I’ve been wanting to share a scary transparency post for a few weeks but the fear of sounding self-preoccupied has made me reluctant to do so. I’m hopeful that if it reassures even one person that reads it, I can exonerate myself and warrant the rant! (warning long-winded essay imminent)
After spending a lot of time chatting to friends who are either at the beginning of a solo startup venture, or in the midst of a heavy self-induced workload with no time to eat, or have no workload and nobody to invoice and subsequently wallowing in a crisis of faith.......or they are asking me advice on how to scope out the world as self-employed.......the desire to share has been compelling.
I don’t believe I know a single freelancer that figured everything out first time round and still never struggles with work-life balance, or getting work, or getting paid or not knowing which direction to take. And what I thought were the tough questions are actually the most straight forward: What do I like doing best? What am I good at? How do I get more of that sort of work? And my favourite ‘how can that the thing that i like doing that I’m good at actually make me some money? I have learned the hard way how not to freelance. I’ve had instances when I’ve been working double the hours I’m likely to get paid. I’ve agreed to projects that I found laborious because they pay okay. I’ve said yes to an unrealistic workload. I’ve become ill and has no leeway or buffer whatsoever and had to work from bed (actually crying like a little kid feeding myself half-price Terry’s chocolate orange like it’s one of my 5 a day). I’ve been rejected...or even worse-ignored by potential clients or even clients I’m working with. I’ve chased money and justified the chase with the notion that ‘it’s just the way it is if you freelance.’
All of these struggles I could have prevented if I’d trusted my worth. I think a lot of creatives feel that doing what they love is an indulgence when in fact, they’ve grafted like crazy to make their passion into a business. And businesses are not fun but they have rules and contracts and people pay for their services and agree to those rates of pay. Stop treating your livelihood as a hobby. it’s a JOB! It’s a switch in mentality. A switch I’d say for me remained analogue for a long time, but that’s not to say you can’t vary your rates and approaches accordingly, it’s all relative of course……..a large company with a big fat budget will likely say yes to your top rate compared with an independent local startup with little to zero budget……...and volunteering your services for free is a lovely thing to do, but don’t feel obliged and do it IF YOU CAN…... to quote Britney Spears ‘I don't need permission, make my own decisions that's my prerogative’. If I agree to doing something at a discounted price, make sure my reasons are decent ones and that I’m happy about that decision and not bitter! It has been a scrimmage but I think I finally decided to take myself seriously. And I don’t mean becoming some kind of snooty theoretical artist with a superiority complex. I’m far too low brow, a term I’ve learned to embrace. What I can do is to treat my skills as tools for a business. I can say no to projects I have no desire to do. And I can stop feeling like an impostor. I can be more binary. I can feel confident stating that ‘Freelancing isn’t free’ (a fantastic law made effective in NYC since 2017) CHECK IT OUT HERE
It’s daunting. I am one woman with a bunch of strange ideas. Why the hell do any of them matter? What is the point in me and my odd work? Does anyone even care? Although these are ongoing and predominantly internal inquisitions, .they are entirely crippling to anybody just playing with concepts and trying something out………Does a kid analyse why they are fabricating a domestic scenario involving a fluffy rhino eating a soap off a table made out of cardboard loo rolls? Do they agonise over how productive that hour was financially? Kids are good at ‘playing’ and most adults aren’t. We just forgot how to do it because it’s drilled into us that play is a time-wasting activity. Play and art is such a great marriage, why abandon it? Play was one of my reasons for creating an Instagram account, sharing ideas and unfinished pieces to test the waters, this playing about has actually lead to paid work believe it or not. Little stories and video clips of my work process are snippets of my freelancing life I used to consider wholly dull for anyone other than myself, but these play times are often what ignite an idea either for myself or perhaps somebody viewing with a commission brewing. (there is a rhyming couplet in there somewhere)
I have tried out so many different avenues of creating an adequate cash-flow to try and invest back into myself. And more times than not they don’t work. In the past this has been a hurdle I’ve turned my back on. But the enjoyment I’ve experienced before the hurdles is second to none. Self doubt of your ability and your significance creeps in like an infection, it stifles your creativity and begins to spread to other areas of your life. You feel paralysed and ridiculous, especially when everybody around you seems to be doing okay.......they are affording their bills, they have a social life, they replace crotch-less garments once in a while (not sexy garments), they know when weekends occur! And you’re there trying to make a meal out of half a jar of honey and a broccoli stalk......I have felt guilty working on side projects because it’s not a guaranteed money maker, and yet these personal expressions of what floats my boat are precisely what got my arse motivated to carve out a freelance path. So, there is a positive vibe incoming, I promise. For anybody believing that freelance is a romantic walk in the park.......it’s more like a sweaty marathon. So, here is how I’m currently divvying up my time in the following ways; I cycle three days a week which pays for a roof and to feed my belly. This is a job I’ve done for over two years, keeping me fit and sociable and tends to the masochistic side. Cycling is also very meditative for me and I’ve spent many hours lost in podcasts-my personal recommendation right now because it’s super duper topical is BEING FREELANCE.
Freelancing can be solitary (which I enjoy by the way), but it’s not healthy to spend chunks of your time on a one-sided conversation with a canvas. I spend two days a week working on commercial design work, some of which I can share and some licensed or cooperate which I cannot. Some work is entirely remote, some is on my doorstep. Then, the rest of the time is (supposedly) dedicated to commissioned work and to my personal practice, to @karisgonegonzo. To creating new work or attempting passive income ideas. And a lot of those hours are not even doing the fun part, they involve marketing (which I’m trying to make more fun) and a lot of admin and organisation and decision making and budgeting (never fun). It has taken me years to reach a point that I allow myself this personal practice and I’m really excited, regardless of how successful it may or may not be. I have minimal outgoings and a great support network. A tectonic credit to my partner in particular who has been learning (with great curiosity I’m sure), what it is like living and working with a girl that paints suited flamingos and birthday badgers until 4am but forgets to eat or ever do laundry........ You don’t have to be alone in your journey and it’s okay to admit you’ve reached a brick wall, somebody somewhere will have a bulldozer you can borrow, but you have to let them know and they may need to drive it for you to avoid collateral damage to others and yourself!
This business has finally matured into an adult (minus the difficulty prioritising domestic chores) after many uncertain and angst-ridden teenage years. And to all of my delicious friends that have confided in me, a huge thank you; Firstly for kindly assuming I have any wisdom whatsoever, and secondly for the reassurance that we all require reassurance. Let’s make stuff and do stuff and try it out. And when it goes tits up, re-evaluate, tweak and have another shot. And most importantly tell each other how we feel about it, ask questions and share the crappy bits too. I have consistently screwed up, but proud of my stubbornness to do so. Keep doing the things.