I don’t mean to sound harsh, ungrateful, pompous, or greedy, but I’m taking the “free” out of “freelancer.” Being a freelancer/contractor doesn’t mean I suddenly started working for free. If anything, it means I had to put an immediate end to “friend pricing.” Don’t hate me.
I had a good salary at my last job. Oh, and benefits. Lots of ’em. Those are the perks of having a salaried position. And yeah, I miss them. And stability. Which is why it’s more important now than ever that I’m compensated for my work. Some months are lighter than others, insurance is unwieldy (if you can even get it), people don’t pay on time, and a bunch of little jobs take a lot of brain power to switch back and forth between projects.
When I still had a salaried, full-time job, I did a lot of freelance work to build a portfolio and have a little extra cash. I was frequently asked by friends and acquaintances to “look over” some things they were working on. Or, “can you just quickly edit this? I got it started!” Or have a two-hour coffee meeting to network. I obliged often. I was building my portfolio and happy to make contacts (and still am, duh).
But it started getting out of control. Turns out, my work was good (why is that hard to say?). People wanted more help. These are my friends, so it was very hard to turn it down—especially after I had set the tone that I’d help people for free every now and then. It was incredibly nice and motivating to be needed, but I was beginning to feel overwhelmed.
Then, I starting freelancing full-time. And to be honest, it was hard at first but I was really positive that I would end up with plenty of work. My network was deep from years of building it (and all those coffee meetings) and I’m a decent human that works hard, gives a shit about what’s right for a business, and demands high-quality output. It was time to gently let everyone know that work just can’t be free anymore. Would I occasionally review something someone had already done? Sure. But I could no longer be their go-to for oversight, editing, or much else.
And God. That’s hard. I felt like I was being a money-hungry, Wallstreet shark by telling people, “sorry, I can’t write that entire piece for free anymore. I don’t have a salaried income and jobs like this are exactly how I pay my bills now.” It shouldn’t be hard, but it is.
I had to start turning down coffee with people that other people had said I’d get along with (personally) or could offer advice and mentorship to. And that one was the hardest. Networking is exhausting, but also energizing and necessary. I just had to start being slightly more strategic on how I spent coffee meetings.
And spec work? Do you mean portfolio? Because sure, I will gladly send over my carefully curated and the hours-and-hours-of-hard-work portfolio. Will I write something for free for you to use later /not pay me and then decide if you want to hire me? Perhaps, but most likely not. I have paying clients to prioritize and my portfolio is full of examples that should help you get an idea of my writing style and output.
Small, one-off projects are a little hard too. Typically, I take them on because they’re a nice brain refresher from the massive projects I’ve been concentrating on for too long. But sometimes, I just can’t take on one more thing. Continually switching from project-to-project, project and account managing each (emails, calls, etc.), and invoicing (plus, following-up on unpaid invoices) is pretty distracting.
Oh, and yes, I do work pretty quickly and efficiently. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll give up my nights and weekends. Do I sometimes? Sure. Do I try not to? Absolutely. I would hope that any client understands that I want a balanced life just as much as they do, so I get my work done during the same business hours as them almost always. I’m available when they’re at their desks and need to chat. I’m sending over things to review when their team is around. And I’m also ensuring there is time to continually pursue a fulfilling and thriving personal life. PS: that last piece makes me a million times better at my job.
So, don’t hate me if my free advice, editing, mentorship, writing, strategy, and more has fizzled out for you. I still really enjoy you, want to work together in the future, and most importantly, be your friend. My work is now a full-time business and I need to treat it as such.