It was 2:30 p.m. and I was sitting in my small cubicle with my chin in my hand and a blank stare fixed on my computer screen. I was doing my best to make the most of my full-time job in marketing (after all, person after person told me how lucky I was just to have a job), but—in all honesty—my attempts to convince myself that this was where I belonged weren’t working.
On paper, my full-time position was great. My co-workers were helpful, the work was somewhat interesting and in my desired field, and the paycheck was decent. I should’ve been thrilled. But, in reality, I was just bored.
I spent a good chunk of my eight hours in the office daydreaming about what life would be like if I could gather my gumption, take the leap, and pursue life as a freelance writer. And, eventually I did it. I put in my two-week’s notice and started the uphill climb.
I can hardly believe it, but that was a little over two and a half years ago now. Since then, I’ve managed to establish a thriving writing career that I’m incredibly proud of.
Becoming a full-time freelancer has been challenging, rewarding, and incredibly enlightening. Yes, I’ve definitely learned a lot (some good and some bad) along the way. So, for all of you who have spent time chained to your cubicle and fantasizing about following this very same path, here are eight key lessons I’ve learned as a full-time freelancer.
1. Hustling is hard.
Today, “hustle” has become sort of a glorified term. When you think about hustling, your mind can easily jump straight to the end result—enjoying the fruits of your labor. But, there’s a big part of the picture your mind is totally skipping over.
Trendy phrases aside, hustling boils down to plain and simple hard work. Really hard work. There are late nights, early mornings, and entire weekends spent working. There’s frustration, rejection, and self-doubt. And, there are far too many mugs of coffee (and I don’t even like coffee).
So, don’t trick yourself into thinking that “hustling” is all creative meetings and clicking away on your laptop in the corner of your favorite cafe. It’s not always that glamorous.
2. Freelancing can get lonely.
When I made the switch to freelancing, I knew I’d be working alone. But, I never really considered how lonely that could actually be.
I’m a social person, and one of the things I enjoyed most about my full-time job was having people around me at work. But now? I spend the majority of the day alone at my desk in my home office. My dog is usually by my side, but unfortunately, he’s not much of a conversationalist.
To put it simply, working for and by yourself can be isolating at times. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss that office chatter until it was gone.
3. Structure is important.
One of the best things about freelancing is that you have complete control over your schedule. You get to decide when you work, where you work, and what you work on. While that degree of flexibility is great, I quickly learned that implementing some sort of structure for my workdays and weeks was important.
Without a standard routine in place, it becomes difficult to hold yourself accountable—not to mention it makes it challenging for your clients to know when they can actually get in touch with you. Plus, having a general framework for your week helps to ensure you get yourself out of the house every now and then, which helps greatly with that notorious cabin fever and isolation.
So, by all means, enjoy your newfound flexibility. But do so by finding a schedule that works best for you—rather than forgoing one completely.
4. There’s no such thing as “being your own boss.”
“It must be so nice to be your own boss!” is one of the things you’ll hear most often when you tell people you’re a freelancer (well, that and some cliché line about being able to work in your pajamas).
But, what many people (myself included when I was just getting started) fail to realize is that you don’t often feel like your own boss as a freelancer. Instead, you feel like you have numerous bosses—your clients.
Rest assured, you still have people who are expecting things from you, and they’re expecting them to be done well and on time. No, I may not have a boss physically breathing down my neck, but that doesn’t mean I work in a vacuum with nobody I have to be accountable to.
5. Balance is key.
As a freelancer, it’s your client work that pays the bills. But, there’s plenty more that you have to do outside of your billable hours.
There are administrative tasks, like accounting and answering emails. You also need to find time to market your business, including maintaining your website, posting on social media, and prospecting new clients.
There’s a lot on your plate when you’re a one-person show, and it’s often challenging to strike a balance between running your business and growing your business. So, it’s best if you can build adequate time for both into your schedule right from the get-go.
6. People don’t understand.
Like it or not, a large part of how we define ourselves is tied to our careers. When people begin small talk by asking what you do, having a traditional full-time job makes responding fairly easy.
Freelancing full-time throws a wrench into your simple, polished reply to this standard question—because, honestly, a lot of people just don’t get it (I’m still waiting on the day when my grandma finally understands what I do for a living).
It can be frustrating to feel like you constantly need to justify and explain your career choices to other people. But, ultimately, you can’t let it get you down. If you’re happy with what you’re doing, that’s really all that matters.
7. It won’t always be perfect.
When I still worked full-time in marketing, I’d spend countless hours lusting after a life as a freelance writer. “If I could just make that happen, my whole life would be perfect,” I’d think to myself.
However, making the switch made me realize that my career is a big part of my life, but it’s not my whole life. Becoming a freelancer improved my career satisfaction greatly, but that doesn’t mean it was the magic answer for unending happiness.
I still have bad days and problems I’d rather not deal with. And, I even still have those moments when sitting down at my computer feels like a rare form of torture. So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that changing careers means you’re whole life will be perfect—there’s really no such thing.
8. It’s more than worth it.
Yes, there are plenty of downsides that come along with freelancing full-time—including a few of the things I touched on, such as quarterly taxes, not getting paid vacations, and needing to fund your own benefits. But you know what? I still think the good far outweighs the bad.
I get to tackle work that challenges me and inspires me. I’m in control of my choices, my reputation, my relationships, and my income potential. And, most importantly, I get to look at my business and the things I’ve accomplished and feel proud that it’s something I built from the ground up.
Drawbacks aside, there’s no better or more rewarding feeling than that.