The answer to this honestly varies week-by-week. The hardest part about being a freelancer is ensuring work continues to flow in, so that you’re never really without anything to do. Sure, the volume of work will be different each week, so will the deadlines associated with each project. I just had less than a week to complete a 6,500 word project that I was working on until the very last minute, while another project I have for 2,200 words isn’t due for a month. Because of all these variables, working as a freelancer is full of unpredictability.
If work is a little slow
If I find myself with time where nothing is urgently due, I’m happy to devote a little time to all the other parts of my life. The house is a little cleaner, laundry gets done, errands are run, and I get to spend a little more time hanging out with my family. I also might get an hour or two to even relax or work on some of my own personal projects. All of this is really nice, but when work is slow, the money is low and too many days without anything to do can get a little stressful. That’s why it’s important to budget for the worst case scenario. As a freelancer, you have to face the reality that you might have a month where hardly any money comes in. If this happens, how do you pay the bills? Having enough savings to cover for a slow month is essential to making it work as a freelancer.
If work is just right
Most of the time I’m at this level, where I’ve got at least one project going and have something to do each day. On average when work is just right, I’m spending 10-15 hours per week on projects. This still allows me to have a balance, working during the time when my kids are in school or are asleep, so that I’m free to be with them in the afternoons and early evenings. The balance shifts a little more toward using free time to work though and typically the errands and chores may take a little longer to get done or may need to happen on weekends. I’ll even try to squeeze in that trip to the grocery store before my kids get tired and moody.
Work is also just right when you’re earning enough money to cover your monthly expenses. This can take a while to get to, since it’s estimated to take a year to build up enough clients to be fully profitable. Have a realistic dollar amount in mind for what you need to bring in each month to be comfortable, but realize you might have to make some lifestyle changes while things level out. I would suggest keeping track of your monthly net income - what actually comes in each month - over the first year so you can see if any patterns develop. There might be a notoriously slow month (like December or April) where you know work won’t be just right and you can plan ahead.
If work is hectic
When I’m so busy, I say a quick thank you for my success before the juggling begins. The first thing to get tossed out is my free time, so I have extra hours to work at night after the kids go to bed. I also might use time in the afternoons to squeeze in an hour of work.
It’s just hard, and there’s always an internal conflict when I hit this stage. I want to be busy, to help contribute financially to my family as well as keep my brain active by working on a variety of projects, but at the same time I don't want to take on so much that I worry about meeting deadlines or I feel like I’m sacrificing all the benefits that being a freelancer has afforded me.
I get to this point because it’s hard to say ‘no’ when asked by my clients to work. I’m still very much in the stage of proving myself to my clients, building relationships where they know my work is quality and timely. The more I can show what a dependable freelancer I am, the more often they’ll remember to pass work my way when it comes up. I’m not sure I’ll ever say ‘no’ to a project, but I am learning to push back a little when deadlines aren’t realistic.
The best parts about being a freelancer are the schedule and the opportunity. I keep my own schedule, working primarily in the mornings and evenings so I can spend the afternoons with my family. This does mean some nights I work right until I go to sleep with no time to unwind, and some weekends include a few hours of work here and there, but it’s worth it to have my ideal schedule each and every day. The opportunity for me translates into finally being able to only do the work I enjoy versus having a full-time job that’s a little bit of what I love, a lot of detail managing, and way too many meetings. I like to work, to produce a polished product, which for me now is a written piece of content my client will get excited about using. As I progressed in my full-time career, the opportunities to write came less and less, so I’m extremely happy to be back doing what I love for my career in a way that leaves me time for all the other things I love.
Photo Credit: Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash