I’ve worked as a freelance journalist most of my life. I was among the lucky few who had regular work with People Magazine, Reuters, Dallas Morning News and others, so I didn’t have to pitch and hustle like many other freelancers I know. The main downside was the decreasing pay rate (A raise? In the freelance world, with a growing number of blogging “journalists”, the pay only decreased). The upside was being able to tell folks I was leaving town for a few weeks and to simply hold off any assignments for me; I’d let them know when I was back. My priorities at the time – not much different from now – were to make just enough money and then to have flexible time to travel. So when I finally decided to leave the country on much longer voyages – and now to make a more permanent move out of the United States to Mexico – I didn’t have the fear that so many have of leaving a stable job and income to hold me back. I had always had an inconsistent income, so resourcefulness was a cultivated part of my lifestyle.
Things definitely changed when I had a child. Having to provide for another mouth to feed, care for materially, and educate, made things tighter. So I took on a “real” job for the first time in decades to increase my cash flow. What I found was that I made more money, but I worked ten times as much, and had to cover far more childcare expenses to make up for the time away from my son. And the time I was available for him, I was still working (being a manager or newsperson never lets up). I was always grumpy because I was stressed; I was underslept and completely overworked. I also wasn’t appreciated at my somewhat hostile workplace (yeah, yeah #metoo). Something wasn’t adding up. As far as I could tell, this full time job thing was for the birds. And frankly not even in this full time job was I ever provided such things as health insurance, bonuses, or the like, so that was and is just a foreign concept to me. Granted, non-profit radio is not exactly the golden egg…
Now, I’ve had the good fortune of owning a home, which I’ve always been able to rent out to cover expenses during my travels. I say this because I know that so many people are afraid to make what feels like a giant leap to leaving a full time job, and I don’t take the blessings of this safety net for granted (there is lots to say on whether a house is an investment or simply an expensive burden, but that’s for another post). But I’ve also seen the destructive nature of some of these high-return jobs and I wonder if the increased finances are actually worth it. Then I wonder if in the long run, with all of life’s upscaling that goes along with increased finances, if it really does add up to increased economic return at all? I don’t have that answer, but I’m not the only one asking the questions.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as I received a press release advising people to quit their jobs and take up freelancing. While I know the emotional and relational benefits of working for myself, the press release (full disclosure: from a small business software company), spoke to the economic benefits.
It included “5 surprising stats that will make you want to quit your job— and pick up freelancing”
“Consider this,” it began.
“Over 1/3 of freelancers make more than $101,000 per year. That’s according to the data scientists at FreshBooks a small business accounting software.”
Ok, so I don’t know if these freelancers are selling drugs on the side or as the main course, or if they’re all computer engineers, but a hundred grand is a lot of money. And if you can also have free time, then what on earth are you waiting for? I’m not sure about these exact numbers, but the truth is that I’ve met so many freelancers on the road who are making very good money, most less than 100k but a few much, much more. So I absolutely know it’s possible.
The release had a few more incentives – what they called “fascinating facts about freelancers” to share:
1. 55% HAVE BETTER HEALTH THAN FULL-TIME WORKERS
Another 49% say they have less stress—disproving the myth that freelancing is a last resort.
2. 54% MAKE MORE MONEY
Think freelancers are scrounging for gigs? 27% make over $50,000, while 1 in 3 make over $101K.
3. 68% HAVE MORE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
We often think freelancers spend most of their time working odd jobs, but only 32% say they have the same or less free time.
4. 47% HAVE MORE CAREER CERTAINTY
In fact, 1 in 5 people who plan to become freelancers will completely switch careers when they start!
I love that so many people change their careers because it shows that these people may not have been doing what they loved in the first place; so many are just working for the paycheck. Becoming freelance, and realizing that you will be working only for yourself, makes you choose more carefully and really embrace and follow your passions. Because if you’re going to work hard to make things happen – and you do have to work hard – you’d better enjoy it! Or you may as well go back and stay with that full-time job you hated.
5. 97% OF FREELANCERS WILL NEVER RETURN TO FULL-TIME WORK
This shatters our assumption that freelancing is a choice, not a necessity.
Number 5 is the kicker for me, because freelancing is not without its challenges. There are many days I would love to just show up somewhere and have someone tell me what to do and pay me at the end of the day… and then week and then month. It feels so simple and clean and easy. But when I’ve actually done this I’ve been miserable, bored, and uninspired—even if I DID have a paycheck. So while this life has plenty of uncertainties and challenges, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If such figures are real – and I’ll assume here that even if the percentage is off a bit that the sentiment expressed is absolutely correct – it shows how much people begin to realize and reprioritize their lives once they break free from their more traditional working lifestyles. Freelancers become the poster children for the realization that time is short and that your healthy life can end in a second. We also fully embrace and know first hand that experiences with friends and family are exceedingly valuable, and that while money will always be a necessity in this world, the idea of stability is itself not very stable.
I know nothing about Freshbooks, or the ease it professes to give freelancers as they do their books, but I did enjoy their report on the state of self-employment. Check it out here if you want: https://www.freshbooks.com/_themes/freshbooks/brand-assets/2018selfemploymentreport.pdf
So here’s a nod to those considering a freelance lifestyle. You’re not alone, and there are so many benefits that await you. Challenges too, without a doubt, but as the saying goes, it’s only when you step out of your comfort zone that some amazing things happen.
Below: My sweet home office in Santa Fe.