The Truth About Freelancing.
Freelancing is the dream, isn’t it?
The basic idea is: you get to travel the world, work on your time, mix’n’match assignments, and be your own boss. Companies get a revolving pool of nomadic experts, complete with fresh new ideas, but without the hassle or commitment of a full-time employee.
Everybody wins, right?
However, here are 3 things I wish someone had told me before I decided to become a freelancer:
1. Be prepared for companies/people to steal your work
Magazines, newspapers, and publishers – the media, as a whole is in trouble.
Starved of revenue streams, an oversaturated market, Trump, and dwindling readership, they’ve become cannibals. Most editors/writers don’t care who they overstep or copy, so long as their job is safe.
After months of applying for any and every opening, following them on social media, and sending messages, that magazine that you’ve been itching to work for finally responds.
You’re over the moon and after hours of painstaking research with your trusty side-kick cup of coffee, you have a few killer pitches. The meeting goes incredibly well and they tell you that you’re ‘in’.
Pitch after pitch and you’re yet to be given any work. They’re nice about it though and send apologetic emails with explanations which make sense – their current budget won’t allow for your ideas.
Fair enough, right?
You’re unfazed and take their monthly issue guidelines and keep on persevering in the hopes that your new ideas will get picked because they take their financial constraints into account.
But what’s this?
Their latest edition has just been published. You see your article, style, picture, and topic, in their magazine, only it’s been written by their staff writer. You hear nothing from them, till closer to the next deadline, when they invite you to pitch to them again.
I’ve known people to quit pitching after this sort of behavior persists, others take to social media to vent and expose editors who do this. But the truth is, there is no simple solution except for exercising restraint.
Accept it now and save yourself the box of tissues, it will happen to you. But it will teach you an important lesson – never reveal all of your cards.
I have a rule of three when it comes to pitching and I never send editors that I don’t particularly know more than a 4 sentence summary per pitch. If they want more, they’ll have to actually pay for it.
On the plus side, I’ve gotten so good at telling when an editor/person is dodgy (that’s British slang for unreliable).
2. Be prepared for companies/people to make up reasons to withhold pay
People will rarely fire you with a, “you’re amazing, but I just want to go ahead and fire you”, the same goes for pay. Barring misconduct on the part of the employee, people will usually create issues, or inflate existing problems, once they’ve decided to sever a professional relationship. Once this happens, they justify withholding pay as part and parcel of the deal.
You find a company that wants to give you part time work, they understood from the get go that you have other commitments. Over time, they become more and more demanding, adding on tasks that were never part of the initial job description. You love your job and the security it brings, so, in order to accommodate them, you start working all hours of the night, to make sure that all of your tasks are completed. Strained but determined to show them your commitment, you figure with clear communication and good old fashioned elbow grease, they’ll appreciate your efforts. Your supervisor praises your dedication and tells you almost daily, that she is happy with your work. It’s a victory for the underdog, your hard work isn’t going unnoticed.
Right. You get a call out of the blue, from HR informing you that you’re being let go because you’ve not been working ‘hard enough’. Shocked and understandably hurt, you send over the communications between you and your supervisor showing the contrary. You have proof, doesn’t that count for something?
Wrong. HR has a statement from said supervisor, labeling you a slacker. There’s nothing more to say, auf Wiedersehen.
After all the dust has settled, you find out that your very-same ex-supervisor has had a promotion of sorts, thus absolving your role, and the company has downsized. You’re actually OK with it all, till your final paycheck comes and there’s a bit of money missing, what I like to call ‘goodbye tax’.
The saying ‘good riddance to bad company’ could not be more fitting but it doesn’t make it any easier. You could chase them up and cause yourself a lot of grief but the truth is most country’s employment laws haven’t really caught up with the concept of a gig economy.
Count your blessings that you’re no longer under their yoke or have to deal with such toxicity.
If you do decide to chase them up, here’s where having detailed written records come in handy. I always make sure that I keep all my emails and communications online as well as offline because people tend to sing a different tune, once they realized you have a written record.
3. Be prepared for companies/people to expect everything for nothing
With increased competition, tags like ‘social media marketing gurus’ or ‘digital nomads’, the higher ups are taking digital-based roles for granted. Try as you might to explain, your boss may never really appreciate the effort it takes, to take the company’s twitter account from a paltry 11 followers to 1,000, without any help from paid advertising.
[this one’s raw because it was recent]
You’re on an ‘internship’ for (code for ‘they don’t want to pay much/at all’) and after drafting social media marketing plans, implementing strategies and creating suggestions for how to increase their status, your boss is unimpressed.
In his mind, he expects the company to have a million followers on Instagram by yesterday, all the while refusing to spend a cent to achieve this. You’ve tried everything, met bloggers, events, researched and pitched for crowdfunding, and held focus groups, but you’ve hit that wall and it’s now time for actual money to be spent. Every time the issue comes up, he says, “tell them to do it for exposure”, while chomping down on an exorbitantly priced cupcake (courtesy of the company card, of course).
Eventually, you lose all passion and hand in your notice, only to be told that you won’t be paid either, because he can’t figure out what you’ve been doing this whole time.
I’m against internships.
Or at least the kind that are just real, full-time jobs masquerading as opportunities for experience.
In the last decade or so, companies have caught on to the idea that they can get free/discounted labor (even charge you for the privilege), teach you nothing, provide nothing, but get lots out of desperate adults and call it an internship.
Avoid this kind of job at all costs.
There are plenty of jobs out there that are happy to train you. Of course, you’ll be compensated modestly, but look for positions where you really can climb. Because be aware that for a lot of these companies, the fact that you’re free unwaged labor, means that you’re expendable… Feel free to go in, but don’t take it personally when, ultimately, they don’t value you.
Even then, I say, ‘Go for it!’
Now, while this might sound like a criticism of freelancing, I’m still in love with the freedom it brings. I won’t, however, pretend it’s all sunshine and beach-front huts. You’ll meet some amazing people, get to experience some fantastic things, travel more than your friends ever could, and generally have an appreciation for hard work and deadlines that no job could ever teach.
I wouldn’t have my life play out any other way, but I wish that there was somebody who’d told me about these three things and buffered me from the heartache that they cause.
I’ve stuck with 3, but I’d love to hear of any more you might add to this list.
Please feel free to leave them in the comment box below.