The truth about freelancing: sue yourself!

It’s a lovely fantasy: you work when you want to work and make lots of money. It’s stress-free, and you’re your own boss. Freelancers are so lucky! Yeah, sure! The truth is that most successful freelancers should probably sue themselves.

Before I continue, don’t get me wrong: I did this to myself, and I’m working on solving the problem. But I’ve been doing that for three years, and so far, I haven’t been too successful.

Freelance writer working week

How many hours do freelancers work every week? I’m rating my average work week at around 66 hours. When I worked in a regular job that was 45 hours. Looking at figures from around the world we have:

  • Americans clocking 32.76 hours a week on average
  • French workers averaging 28.38 hours a week
  • The US worker putting in more hours than those in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands
  • Japan clocking in about the same hours as the US on average

The hours other freelancers work varies. I know those who will write only two articles a day. I also know many who work hours very similar to mine.

Days off

In my line of work, even having a Sunday off is pretty rare. As for public holidays, what’s that? I take Christmas and New Year, and that’s about it. Boxing day and all the others are just workdays. Paid leave? Obviously not. Unpaid leave? I managed to reduce my workload to half-days for my landmark attempt at a holiday this year.

It’s a good thing I like my job, isn’t it?

Your own boss

Yup, I’ll grant you that, at least up to a point. The client is the real boss. If he or she wants something and wants it now, I have two choices: suggest a rational date for completion and risk losing the client, or resign myself to overtime beyond the ten to twelve hour days I actually plan ahead. I recently started charging more for short-notice jobs. So far, it hasn’t acted as a deterrent.

The truth is that a freelancer has multiple bosses, all of whom want satisfaction, and all-too-often wanting immediate gratification. In some cases, if a deadline for yesterday could be realistic, it would be specified.

Lots of money

In this instance, I’m doing rather well, if only because of the volumes of work I can handle. But there is a limit to what you can charge, especially if you’re trying to land a new client or are hoping for repeat business. It’s a highly competitive field, and although you may look down your nose at “cheap” writers, some of them are really good.

I’d call myself “mid-priced”, which means that about half the people who approach me find my prices too high. Some of them come back to me after a cheap and nasty experience, but I can’t count on that, so I try for reasonable pricing – not too cheap and not too expensive.

You can earn very well, but with higher pricing comes higher expectations, so a Freelancer has to be able to deliver high-quality work to succeed. Turning words into money may sound easy, but it isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

Comebacks

I don’t get many of these, so I never really plan for them. When they happen, it’s a time management disaster! Nine out of ten times, a comeback happens because the client wasn’t clear about expectations. Still, I have to absorb the cost and the time needed for the fix has to be NOW. At the same time, other clients can’t be made to wait for their work, so there’s nothing for it but to work longer hours.

Non-payment

I will say this: nine out of ten people are honest and will pay for services rendered. But every now and then, there’s someone who doesn’t pay the bill. I try to avoid taking on too much risk. Escrow payments, advance deposits, and evaluating clients according to payment history help, but none of these routes is foolproof.

Want to be a freelancer? Here’s what you should know:

  • You are going to work hard, and you’ll put in more hours than you would at a regular job if you want to do well financially.
  • You ARE your own boss, so you only have yourself to blame if you overwork. However, if you don’t keep your clients satisfied, you will lose them.
  • Your holiday is going to be hell to organize, and the more popular you are with your clients, the harder it will be.
  • Trying to plan your time is worth a shot, but leave lots of air in your schedule, just in case you get comebacks or tasks that are more complicated than they may seem.

Are you a client? Look, I’m not complaining, just saying…

I think a lot of clients don’t know what it’s like to be a freelancer. Who can blame them? The “set your own hours, be your own boss” myth is widely known. Sometimes, I think my clients believe I’m lazy when I say I can’t help them for the next week or so, but that’s far from the case.

If my service weren’t so popular, I could help right away. Why is it popular? Because I’m good at what I do. I take it seriously, and I put in a lot of hours ensuring that my running client base gets its money’s worth.

I love being a freelancer, but it isn’t a walk in the park. It’s work, just like any other job and without the benefit of fixed hours and days off.

Why most successful freelancer should sue themselves

If your employer gave you no sick days, no days off, and expected you to work 29 hours of overtime every single week, you’d be able to sue them in most countries. I think it should be possible to reduce those freelance working hours, but that will mean turning clients away. For me, that’s the hard part. How about you?

Meanwhile, I’m considering reporting myself to the Department of Labor. I am a bad, bad boss and I exploit my worker.

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About andreadurrheim

I'm an ex-horticulturist turned horticultural journalist turned radio broadcaster and general freelance writer. I'm hoping to promote my work through my blog and find out more about other writers too!
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