No, not all freelancers are starving artists.
Solopreneur, moonlighter, independent contractor, freelancer… whatever you call it, more people are freelancing these days. Whether you plan on becoming your own boss or just work with freelancers, there are a few things you should know about these solopreneurs.
1. Not everyone likes to be called a freelancer.
Andrea Rotondo, a project manager and editorial specialist from New York City, wishes more independent contractors approached their craft as small-business owners rather than freelancers.
“Many people hear the word freelancer and think of the waitress who is acting on the side, or the insurance salesman who’s writing a novel on the weekends,” she says. “Thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur and treating your business as a vehicle to move your career forward is paramount to your success.”
2. Chaotic freedom appeals to us—so does professionalism.
A new Contently survey (writers were most of the respondents) found that 76 percent of them do it by choice. Sure, having to manage your own books and deal with wage instability are hurdles, but the majority of us wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, we like the thrill of it all.
In 2015 an Upwork and Freelancers Union survey reported that 60 percent started freelancing by choice, up seven percentage points from the year before. And 50 percent of freelancers would never go back to traditional work regardless of pay. At the same time, independent contractors want to be taken seriously by clients. Translation: Pay us on time and respect our time, too.
3. Freelancers aren’t just creative types.
Businesses often team up with copywriters, artists and designers for services, but there are plenty of opportunities for freelance journalists, musicians, project managers, IT professionals and accountants, just to name a few. Any service that a business can subcontract out can be filled by a freelancer.
4. We like to share.
When Von Glitschka, an Oregon-based creative director and illustrator, interviewed designers for his recent presentation at the HOW Design Conference, he found they share art on social media even if they haven’t been hired. “This is how they get most of their work,” he says. It has replaced using source books and artist representatives to acquire work.
The Contently survey results concur with this, as 65 percent reported using their social media profiles regularly. More freelancers ranked social media a 10 on a scale of one to 10 for its importance to their work.
5. Hustling is our way of life.
We have to constantly market ourselves to get new projects. “If you hate pitching and marketing, and all you want to do is write stories and not think about the business side, you will be more successful in a staff job,” Loomis says.
Rotondo cautions that freelancers must take all aspects of business seriously. “That means devoting time to marketing, admin tasks like invoicing and collections, and customer service,” she says. “It’s easy to fall into a pattern of solely focusing on your art but that actually puts you at a disadvantage.”
6. We’re good at lots of things.
Jennie Phipps, a Florida-based freelancer, spent more than 15 years as an editor in the newspaper industry before going full-time freelance for the past 20 years. The shift wasn’t a “huge leap,” Phipps says. Previous experience—even if it wasn’t on a management level—can be a huge asset to freelancers because it helps them realize all of the other things that go into producing work, such as strategy meetings and working with teams.
Though some freelancers prefer to specialize in one service or industry, Rotondo, who worked previously in book publishing, likes to do it all. “It’s also easier to avoid burnout if your projects span a range of skills,” she says.
7. Networking still counts.
Don’t skip a cocktail hour if you’re solo. “You really have to put yourself out there because if you work from home like I do, you’re alone all day long,” says Leah Ingram, a freelance writer from New Jersey.
Illima Loomis, a freelance journalist from Hawaii, thought it was important to meet magazine editors when she began, but found fellow writers to be more helpful to find assignments. “I’ve received a tremendous amount of work through referrals and tips from my writer friends,” she says.
8. Money is on our minds.
Despite owning his business for well over a decade, Glitschka says he still has a survival mindset, though he earns a good living. Because freelancers can set their own rates, for the most part, many don’t know when to turn down low-paying work because it could come at a time when they are in a lull.
“It’s so important, especially at the beginning of your freelance career, that you cultivate the right clients and take work that will ultimately help position your career where you want it to be,” Rotondo says. “Sure, you can take a job that will net you very little money, or you could use that time to network and pitch yourself to clients that will actually make a positive difference to your bottom line.”
9. We’re young—at least at heart.
Sure, there are plenty of millennials who enjoy being their own bosses, but a PwC study found that people 50 and older are about two times more likely to desire being a freelancer than those ages 18 to 34. (Maybe that’s because traditional work offers more flexibility than it did in the past.)
10. We’re not all starving artists.
When David Geer, an Ohio-based writer, went freelance, he did so for financial security. As a freelancer who fires a client or gets canned, you might lose income but you can make it up by securing another client.
“If you want to earn more, with freelancing there is no employer putting a cap or ceiling on how much you can earn or how much of the overall business earnings go to you after costs and taxes,” Geer says. “You are in control of whether you get additional work, an increase in pay, or both.”