Freelancing isn’t free(dom): A stepping stone to freedom, control, and the life you want

I’m a strong believer and supporter of freelancing. But I’ve also reached that point in my life where freelancing has gotten me this far, but won’t get me much further.

Freelancing has done amazing things for my career, but I think every freelancer eventually starts to grow out of freelancing. That’s about where I feel like I am.

Let me explain.

Remember when I talked about being in transition as a freelancer? After ten years, I feel like it’s time to make some changes. At some point during the freelancing journey, I’m confident freelancers will go through this moment as well.

Freelancing is great to transition away from a 9-to-5

Before I go into why I’m transitioning away from freelancing, let me talk about why I think it is great to transition into freelancing to begin with.

For numerous reasons, people look at freelancing as a way to move away from the typical employment structure (aka the 9-to-5). They either hate their jobs and desperately want to leave, want more control over their lives, have health issues that prevent them from holding a 9-to-5, or some other reason that leads them to consider freelancing as a career path.

It doesn’t matter the reason behind the desire to move from conventional employment to becoming a freelancer. The desire and motivation are there and you believe it firmly will help solve the current issue(s) you have, be it the desire for freedom and flexibility, to do the work you love to do, to have more free time, etc.

Freelancing is a great stepping stone toward something more. Rarely, if ever, is it the end goal for most of us. Freelancing is a positive career move before reaching your ultimate career goals, and helps you get to those ultimate career goals faster.

Freelancing isn’t the ultimate career goal for most of us

The fact that freelancing isn’t the ultimate end goal isn’t preached enough by those who write and talk about freelancing. That’s disheartening.

It’s true that freelancing does give us some freedoms (such as who we work with, what we work on, when we work) and flexibilities (taking a Friday off just to relax, working on the road while traveling), but there’s still aspects of freelancing that is beyond our control most of the time.

Regardless of how many freelancers say you have complete control over every aspect of your freelancing, chances are 99% of freelancers don’t have 100% control.

Ways freelancing isn’t free(dom)

For example, dependent on our financial situation, we may not always be free to work on whatever project we want, for whatever client we want. Sometimes we have to just take the money and do the work. And that’s ok. We all have bills and financial obligations that we have to meet with our incomes. But that’s when we start losing some of that freedom we thought we had.

Or how about when two clients who don’t know each other even exists on your calendar both want major projects done in the same week. Your freedom and flexibility of schedule then go out the window (unless you’re super savvy and can convince them to move their deadlines around).

What about when you’re working on a project and you’ve put so much value into it, but it benefits someone else’s business more than the financial aspect benefited yours?

How about that dreaded feast or famine cycle that is so very real in freelancing? Even the greatest tools, knowledge, marketing, and word of mouth can’t keep the most seasoned freelancer from going through a famine cycle.

Also, your income potential starts getting capped because you can only trade so many hours for money. Sure, you can price projects on value, but do we ever really know the true value of a project until it’s done and being used by our client?

Freelancing isn’t freedom, flexibility, or control

But with these limitations come great experiences and knowledge that can pretty much benefit you no matter where you go in your career.

Learning to work with others on a variety of projects is crucial in just about every field out there. Expanding your skills and experience can help you grow your own business or be a consultant for someone else’s business. Being able to market yourself and convince clients to work with you is a great salesmanship tool that not many people develop in their lives.

All of these things are the reasons why (plus more) I feel freelancing is a great stepping stone and so important no matter where you ultimately want to take your career. These things aren’t exclusive to freelancing, and they translate well after freelancing.

The desire for freedom, flexibility, control, and happiness

The feast and famine cycle alone causes more stress than just about anything else in my business. Being dependent on convincing clients to drop a couple grand just to start working with you isn’t easy, and can become quite demoralizing should you be in a famine cycle.

Working on projects that start off exciting but then start turning into chores can start burning you out quickly. You do amazing work, just for something to change drastically in the project and it’s no longer your best work.

Having to stay up and work on projects because someone else changed a deadline, or because you had something in your life happen that takes you away from your work for a few days and you have to play catchup can quickly make you frustrated and question why you even started freelancing to begin with.

