Ask me if I can get something done, and I’ll typically reply, “I’m a freelancer; the answer to everything is YES!” It’s a bit of a joke, but also not really. First, because I actually am a freelancer, but more importantly because the answer really is always YES!
That’s not to say that I can do everything, because, of course, I cannot. Rather, it is part of my freelancer’s mindset… my commitment to getting things done and making things happen. When I encounter asks or tasks that are beyond my very ample skillset, I set off to find the person who can and will capably meet the challenge.
With that in mind, here are a few other things to know about what it means to earn your keep as a freelancer, and why you have to be honest with yourself in determining if it is the right path for you:
A freelancer’s job is just as much about booking the next gig as it is about doing the actual work. You might be the sharpest tool in the graphic design shed, but unless you can be an equally sharp self-marketer and salesperson, you may not see the next paycheck coming.
You have to know your worth and be comfortable — and never apologetic! — about stating it. Being negotiable is great; it shows your understanding of budgetary limitations, but never, ever negotiate with yourself. State your price and stick with it until/unless someone explicitly asks you to do better. Then, if you are inclined to do so, it’s fine to reply with a question such as, “What were you hoping to get it done for?” or “What’s your budget for this work?”
While freelancing affords you tremendous freedom with regards to the types of projects you accept, the people and clients with whom you collaborate, and the work schedule you maintain, there is a monetary cost for that autonomy in terms of tax obligations, healthcare benefits, and paid time off. You may earn more money per hour than your peers on a W2, but while they will get paid when they stay home on Thanksgiving Day, you will not.
For some freelancers working from home is de rigueur, but if not, you must be prepared to follow the work where it happens, even if that is far from where you live. If you don’t, someone else will. Recently I worked on a film that shot numerous scenes in the very building I live in, but that luxury was a first in all my years of working in film and video production. More often, I have had to travel long distances even when a hotel room was not a guarantee.
Nothing brings more success to a freelancer than word-of-mouth recommendations, but in order to earn that good report, you must be more than just good at your job. You must also be personable, resourceful, and comport yourself as a professional at all times. If you are also able to anticipate and address needs, problems, and issues, rather than just responding to them, you will be the person whom others recommend. When I need to hire crew for my production company, I start with my go-to list, but when all my gaffers are booked — they are very good at what they do! — it is the gaffers they recommend who I will hire, and whose names I will add to my crew list if they deliver with the same excellence.
My mother taught me that there is a cost to everything in life; it is just a matter of how you pay. Most of my friends have established jobs with steady paychecks and comforting benefits. That’s nice. But the truth is that many of them do not love those jobs and are not thrilled to spend five out of seven days per week doing that work. That’s their cost. I, on the other hand, have loved nearly every job I have worked on for decades. That’s nice. But the truth is that I have gone long periods without a paycheck and have felt overwrought at times by the effort I must continually put in to securing work. That’s my cost. You get to choose your own. I hope this article helps you choose wisely and with eyes wide open.