The Stability Myth
Chances are, someone’s tried to talk you out of freelancing.
Whether it’s your concerned mom or your significant other who reeeaalllly needs you to help out with the rent, freelancers aren’t known for their income stability – especially freelance creatives.
We even joke about it ourselves. End of the month ramen parties, amiright?
And as you get further from the big zero in your bank account, the laughter gets a bit more nervous — because we all know that a big client today doesn’t mean there won’t be a dry spell in six months.
Knowing all that, though, there’s a big secret that freelancers know and can wield over any freelance-hater in their lives.
The Stability Myth
When I tell people what I do, they like to tell me the ‘truth’ about freelancing — that freelancing is ‘unstable,’ unlike being traditionally employed.
That is a myth.
We are brought up to believe that getting a degree and getting a job mean stability, and yet after every stock market crash, tech bubble burst, big layoff, hurricane etc, we see plenty of those so-called ‘stable people’ unemployed.
These are the four major myths that we’ve been told about freelancing — versus the actual reality of freelance life.
MYTH: Employees make more money.
REALITY: False. When you freelance right, you can position yourself to make heaps of money by using your varied work experiences plus project management experience* to assure clients not only of your creativity, but your knowledge and responsibility.
* If you’re running your own business, you’re not only doing client work, but you’re managing clients, managing a budget, and possibly managing other freelancers. You’re your own project manager.
MYTH: Freelancers aren’t taken as seriously as employees.
REALITY: The perception is in the positioning. If you come to meetings late in paint-stained overalls, then that is correct; however, if you can manage to shower, get dressed, be on time, sit up straight, and speak coherently, then you will be taken very seriously — and respected for the big choice you made to run your own business.
MYTH: Overall, being employed is more stable than freelancing.
REALITY: Very seriously untrue. Answers below.
The Quiet Stability of Freelancing
The freelancer can’t ignore the fact that they don’t get the same paycheck every month on the same day of the month in the same envelope with the same tax breakdown.
However, for a number of reasons unrelated to the employee, those checks can stop coming.
Big picture example: Look at the 2007 Wall Street crash. People who were regularly cashing in many, many thousands of dollars every month were now unemployed — and, ten years later, many of them are still looking for what they had before.
Small picture example: A very dear friend was hired by a startup to be their Product Lead, with relocation to New York after six months and a very, very nice salary. The startup was gaining traction, users were happy, and then — poof. The investor money was gone, and so was the startup, three months after my friend was hired.
These things happen all the time.
There are ups and downs in a freelancer’s career that are possibly more dramatic than an employee’s career; however, a freelancer is never unemployed.
Being an employee is either 1 or 0, and when you’re unemployed — you’re on the 0 side.
No matter how badly a project ends or how slow work is, a freelancer always has their career and their trade. They are, at worst, between projects. They are always looking, and not desperately.
Who’s In Control
When you’re freelancing, your career is in your hands.
There are dry spells and there are clients who won’t pay on time and there are annoyances, but ultimately, when you hustle hard and perform right, you’ll do pretty well.
You are more than a 0-1 binary. You have the freedom to try new things, to practice new skills, to learn and rebrand and take projects that interest you just because they interest you and not because you need to up your resume.
Don’t get sucked into the belief that a paycheck is stability. Stability is talent, perseverance, and skill. Stability is courage, being willing to try harder and push longer.
The secret is to be willing: to be willing to learn, to improve, to be flexible, and to be kind. Once you’ve nailed that, you can take your career anywhere.
The freedom of freelancing is the stability of freelancing.
Shayna is the Head of Friendship at The nuSchool, doing all things blog/community/biz dev/happy. She's a freelance copywriter working in art and design, and has two dogs named Chuck and Alma.
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