No one tells the whole truth about being a freelancer while trying to sell the idea how flawless and perfect the freelancer’s life is. But I will.

the truth about being a freelancer

I’m having really dark days when everything seems a big ugly failure.

I’m also having days when I feel infinite happiness, gratefulness and inspiration.

These two states of mind have a common reason: I’m a freelancer.

This magical word usually makes people think that I sleep until noon, then I take a bath, have a spirulina smoothie with chia seeds for breakfast and go to the closest beach bar or rooftop cafe in order to take a picture for my Instagram including a cup of latte macchiato, an avocado toastie and my laptop.

the truth about being a freelancer

While I might have such days once in a while, my daily routine doesn’t look like this at all. Sometimes being a freelancer really sucks. And let me tell you why…

The Loneliness

The Lonely Freelancer dot com – this is how I could have called my blog if I’d spent just a couple of more days brainstorming with myself. If I have to be honest, I checked the domain availability for “The Happy Hater” and “Dark But Happy”. Both were available and I almost bought one of them instead of “The Zen Freelancer”.

But where do these shades of grey come from? Are they caused by the famous Dutch weather? Can I just put the blame on the autumn depression or the winter blues… Please?

I actually know exactly where they come from. Most of the time I’m alone, from the beginning until the end of the working day. While I’m writing this, I’m sitting behind my desk in the corner of the living room. Most probably the first time I’ll say a word and use my voice is 7 hours from now.

The funny thing is, I’d never thought this might be an issue as I’ve always considered myself an introvert. I love going on walks to distant and deserted places on my own.

While I was working in an office, I always despised the small talk and the constant buzz around me. I used to put my headphones and isolate myself from the rest of the world in order to get some things done.

But back then I had a choice. I could choose not to interact with my colleagues. I could also choose to participate in a funny or inspirational conversation, to ask for advice or opinion, to delegate something or to help somebody with sharing my knowledge.

And now? Now it’s just me, myself and I.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. I love my job and I would make this choice a thousand times. But I’m sure that if you’re a freelancer, you’d recognize yourself in these lines. And if you’re still only considering whether working from home is your thing, it’s very important to be aware of this rarely mentioned aspect.

Often times you will feel lonely. That’s alright as long as you learn to recognize the darkness approaching you slowly but without any remorse.

Here’s the thing: loneliness clouds your judgement. It awakens your inner critic, your pessimistic self and all of their friends. Fear. Emptiness. Despair.

This is not the freelance life you imagined, is it?

Like any other thing, working from home has its pros and cons. Good and not-that-good sides that combined together build the complete experience. It depends on your personality and motivation whether your freelance experiment will be successful.

Related: The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make as a Freelancer

Many fellow freelancers share that going to co-working spaces solves this issue instantly. Indeed that’s a good way to meet like-minded people and feel less lonely.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of your freelance career, you most probably won’t be able to pay for a desk in a co-working space. Furthermore, there’s a possibility that there’s no co-working space around you that suits your needs.

That’s why it’s so important to put effort into meeting people. Even if you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, you should take the time to be social. Trust me, this will do you a world of good!

Are there any other not-so-popular aspects of the freelance life you should know about? Oh, yeah! Read on…

the truth about being a freelancer

The Cash

When you’re working as a freelancer, you don’t get your salary on the 1st of the month. But you do get your monthly bills!

In fact, you don’t even know how much you’ll earn this month. Especially in the beginning, the battle is for every cent. This is where things can go completely wrong.

Feeling money-related pressure leads to making decisions that cost too much and making compromises that will ruin the whole enterprise.

If you don’t earn enough you might keep working with a very difficult client instead of saying “No!” to them. This will make you hate what you’re doing and forget about all the positive aspects of being a freelancer.

Related: 7 Types of Difficult Clients and How to Deal With Them

Not having enough well-paid and pleasant projects in the beginning is perfectly normal. But don’t forget about The Loneliness! It’ll affect your judgement and in no time you might end up feeling desperate and burying yourself underneath a pile of self-pity and self-criticism.

You’ll probably accept any freelance job, even if you hate it or if it’s low-paid. But then you’ll have no mental energy and time left to invest in applying for cool projects or finding a decent client. Earning less than you need is a vicious circle.

You don’t earn enough ===> You make a compromise and work on a lousy project ===> You don’t earn enough

At the end of the day, you might give up while the wheels are turning, without giving yourself enough time to reveal your freelance potential.

You can prevent this from happening with solid planning and conscious spending.

If you already have a steady income as a freelancer, it’s crucial not to spend everything you earn. You have to be careful with your finance and try to build a buffer for unexpected costs or low periods. This is the only way to feel confident and safe even in difficult situations.

Related: 50 Little Things That Will Make You Instantly Happier

If you’re working for somebody else but you want to become a freelancer, you need to be wise.

