Last month I received three very similar e-mails. What they had in common was a disheartened and disheartening plea for advice on how to fix their sagging freelance careers.They were all bright people. They were all more than competent at the services they were offering. Since they had been successful in the past, all had been down the marketing road before and knew the rules. Yet somehow, as their businesses were in a bit of a down period, they were feeling “the fear”. So much so, they were even considering going over to the dark side of corporate employment.
There is not a freelancer alive, yours truly included, who doesn’t go through this from time to time. Every once in a while, a recruiter will approach me, dangling the possibility of a fat paycheck and lifetime benefits, and I am tempted by the siren call of security. Then I think of my stomach. Having been there before, I know I would have a knot in it the first day I stepped on the elevator to go to my new job. That snaps me back to reality right quick. So if you have always hated an office environment you should resist too. Listen to your gut….it gives you a very strong signal of who you really are.
When you get discouraged, it is all too easy to look through the wrong end of the telescope where possibilities seem smaller, not larger. Look through the right end, and you will be reassured that if you have developed any sort of track record as a freelancer, you will always have options: freelance or corporate or some combination of the two.
If you absolutely must go to the dark side, you can do so, for however long it might be necessary. But you will always have the skills and choice of going back to freelancing when the timing is right. So you have an advantage over nine-to-fivers who at some time will find themselves outside looking in. But then discover they have none of the skills needed to sell themselves in the market place.
So as you turn your telescope around, the first thing to remember is this. Periods of ebb and flow of confidence and customers don’t usually relate to the ups and downs of the economy. In fact, freelancers have the advantage, regardless of how the tide is running. In tough economic times, when corporations and governments downsize, they quickly discover they have foolishly gotten rid of their corporate history, memory and experience. This particularly holds true in the matter of public affairs and communications which are usually the first to feel the axe when the budget cutters come around. The first time a crisis hits, they scramble to find someone in their downsized state to handle internal and external communications. And guess what? They have no one to turn to, so they quickly go outside the company to fill the gap.
Conversely in good economic times they start hiring again, but usually they are then so busy that they still need freelancers to pick up the overload.
So the first good news is that as a freelancer, you need never be unemployed.
Think I am looking through rose-coloured glasses? I have been freelancing for over twenty years. Through very good economic times and bad. And I have always made a living. Most years a very nice one too.
There are other virtues to the freelance life. I don’t have to go to needless, endless, time-wasting meetings. I am not tied up in pointless bureaucratic rules that ham-string my ability to get the job done. There are no office politics. I like my clients, and they like me. And bless their souls they pay their bills on time.
So, that’s the second piece of good news. We can be scared from time to time, but we are never bored.
I know, I know. If it’s a fearful period you are in, it’s a fearful period. It’s easy to sink into a pool of discouragement. So, what to do next you are saying.
The first thing you need to do is to take a few reality checks, by asking and answering three questions. Are you offering a niche service that you can sustain a passion for over the long haul? If you aren’t passionate about what you do, why should your clients be passionate about you? Second. Is there a need for what you do? And third, is there a market for what you offer?