Some of these issues with freelancing can be mitigated away, but not without challenge

So I’m sure at this point you’re wondering why I haven’t taken some steps to mitigate these issues with freelancing, such as working all night, evening out the feast or famine cycle, and others. The truth is, I’ve spent the better part of a decade learning exactly how to mitigate these issues.

And I’ve come to learn that no matter how much you protect yourself and your time, and work to make sure things don’t go south, they always, and inevitably, do when you’re working with other people.

It. Just. Happens.

I’ve put in several “policies” in my business to help with scheduling. It’s helped some, but not all the way. I’ve put in place different strategies to help reduce the feast or famine cycle (such as evening out my “paycheck” by putting away money in the good months to help balance out the bad), but even with that in place, it’s not hard to find yourself in the famine part of the cycle for longer than you anticipated.

These issues can be worked through, and often addressed and helped lessen the impact, but they are never really gone for good. No matter how good of a freelancer you are, no matter what policies and strategies you’ve put in place, these issues will always happen in some way.

At some point, freelancers start transitioning to become post-freelancers

For most freelancers, they start turning toward building a more sustainable business where they can scale and grow without trading time for money. They work on selling products or memberships. They work on creating a service-based company that can be scaled using a piece of software. Sometimes, freelancers even go back to the 9-to-5 because they feel that is more freeing (freeing from financial troubles thanks to the feast or famine cycle, or freeing from having to chase down new clients every month).

Freelancing gets you closer to your career goals

If you’re a creative wanting to transition out of the 9-to-5 and into something that gives you flexibility, freedom, and control over your life, freelancing is a great way to help get you *closer,* but isn’t the end-all. Freelancing helps you get to your ultimate goals quicker and with less of a chance of failure later down the road.

Consider it much like having to run a few 5ks before running a half marathon. Then running several half marathons before you can get to your ultimate goal of running a marathon. Ain’t no way in hell you can go from running a 5k to running a marathon in a short time without a ton of failure. Running a few half marathons helps you bridge the gap, and make failure less likely because you’ve worked up to it.

You’ve moved from the 5k days (9-to-5) to something more challenging and desirable such as half marathons (freelancing). But you know the end goal is to run a marathon (post-freelancing). And once you run a marathon, you want to start getting faster and better (growth and scale).

I’m ready to transition away from freelancing full time

I’m at the point where I’ve run enough 5ks. I still love working with clients to help solve their problems and meet their goals. To get to that point takes so much time, energy, and work. So much so that I’ve come to learn that I would rather spend that time working on something more sustainable for myself.

If I have to stay up late to finish working on a client project because I had a family emergency, that isn’t freeing to me, and definitely not the lifestyle I want to continue.

I don’t want to continue with the feast or famine cycle. I want to be able to see my income grow every month instead of constantly worrying about where my income is coming from month to month.

Freelancing has helped me recognize exactly what kind of life I want. It has given me glimpses and tastes of freedom and working for myself, something that I will never ever take away from freelancing. Freelancing has served me well, and I owe a lot to freelancing. It will serve me well as I transition away from freelancing over the next couple of years.

Where are you on the career journey?

If you’re in the 9-to-5 wanting to become a freelancer, don’t let this article talk you out of it. You’ll benefit greatly from the experiences and skills you’ll gain becoming one. Becoming a freelancer was one of the best decisions I made, and I don’t want to rob you of that by being all gloomy about freelancing. So go ahead, become a freelancer, and rock it!

If you’re currently a freelancer, are you starting to feel the little pings inside you that say it’s time to transition away from freelancing? Then let this article be a motivating factor in getting the gears turning to make that happen. You became a freelancer for the idea of being your own boss, being in full control of your business, living your life the way you want, and having flexibility in what you do every day. Keep striving for that freedom and flexibility and look into a life post-freelance.

If you’re a newly minted post-freelancer, I congratulate you on making the transition. I’m sure all of what I said above rings true. I’m eager to see what life post-freelancing has for me and how living a life that is truly free and flexible really feels. I am going to get there. I’m confident in the skills and experience I’ve gained to take me there.

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Also published on Medium.