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Suzanne Bowness

Long Live Long-time Freelancing

Illustration of person with headphones, their back to us, working at a desk with a desktop computer. There's an arc floor lamp to their right and a potted plant on the ground to their left.
Illustration of person with headphones, their back to us, working at a desk with a desktop computer. There's an arc floor lamp to their right and a potted plant on the ground to their left.
Aleksandra Sabelskaia © 123RF.com

My name is Sue, and I’m a long-time, full-time freelancer. While most of the time I’m in the trees of my business, once in a while I zoom out to the forest and think about how different my way of working has been from that of other people.

For 20 years, I’ve been the only one who cares that I’m at my desk at 9 a.m.

For 20 years, I have worked for people I’ve never met in person. Multiple bosses instead of one. The freedom to take the afternoon off to run an errand without clearing it with anyone (along with the harsh stop on cash flow that accompanies it).

Having spent the majority of my career working this way, I’m clearly Team Freelance. So, here’s why it’s been so great for me, and also why it might not work for everyone.

Autonomy

The pandemic-driven trend toward working from home (WFH) has provided the world with a window into a major benefit of freelancing. Friends newly cleared to WFH tell me they can get a lot more focused time, and often have fewer meetings. I just nod. Of course, temper this with the fact that many have to also deal with the challenge of family and especially kids at home. For others, the isolation factor is a downer. Yet many offices are facing arguments in favour of hybrid models, suggesting that many more are on board with the benefits of WFH.

For freelancers, the autonomy extends even further than occasional WFH days. Those who work for a single employer still need to ask for time off, whether it be to go to the dentist or take a vacation. Not me. You also may not have a lot of choices when it comes to your assignments. If your boss decides you should be focused on editing the meeting minutes when you’d rather tackle the annual report, you’re on the minutes. If I have a client that makes me edit meeting minutes? I can choose to “fire the client,” in freelance speak. A difficult decision, but also freeing.

On the downside of being a freelancer, clients can fire us too. Or they may just run out of work. Or they may ignore our emails when we try to pitch them. If the total upside is autonomy, the downside description of freelancing is “100 per cent commission.” Yes, a strong referral network and some dedication keep the pipeline mostly full, but even the most experienced freelancer occasionally experiences the famine end of the feast-famine cycle — and that can be scary. Income reserves and marketing, even when you’re busy, help to balance out the ups and downs.

Variety

While a key to freelancing these days — especially for newcomers — is to pick a niche, I find there’s still an engaging variety of assignments and clients that are possible even within that. I can be working on a blog post, a marketing plan and a profile all on the same day. I have insight into how different organizations plan their communications, making me well-positioned to consult on strategy — because I’ve seen so many approaches. I’ve also been able to embrace variety in my work life; for example, I have taught at a college part-time for many years, and the flexibility of freelancing has allowed me to set aside part of my day for that.

Self-direction

Related to both autonomy and variety, the fun thing about owning a business is that you can try out new things. Want to build a micro-agency? Nobody to stop you. Try out a new niche? Go for it. Each year, I set myself a few new goals to try out in my business, whether they be new types of writing to learn (infographics, as we know them, were not a thing 20 years ago) or new tools that will help make my processes more efficient. I find this entrepreneurial aspect exhilarating, to always be thinking about new income streams and ways to grow.

The downside to self-direction is sometimes the world is not prepared for your greatness 🙂 and new directions are not always what you think they will be. Or sometimes the tools take a lot longer to learn than you thought.

Overall, what I’ve learned as a long-time freelancer is that I want to continue freelancing for another 20 years. It would probably take a call from The New Yorker to make me return to regular employment (my phone line is open). I’m looking forward to many more years of experimentation, variety and fun.

___

Previous post from Suzanne Bowness: A Little Help From My Friends: Starting a Mastermind Group

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About the author

Suzanne Bowness

Suzanne (Sue) Bowness is a long-time full-time freelancer who focuses on creating long-form content for a variety of clients at her business Codeword Communications. She recently launched a new brand to help other freelancers connect at The Feisty Freelancer.

7 Comments on “Long Live Long-time Freelancing”

  • Janice Dyer

    says:

    What a great post, Sue! I’ve been freelancing for almost 25 years and I agree with everything you said. Couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

  • After 26 years freelancing, I too agree with all of this. A couple more benefits: no commute!! and no office gossip, politics or dress code. Also no surprise cakes from your co-workers on your birthday, but I can live with the tradeoff. I’m now tapering down my workload in a very gradual move to retirement, which is not often possible as an employee.

    • You are my twin! I am at 27 years of exclusively freelancing. I love the phrase “tapering down my workload” and will borrow it, thank you. I’m also easing into, well, semi-retirement (hey, I make good money editing, and I enjoy _most_ of the projects), also gradually, and you have pointed out this is another great benefit of freelancing: self-directed retirement on a long slow trajectory. My father worked as a consultant to age 84 (only illness stopped him), and he called it “working at my own pace.”

    • Janice Dyer

      says:

      So true! My favourite part of freelancing is the flexibility that it gives me. I so appreciated it when my kids were young, and I’m appreciating it even more as my parents get older. And being able to gradually ease into retirement is another bonus!

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    “The freedom to take the afternoon off to run an errand without clearing it with anyone.” I loved my freelance years. Virginia Durksen and I used to say that when you were freelance and working from home, the sun was always shining and the coffee was always good. The farmers, such as my parents, put it another way: “You can work whenever you want, as long as it is 20 hours a day.”

  • Naomi Pauls

    says:

    Hello from one LTF to another! In my 25th year and still enjoying the autonomy and variety, as you described so well.

    I agree it takes a certain go-getter mindset to succeed as a freelancer. Discipline and optimism help. You can’t rely on others to boost your self-esteem (you have to pat yourself on the back). I’ve been lucky to also have an understanding and supportive family.

  • Viola Funk

    says:

    As someone who has freelanced but prefers in house (especially now that I can work from home pretty much 100% of the time), Naomi’s “you have to pat yourself on the back” reminded me of the phrase my mom would append to that: “hard enough and low enough and often enough.” 😉 Kudos to all the freelance lifers out there. Even though it’s not for me, I certainly understand the appeal.

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