By Caitlin Kelly
A recent survey by the Freelancers Union is interesting — the New York-based group asked 1,100 people what they think of their freelance life — 88 percent said they would not even take a full-time job if it were offered to them.
How do we know? Our new report we’re releasing today, “How to Live the Freelance Life — Lessons from 1,000 Independents (PDF)” surveyed more than 1,100 freelancers nationwide about their work, money, lifestyle, and values.
The report offers a remarkably clear portrait of America’s fastest-growing workforce.
The biggest takeaway: Nearly 9 in 10 independent workers (88%) would keep freelancing even if they were offered a full-time job.
With that level of freelancer pride, no wonder freelancing is booming. Half the workforce may be independent by 2020. Freelancers Union’s own membership is up 410% since 2007 — and the number of millennial members has surged 3000% in that time.
Here’s a useful 11-point checklist for those hoping to try the freelance life, by writer Laura Shin.
One of the things I find intriguing about freelancing full-time is how differently we each do it.
The basics — earning reliable income every month — never change. We pay the same prices for gas and groceries and clothing as people with paychecks — who may also get raises, bonuses and commission.
But editors sometimes kill a story and sometimes for capricious reasons, which costs us income; it grabbed $3,000 out of my pocket in the past nine months. Not fun!
We only get what we negotiate.
I read Laura’s list and I don’t do several things she does:
— My only time measurements are a calendar and the clock, not the cool and efficient apps she and others use to track their time and rates.
— I use a line of credit when people pay me late, or stiff me, instead of relying on short-term savings, (although I usually keep six months’ worth of expenses in the bank for emergencies.)
— I also have no regular monthly gigs, so I start most months with no idea what I’ll make. I have to pull in $2,000 just to meet each month’s expenses — anything after that buys haircuts, clothes, entertainment, vacations. Nor does it cover costly surprises like last month’s $500 car repair bill or last year’s $4,000 (yes) replacement of the head gasket.
It’s also very difficult now to pull $4,000+/month within journalism when most digital sites offer $300 to $500 for a reported story so I seek out print markets paying $1,500 per piece or more instead.
The ideal, for me, is a $4,000+ assignment I can lavish a few weeks’ attention on exclusively but which also allows me some time for marketing smarter, deeper stories just like it. I dislike jumping constantly from one thing to the next, even though maintaining cash-flow — i.e. a steady supply of payment — demands it.
Unlike Laura, I have a husband with a good job and steady income; he will also have a defined benefit pension, which reduces our need to save quite as aggressively for retirement. (We still do it anyway!)
Here’s a powerful and depressing story from The Wall Street Journal (aka capitalism’s cheerleader) about why Americans are unhappy with work/life balance — as they have so little of it!
And another story about why so many employers are choosing to hire freelancers.
Ellen, a new Broadside follower, writes here about why she quit her job to go freelance — doing data entry — and is loving her new freedom.
And this, from The Guardian, about the absolutely desperate financial reality of being an author — only 11.5 percent of whom earned their living solely from writing. Their median income? A scary 11,000 pounds — or $18, 826 — which actually sounds high to me!
This New York Times piece — about how much freelance writers really make — got a lot of traction:
That answer may be not be as much as some might hope, at least at the outset. Ms. Dieker, who also posts her monthly freelance income on her Tumblr, says that she’s hoping to make $40,000 gross this year, but that other freelancers routinely ask her how she manages to make that much when they’re bringing in much less. She also notes that she’s making a lot more than when she started out: “Like any other career, you grow it.”
I’ve had staff jobs and enjoyed them. I’ve had colleagues and enjoyed them. I do miss a steady, 100% reliable paycheck.
And I have yet to earn the equivalent of my last staff salary. I’m not sure I ever will, much as I try.
But you also get used to making your own schedule. You get used to seeking out clients you enjoy, not tolerating and sucking up to your coworkers or bosses, at worst, just to stay employed.
And watching so many journalism staffers lose their jobs? Not cool! When freelancers lose a client, and it happens, we just go find another one, or several.
Freelancers, as the survey proves, cherish our freedom to manage our time; while writing this blog post I also had time to make soup, marinate salmon for dinner and do a little light housework. My husband was working from home that day, so we also had some time to chat and enjoy lunch together.
I started my workday at 7:30 a.m., wrote and filed one story; started work on another and cold-called an editor I’d pitched last month. We had a great chat and — cha-ching! — she may actually have a $4,000 assignment for me sometime later this year.
I’ve already nailed down an assignment in England for January 2015 and am discussing one in Argentina. Few staff jobs offer that kind of range.
But you must hustle! As business guru Seth Godin writes here, on his blog, if you can’t sell what you do, you’ll never make a penny at it — no matter your education, hard work or talent.
Would you prefer to be freelance?
Or do you like working for someone more?