Start preparing yourself at least 6 months in advance. And let me warn you: these 6 months will be hectic. You’ll still have your responsibilities as somebody’s employee but at the same time, you’ll invest a lot of time and effort into planting the seeds of your successful freelance career.

Following this plan won’t be easy but it’s worth it. And it’ll give you the feeling that things are under control. You won’t just jump into the unknown. Instead, you’ll lay the groundwork for a happier and more rewarding life.

Here’s what you have to include in your action plan…

  1. Try cutting your costs and saving as much money as possible.
  2. Create a profile on LinkedIn. Make a research related to the platforms for freelance jobs that you’ll use. In the meantime build your portfolio and think about the scope of services you’d like to provide as well as your rates.
  3. Get out there. Announce to your social circle your intentions to work as a freelancer. Reach out to old clients, telling them what are the possibilities to keep on working together. Contact some new potential clients and apply for freelance jobs online.
  4. Quit your job whenever you feel ready to start looking for clients and working on your own.

What if you don’t have a portfolio? Keep calm and make one. Like I did!

At the beginning of 2017, I decided to move to The Netherlands. At that point, I was working as a freelancer in my country but it was impossible for me to keep on doing this.

My portfolio was in Bulgarian and proved itself to be completely useless as no one outside of the country cared about it. Makes sense, right – why would anyone hire me if they can’t read the things I’ve written?

Therefore, years of writing went to the trash.

Why didn’t I keep working in Bulgarian? Because the Bulgarian clients pay according to the Bulgarian standard. For the protocol, the minimum wage in Bulgaria is 260 euro while in The Netherlands it is… 1580 euro!

So I had to come up with an action plan. I started working in an office in order to make some cash. After a year I could quit my job and create (and become!) The Zen Freelancer. I’ve always wanted to share my freelance experience with other people who struggle with the same things, have the same doubts and are walking on the same path as me.

After reading Elna Cain’s article “Obscure Ways Freelance Writers Can Create Samples From Scratch”, I decided that starting a blog is the perfect opportunity for me to make my dream come true and to build a portfolio in English so that I can find new clients and start working as a freelancer again.

Even if you don’t have a portfolio or the one you have doesn’t suit your current situation, you can always create a couple of samples.

It doesn’t matter what your niche is – imagine you’re working for an actual client. Set the goals of the project and give your best while working on it. Then use the samples when applying for projects or cold-pitching potential clients.

The Sick Leave

If you have a contract for full-time employment and you feel sick in the morning, what would you do? Most probably you’ll call your boss, write an email to the HR department or do whatever the company’s guidelines for getting sick leave require.

You don’t feel well, you don’t go to work.

This will have little to no effect on your salary. Maybe you’ll experience some stress because of delaying a project you’re currently working on, but surely there’s somebody to cover for you and do your job if it’s that urgent.

If you’re a freelancer and you feel sick in the morning, well, let’s just be honest, you’ll work anyway. Unless the sickness is so severe that you can’t leave the bed, you’ll ignore your body’s signals and you’ll push yourself.

The reason for this is simple: every day off is less money at the end of the month. Freelancers often see every hour during which they don’t work as a missed opportunity. Imagine not working for a whole week because of the flu… Impossible!

The issue here is that if you don’t take care of yourself, things can get really bad. So bad that you won’t be able to take care of anything else!

In case of physical discomfort or mental tiredness, just take a break. Spend the day on the couch or in bed. Try to think about it not as time lost but as time invested in your well-being.

Related: 8 Simple Ways to Take Care of Yourself

The Vacation

Most of the freelancers I’ve been talking to share that they often work in the evening and on the weekends. Instead of part-time, they’re working overtime.

And going on a vacation… What was that again?

Of course, theoretically, you can afford working from all over the world. You’ve probably heard this a thousand times: the only things you need are your laptop, a power socket and a good Internet connection.

But most of the people find it really difficult to go on a vacation with their partner, family or friends and spend half of the time working. Furthermore… then this isn’t really a vacation, is it?

It requires good planning skills to take some time off. You can’t just say to your clients “Next two weeks I won’t be available at all”. This way you’ll ruin your reputation of a reliable and trustworthy freelancer.

What you can do instead is plan your vacation a couple of months in advance. This way you’ll be able to finish all of your current projects without engaging in anything new. In any case, inform your clients that you’ll be offline for a certain period. And try to take a real break from your work.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to an Effective Digital Detox

To wrap it up, being a freelancer can be tough. You’ll be on your own “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health”. There will be months with little to no income. You’ll most probably be tempted to be online during your vacation in order to be on top of things.

But it can also be extremely rewarding and inspiring! And if you’re tired of being a tiny part of the well-oiled corporate machine, you should definitely give it a try.

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the truth about being a freelancer