There’s also plenty of networking to be done online, too, so it’s not always an ‘in person’ thing. But the assumption that we get ‘out and about’ is a dangerous one, as it can lead to a further assumption that we’re not at our desks and we’re just existing from one cutsey coffee shop to another drinks do. Networking is key, I believe, to building your client base and it can be empowering to go to an event and make a connection. But I empathise with those who struggle with it, and would like the staffers to know sometimes it takes a lot for a freelancer to be at an event, so please say hi and engage with us.
7 We go on holiday whenever we fancy
No - we have to plan it. Then we panic that we will have to work anyway. And we don’t earn money when we’re away. We set the out of office then we wonder if we’ll miss THE client/commission/job of the century/our lifetime and end up checking social media and thinking we shouldn’t be taking time off… Yes, we get to say when we’ll go on hols, which is great. But we are also bound by contracts (I worked between Christmas and New Year last year as that was the rota requirement on a contract) and we sometimes have to work bank holidays. I don’t know how many days off a year I take but I often wonder if it is the same amount that I’d take as staff.
The good thing is, for sure, being able to say ‘yes I’ll go away on Friday for a long weekend and stay on top of emails in the car/train’ but the flipside is that if we do that, we go back to myth 2, giving clients the message we’re available 24/7. Which, repeat after me, we’re not!
8 Being Freelance is our ‘big dream’
Ah, dreaming of going freelance. My favourite! ‘One day, I’ll quit! I’ll be freelance! I’ll be my own boss!’ people say. (see below about the bosses). Many are thrown into freelancing via everything from redundancy to bullying to a change in life circumstances that demands a move to parenting… people who’ve given up on that promotion or working every night till 8pm for no pay rise. It’s often unplanned and comes with a lack of funds. Going freelance can be because of a move, a relationship change, something negative. Personally, I went freelance again in April 2017 after redundancy. It was a good thing for me, as I wanted to focus on digital journalism and it was the push I needed. However, it wasn’t me calling the shots – I made the leap because I was nudged. And I struggled. Thankfully, that struggle led to me creating Freelance Feels. However, I totally empathise with anyone who thinks ‘I hate this job… I might go freelance’ or people who are part of a failing brand and have to set up on their own. Being freelance might be some people’s big dream, but it’s a myth to think that everyone who is self-employed launched themselves into it gung-ho with a bank full of back up cash.
9 We never get angry with 'the boss'
First of all, because there isn’t just one boss! Working for yourself isn’t a one-boss thing. It’s a many boss scenario. Right now I have three bosses – four if I include myself. So there’s a lot of juggling, a lot of people thinking that my time is sort of theirs and that I am most available to them. When people say ‘I want to be my own boss’, that for me doesn’t go hand in hand with being freelance. Sure we don’t have to ask ‘the boss’ for time off (see above) but we do have to make sure one of our myriad bosses doesn’t need us when we plan to be away. Clients are the boss, editors are the boss, the tax man is a boss. This feels a little bit of a ‘downer’ but I do think it’s important on another level too: Clients who might read this should remember that they’re not our only boss, too. The best part is, though, when one of our bosses does wind us up, or not play by our rules and values, we can often choose to walk away. And that is an amazing feeling.
10 We don’t get the Sunday blues
Another one I’ve touched on before, but this is so very important. I really think there’s a misconception that freelancers never dread Monday. One of the reasons we might not is, sadly, because we’re working on Sunday and we forget Monday is the ‘start’ of the working week. But I often get the Sunday blues. The thing is, when work is not going so well, and things are in ‘famine’ mode, then Monday is a huge mountain to climb. Gone are the days of spending a Monday morning having a cuppa, catch up with workmates and going through emails. When I’m in need of work, Mondays are a cautious look through job websites, a scroll on social (hello, over-comparison), and then a day at my desk emailing contacts or thinking of ideas to pitch out. If I’m on shifts, then a Monday morning can sometimes be the day I’m the new girl – off to IT or HR I go to sort out my log-in or payments, or I wait all morning not speaking to anyone while they wait for the morning meeting to be over and allocate me some work. Sunday blues are very real for freelancers who don’t have the office camaraderie to go to. Who do we have to greet on the morning and share our weekend with? Of course I’m not saying we always get them – and I think it’s great when we don’t. I went out on Sunday recently to watch a film in the park. Cue Prosecco and snacks – and knowing I was working from home on Monday (no PJS but deffo a leggings and no make up scenario), was bliss. That said, I can’t wait to go into an office again next week. The Sunday blues are universal, whether you’re self-employed or not.