Years ago, when I started working with my first web design clients, most of the people in my country thought that freelancers are working like this because they are, let’s put it in ‘ugly’ words, losers who cannot find a ‘decent job’. While being an active member in various forums online, I noticed the feeling is kinda the same outside my country’s borders. Most people expected you to have a ‘nine to five’ job or at least something that resembled it. Or run a business .. and not from your bedroom.
There were pretty nasty remarks about the people who’d work from their basement, garage or [insert ludicrous location to work from], even if some of the most successful companies were actually started like this.
Back then, I was working full time as a radio DJ and got a good salary, so my web design business was just to entertain my need to spend my creative energies and earn a buck in the process. If I could turn back time, I’d clearly focus more on this and not listen to my colleagues who’d make fun of me for spending my weekends doing HTML, instead of partying like a normal 20 year old.
And then 2009 hit us like a ton of bricks and I had to pursue my new ‘career’ or starve. It was that simple. I was deep in debt, had no income perspective from the industry I ‘served’ for 10 years and the month would end with more bills to pay. I am one of the success stories, of people who are freelancing and doing very well. The business is thriving, I have a lot of spare time (when I need it) and can also focus on raising my kid. Being a new mom and still able to bring in the most money in our household is really a great thing.
Fortunately our societies have learned to show more respect to such people like me and others who do the same work. Yet, even if it wasn’t the case, I couldn’t personally care less. In my case freelancing is clearly not a ‘losers’ game anymore.
It’s true I work from my bedroom
… more precisely our ‘office’ room at home. My ‘commute’ means getting my butt from the bedroom, pass the 2 meter hallway and enter the ‘office’. I do not work in my pajamas because I don’t wear them (a t-shirt and shorts suffice), so I’m wearing some sport pants and a t-shirt (yes, it’s a different one than the one I sleep in). While it lacks the glamor of a ‘regular’ job, my work-at-home status means I don’t spend money on gas or anything transportation related. And I don’t have to buy fancy office clothing every once in a while, since it’s not needed.
I’m one of those who have no ‘proper’ schooling in my chosen specialty
My studies are in a different specialty, which I never really pursued. I don’t have a diploma in web design, so yes, I’m one of those ‘losers’ who couldn’t even be bothered to study it at the Uni. I was smart enough to learn on my own everything I needed to know and can now butt heads with the designers who spent a fortune studying this. It wasn’t easy, I had to put a lot of time and effort, but the results are not bad at all. And my increasing portfolio and earnings show it.
I keep costs down because it’s the sensible thing to do
Many of the people who’d make fun of the freelancers claimed these professionals are not ‘cool’, since their businesses don’t have a big overhead. Everyone dreams of a big down-town office, with at least 10 employees and everything else they see on TV. What they don’t know is that such things cost a lot and drive your prices up, while the profit (unless you do have a lot of clients), will go down.
In my city there were few web design studios that went bankrupt, just because the owners didn’t want to be mocked anymore so they turned their freelancing into a ‘proper’ business. We’re competing for the same clients and, honestly, you probably don’t care if I’m working on your site from a fancy office or any location in the world, as long as I have my laptop and a decent wi-fi. Again, my financial results so far show that clients care about a GOOD JOB being done and not where the provider is working from, if he/she is nicely dressed or working from the 5th Avenue.
So I like to keep my costs down, so that I don’t waste money on stuff I don’t need. It allows me to keep more money and also provide you, my clients, with a great service at a fraction of the price you’d probably pay elsewhere. I might seem like the uncool kid, but my financial independence is more important to me than what some might think about me.
It’s true, I can’t get a decent job in the industry
… and from different reasons than what you’d expect.
Months ago I was approached by a new web design company in my city. They found me online and wanted to hire me as their ‘senior’ web designer and also to do a lot of project management with their clients abroad. They liked the portfolio and we go to discuss ‘numbers’.
I told them how much I’d expect to be paid and almost heard the guy fall off his chair. It was a lot, but I’d actually lose money (if we’d consider the transportation costs and everything else that would come from me having to go to a job every day). It was still way more than he expected to pay and clearly more than people in this job get on a monthly basis. And for me it would mean losing some money (or at least increasing my costs, that would leave my wallet thinner at the end of the month.
A freelancer who’s doing well in his business might find it difficult to get hired for the same money. Sure, there are many who barely make anything, but the ones who are experienced and good in their specialty probably can’t find good positions in the industry, not because they’re idiots, but because the employers might not be willing to pay this much, especially when they can get cheaper work force anyway.
Believe it or not, I do have a company and pay taxes
Even if the way people see freelancers has changed, there’s the occasional person who thinks we don’t pay taxes. I have started my own firm back in 2007, when it was clear that I’m pursuing this seriously. I do pay taxes just like any other business. The only difference between me and the shop down the street is that I work from home and currently don’t employ anyone but myself.
Even if I run a business, it’s easier for me to say I’m a freelancer (shorter than: ‘I run a web design business, but I work alone and from my home’), so this is why I still use this word. For me it’s still a proper term, since I work ‘for myself’ (and, of course, for my web design clients).
This detail is something many people, who mock us for our career of choice, forget: most of the freelancers who are now done with testing the ‘waters’ and are dedicating time and effort to their business, are paying taxes and are already set up as a business.
To sum it up: freelancing is already a choice for many people nowadays. Not because they can’t do anything better or can’t be accepted in a ‘regular’ job, but for many this style of life is what works better. Some of us didn’t get here by choice, but we managed to make it work. We’re not losers, we’re not even lonely or unhappy. It’s just how we earn our living. And, if you know how to do it, it’s not that hard anyway.