Flying Solo: The Life of a Freelancer

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Posted November 15, 2012 by Ellen Hunter Gans in Career Moves

My boss is a drag. Sometimes she makes me stay up until 6 a.m. to finish a project.

She regularly makes me work weekends and holidays with no extra compensation.

She also takes credit for all of my work. ALL of it.

That’s probably all because my boss is…me.

I’m a freelance writer and communications strategist. I’m also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. I’m excited to contribute to Career Girl Network with information on self-employment as well as cooking, health, and fitness.

This is a career website, so first, let me tell you how I got where I am professionally. You may find a bit of your own story here. If so, let’s go drink French roast and eat frosted scones and become lifelong BFFs.

No? Creepy? Okay, then. Just read and enjoy. No scones.

I’ve been freelancing for three and a half years, and it has taken me almost that entire time to self-identify as a “freelancer” without shamefully, frantically explaining myself. Why? Because “freelance” is often viewed as code for “unemployed.”

Actually, that’s how this all started. I double majored in English and Communications as an undergrad. I wanted to be a writer, but declaring oneself a writer doesn’t pay the bills. Ultimately, I was lured away from the possibility of creative work by a quasi-lucrative, stable job offer from a major local corporation.

I learned a lot during my stint in corporate America. Among the things I learned: I wanted to be passionate about what I did for a living. I wasn’t passionate at my job, so when I was accepted to a graduate program at the London School of Economics, I jumped. Leaped. Dove off a cliff.

I received a Master of Science in Global Media and Communication at the LSE and then completed an affiliated Master of Arts program at the University of Southern California. Cool, right?

Sort of. The economy crashed within a week of my first grad school classes. We all thought we were going to be hired as Disney’s next CMO, but by the time I finished school, my fellow classmates and I were being turned down for the soul-draining entry-level jobs we probably would have turned down coming out of undergrad.

Whoops.

I started picking up freelance gigs almost right away. I got most of my work through subcontracting. I did it for the money, and because I needed to feel useful and productive. (FYI, sending out twenty resumes per day into an apparent vocational black hole does not make you feel useful or productive. Take it from me.)

I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t think of it as a job, because I thought a “real” job required a boss and benefits and vacation time and promotions and mid-year reviews and raises and a cubicle with a little bamboo plant.

After eight months, I finally received two “real” job offers. But instead of basking in the privilege of getting to make a decision, I felt sick. Neither generated a spark with me. Neither capitalized on any of my skill sets. Neither even pointed in a direction that I genuinely wanted to go.

It felt crazy to turn down job offers after months of unemployment. It felt nauseatingly privileged. It felt egotistical. Then, over a sip (okay, a lot of sips) of wine with a dear friend of mine, everything changed.

Dear Friend is a successful freelance graphic designer in Chicago. I told her about my job offers. Then the conversation went something like this:

 

Dear Friend: How much freelance work are you doing?

Me: A lot. [Sip.]

DF: Do you like it?

Me: Yeah.

DF: So why don’t you just do that?

Me: [Sip.] Huh?

DF: Be a freelancer. Make it a business. Do it full-time. Quit job hunting.

Me: Quitting job hunting sounds good. [Sip.] But I can’t just BECOME a freelancer.

DF: Why not?

Me: I…um…[sip]…because…[sip.]

DF: Yes?

Me: I don’t know.

DF: Do it.

 

So I did it.

By the end of the night, we’d come up with a business name for me (Word Couture Consulting). I registered an LLC with the Secretary of State. I bought a domain name. I ordered business cards. (Dear Friend designed them for me.)

And suddenly, I’d hired myself.

Turning down those jobs was still terrifying, but I’ve never looked back. I now wear the freelance title like a badge of honor. And I love my job. I’ll say it again: I love my job. I feel so lucky to be able to say that, because I think I always harbored a fear that I’d never find the right fit — that no matter what I did, I’d always be counting the seconds until the day was done and dreading starting it up again the next day.

The fix for that? Passion. In case you think pursuit of passion is overrated, consider this: I’m writing this on a plane home from a conference in Las Vegas. Halfway through this post, the plane dropped out of the sky. A twenty-year flight attendant veteran said it was the worst incident she’d experienced: screaming, airline peanuts flying around, the works. If you don’t already think life’s too short to do something you hate…

Now that you’ve tolerated my lengthy self-absorbed ramblings, I’ll reward you in the future with short posts and actionable tips. Score!

Over my next several posts, I’ll dive into some logistics for you, such as:

  • Myths and truths about self-employment
  • The time management struggle
  • How to function without raises, benefits, and vacation time
  • What it’s really like to work from home
  • How to start your own business
  • How to market yourself
  • The difference between a job and a business
  • Allies of the self-employed

Fun stuff! So…how ‘bout those scones?


About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at www.lifeinreviews.com, and her business website is at www.wordcoutureconsulting.com.

One Comment


  1.  

    The first holiday is the hardest. After that you learn when to go, where to go with good wifi coverage, or whether to arrange someone to cover, or whether it’s ok to take a complete break.
    I like to go to Asia because it’s so cheap there. It’s actually cheaper to live there in a hotel than it is back at home. So if I stay for long enough and rent out my apartment in the UK I actually save money by being on holiday!
    I’ve found the best time to go on vacation for a freelancer is between December and February. Things naturally slow down a bit then.





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