20 Mar

5 Things That Suck About Being a Freelancer

I’ve been a fulltime video production freelancer going on 8 months now. And, for the most part, its been a pretty good ride. I no longer sit in traffic. I’ve been keeping pretty busy. I had the opportunity to travel with my short film to festivals. As a middle-aged white guy’s t-shirt would say, life is good.

But, things are not always cherry pops and chapstick. For those thinking of making the jump to fulltime freelance, I thought I’d spell out the stuff that kind of sucks about it. Some of this—I’m sure—is pretty obvious, but other things took me a bit by surprise.

Arbitrary Deadlines

This one probably seems like a minor nitpick. I mean, really, arbitrary deadlines? Isn’t that  just a pet peeve? Well, when you’re working for yourself and someone says they need something right away, it actually affects you a great deal. Suddenly, you’re in panic mode, working long hours just to get it all done in time to meet the pressing deadline. Then, upon delivery, you find out that the deadline wasn’t that pressing at all—that the people are going to take a few days (or weeks) to think it over. When the ball is in your court, everything has to move at a breakneck pace. When it’s in theirs, it moves at the speed of retirees playing shuffleboard. I realize that some of this is my fault—I’m trying to get better about clarifying “real” deadlines, with the fake ones. However, as a freelancer, you’re a commodity to many clients—they use you when they need you, they do what’s best for them. Arbitrary deadlines are a reflection of that relationship.

 There’s No I in Team

At my former 9 to 5, I had the opportunity to be a part of a great team comprised of a very talented group of guys and girls. Working on a team (especially a team with talented folks) is a great thing. For one, if you don’t know how to do something or are stuck creatively, there’s a brain trust within a few feet that can help you out. Even more important, if you ever get swamped with work, there’s a group of people that come to your rescue and pick up the slack. The same goes for the slow periods of work. Not busy? There’s a chance that your fellow coworker needs help completing a project. It’s a give and take relationship that can be quite rewarding. Well, as a solo freelancer, you get none of that. If you get swamped, you have to work overtime. If you’re not busy, you have to fight to get work. And, while I occasionally collaborate with other people, the experience isn’t the same. You don’t have joint goals—you’re working for yourself. As John Donne famously wrote (or, rather, as Hugh Grant said in About A Boy), no man is an island. Yet, solo freelancers are sort of forced to be.

Finding the Right Clients

In the time I’ve been freelancing, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with some truly awesome clients—people that are creative, smart, and genuinely interested in making some really cool stuff. Then, I’ve also worked with those who operate on the other end of the spectrum—those who care only about doing what’s cheap, those who want a lot but aren’t willing to pay for it. Well, finding those “good” clients isn’t always easy. And, unfortunately, sometimes you have to work with the wrong clients before you can even determine the difference.

Separating Work from Life

I’m not a procrastinator. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of that—if there’s work to do, I want to do it. Well, if you work from home—if your physical work space is the same as your living space, how do you know when to stop working? This may have been my toughest life adjustment so far—figuring out when to stop, when to say no, when to stop checking e-mail. When you work at corporate office job, that boundary is easy to determine. After all, there’s a literal separation between the place where you do work and the place where you don’t.  As a freelancer, it’s very easy for that line—the area between “life” and “work”—to blur.” Suddenly, you may find yourself in a position where you can’t tell the difference anymore. That’s a scary thought, and it’s a balance I still haven’t quite perfected.

Getting Paid

Ah! Asking people for money! This is easily the worst part of freelancing—every aspect of it: writing cost proposals, setting your day rate, signing contracts, sending out  invoices, waiting for checks to arrive. All of it sucks. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s annoying. I like making stuff. I can’t stand having to go through the process of getting paid for it.  Yet, in reality, without money, you sort of can’t live. 😉

I plan on following up this post with the opposte end of the spectrum—the best things about being a creative freelancer. Until then, do what I’ve been trying to tell myself to do for the last 8 months: stay calm. 🙂

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