After two and a half years as a freelance Creative Director, I’m leaving the world of sole-proprietorship for a full-time position. Was it scary freelancing/being occasionally unemployed? Sure, at times. Was it rewarding? Absolutely.
Here are the things I learned as a freelance creative:
Not having a steady paycheck often leads to 2pm pillow-screaming sessions because instead of working, you’re lying in bed looking at dead end job boards.
Some freelancers get used to it. I did not. I don’t have the stomach for ‘slow’ – a word overused by people in charge of hiring. In January, slow means the sleepy winter. In July, it means the summer doldrums. In November, it means the impending holiday season. It always seemed to be slow when I was busy looking for work. On the flip side, when you sign on for a long stint and find consistent work, the financial reward is more gratifying than heroine (so I’m told).
Turns out, freelancing is a sales job.
Sure, I worked as a commission-based sales associate at Radio Shack during college, but I was consistently out-performed by the hustlers. Selling makes me feel desperate and dirty. As a freelancer, I never got used to sending out feeler emails, or LinkedIn requests with ‘witty’ messages or hassling work friends and contacts with messages like “Hey there, just checking in.” That part I will surely not miss. I can sell ideas no problem. But I find it hard to sell myself when I really really need to work.
Freelancers are ibuprofen in human-form.
You are called upon to erase headaches for the higher-up who hired you. Apathy is not an option. You are brought in to solve problems, usually because there’s too much work for the staff (who may be worn down by the grind of the project). Your job is to show up with a smile on your face and give them something new and hopefully remedy whatever ails them.
Always over deliver.
If the brief is to write three TV scripts, present six. Better yet, ten. As long as they’re good. And always give at least one idea that arguably goes too far. Something unexpected. Funny or controversial or weird. At one long-term gig, when my freelance partner and I would present our ideas, they’d ask, “So where’s the wacky idea?” Apparently, we built a reputation for pushing boundaries.
Working weekends is awesome.
You get paid your day rate, while you work alongside the salary-based full-timers. #winning
Asking for the best rate is tricky science. How do you know if you’re selling yourself short by going low, or pricing yourself out by asking too much? If they accept your offer right away, you didn’t ask for enough. If they never return your email or your follow up email or your LinkedIn message or your final follow up email, yah, you went too high.
Buying your own health insurance plan will make you want to gouge your eyes out.
Put the tablespoon down. Because the only policy you can afford has a $1500 a month premium and a max-out-of-pocket of $12,000. That doesn’t include corrective surgery or frames or contacts. Thanks, VSP. So hold off on the eye-gouging.
Other lessons I learned…the difference between a W2 &1099 and LLC & S-Corp. Okay, I still don’t totally know the difference. Someday.
I hate-loved freelancing. At the end of each year, I made more money (but worked less) than I would have full time, but I had to sweat it out the entire way. I worked on new projects constantly, but rarely saw any project through to the end. I stayed sharp and learned how to work in different ways with different people, but wasn’t at any place long enough to become part of the culture.
Freelance has its merits, but I’m totally fine working really hard and having some security. And a little less pillow-screaming and eye-gouging for a while.