My Life as a Freelancer

I used to have a “real” job. For over 10 years, I worked diligently on crafting my career. I attended national and state conventions, enrolled in continuing education, and pursued professional designations. I attended Rotary Club meetings and wrote opinion pieces for national trade magazines. I got up every day, put on a suit, and headed in to work – never knowing quite what to expect. I even had a plan to one day own my own business, a plan that would cost several million dollars and years of preparation.

My Life as a Freelancer

But, somewhere along the way I grew tired. You see, my job wasn’t just any regular job. I’m a mortician by trade. The money is decent, but the true rewards of the job come from being able to help those who are desperately in need of comfort. I enjoyed what I did, but the erratic and long hours – including nights, weekends, holidays – eventually took their toll on me. We were always having to plan around my difficult on-call schedule, and I was constantly having to miss family gatherings and leave important family events – like birthday parties, weddings, and Christmas celebrations. The stress of getting up at all hours of the night to help those who had died took a toll on my mood my health.

The final straw came when I had to tell my 5-year-old that I couldn’t go to a family party because I had to work. She looked at me sweetly and said, “It’ OK daddy. I understand. You can’t come to a lot of things.” I felt about 2-feet tall and realized the impact that my work was having on my family. It was a wake up moment.

Luckily, I had a plan. Years ago, my wife and I started a blog. It began as a hobby, but it quickly evolved into something more. After just 9 months, we had started earning enough income that my wife was able to quit her job. We had completely replaced her income through blog and freelance income. It was awesome.

However, once she started working full-time, she doubled what she had been making at her 9-5. So, as I continued to work in the funeral business, Holly expanded our online pursuits. After much discussion, we decided that it was time for me to join her at home, and now we make our entire living online.

What I Do

Have you ever heard that the average millionaire has more than 7 different income streams? If you ever want to make the leap into self-employment, my suggestion is that you create as many different income streams as possible. That way, if one stream ever runs dry, you have several others on which you can depend.

In addition to running our own websites, my wife and I have several different streams of freelance income flowing in. My wife focuses mainly on freelance writing, while my work is more diverse. I do some freelance writing, but I also provide editorial, social media, and website consulting services. Furthermore, our blog itself is diversified, with income coming from direct advertising, numerous affiliate sales, and other avenues.

Freelancing: The Good

My life as a freelancerPersonally, I love the freedom of being a freelancer. Sure, I don’t get the cozy employee benefits offered by a lot of 9-5 jobs. But, I don’t really want them. In the grand scheme of things, they aren’t worth it. I don’t get paid vacation, but I can take as much vacation as I want. If I need to stop working early to visit my daughter’s school, I just stop working and head over there. There is nobody to ask, nobody to tell me no. When you’re not dependent on anybody else for your income, you get to make your own rules.

Another great thing about being a freelancer is that my income is essentially uncapped. I can make as much (or as little) as I want. My income is almost entirely under my control. If I want to make more, I simply have to work harder. If I lose a client, I just go out and find another one. My income is directly related to how hard (and how smart) I work.

Freelancing: The Bad

Of course, the flip side is that there is no safety net. In some ways, working for yourself is much more stable than working for somebody else. I can never lose my job. However, there is something to be said for a steady paycheck. If my business has a bad month, I still have the same bills even though I’m not receiving the same amount of money. When you work at a job, you’re pretty much guaranteed a paycheck as long as you show up.

Furthermore, you really have to be focused to succeed. There’s nobody here telling me what to do. I don’t get in trouble with a boss if I don’t get my work done. If you aren’t careful, you can find a lot of ways to waste time as a freelancer. Furthermore, you don’t ever really get any time off. Yes, I may be able to take vacation whenever I want, but there is nobody back at the office making sure that my work gets done. That means I either have to work ahead or work while I’m gone. I usually do a combination of both.

Finding health insurance, particularly since Obamacare, is a trial in itself. For a law that was supposed to help people wanting to start their own business, the law pretty much failed. We’ve found that costs are far more expensive with less value delivered than there was before the law was passed.

Finally, being self-employed means one other major thing: more taxes. When you work a regular job, your income taxes are usually withheld from your paycheck, so you don’t really realize how much you are actually paying. That isn’t the case when you’re a freelancer. Not only do you have to cut a fat check to the government every quarter, you also have to pay both halves of the self-employment tax. So, if you aren’t prepared for that, you are in for a rude awakening.

Still, I’d never trade the ability to set my own hours and make as much money as possible for a 401k match and 10 days of PTO. Seriously, you can keep it. I can save for my own retirement, thank you very much.

Tips for Starting Your Own Freelancing Business

If you are interested in starting your own freelancing business, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Create something of value. – Before you can get paid for anything, you have to create something of value. Whether that is a product or service, people are only going to pay you if it is helping them to save time or money. You must have the fuel before you can start a fire.
  • Find a niche. – Much like creating something of value, you have to find a niche that is profitable. Providing downhill skiing lessons in Iowa is going to be a tough sell. Try cross-country skiing instead.
  • Start small. – Don’t run out and quit your job before you have a client base. Start your freelancing business as a side hustle. Build it up, make mistakes, and learn as much as you can. Once you are comfortable with the amount of money you are bringing in, then it may be time to pursue it full-time. Or, you can keep you day job and use the extra income as a bonus.
  • Be brave. – Everybody who has ever started a freelancing business has been afraid. What if nobody wants what you are offering? What if nobody comes? Ignore that fear and do it anyway. And, when you are ready, ask people to buy it. You’ll be surprised how far bravery will take your business.

Wrapping Up

I love being a freelancer, but it certainly isn’t for everybody. It comes with a lot of ups and downs and pressures that you’ll never understand until you try it. Start small, be brave, and work harder than you ever have before – then work just a little bit harder. If you do, you can easily get your freelance business up and running in no time.

Topics: Careers

5 Responses to “My Life as a Freelancer”

  1. I agree, nice article. Multiple income streams are important.

    Many articles talk about self employment and the “curse” of double FICA contributions. However, I believe that the tax deductions for many “business” expenses more than make up for it. Deductions for mileage, wi-fi, business phones, computers, supplies, trips and seminars (sometimes to exotic places) and health insurance more than make up for it IMHO. I have been self employed for over 25 years and still love it.

    • Greg Johnson

      Thanks Bruce! I love being self-employed too, and I never want to go back. However, the self-employment tax does hurt. Sure, we do get to off-set it some with deductions. But, as you know, we still have to pay for those deductions. They aren’t free, just purchased at a discount. More importantly, I’ve found that when we started paying our quarterly taxes in a lump sum rather than through a payroll deduction, it really became clear how much we are actually paying in taxes! Writing a check each quarter is a lot more concrete than just having it automatically deducted from your paycheck.

  2. Good article on the pros and cons of being a freelancer. Thanks for sharing! I agree that it is important to have different streams of income. Not only will being diverse help cushion any blows that come your way but it also helps you to expand your skill sets for future endeavors.

    • Greg Johnson

      Thanks Kelli. Even if you aren’t a freelancer, it is important to diversify your income to build long-term wealth. Too many people depend on just one stream, and – if they lose it – they are in trouble.

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