August 13, 2014 by Sian Rowland
I have to be honest. I never really thought much about what a freelance working life looked like until my steady job was in jeopardy and I started researching alternative avenues. It’s interesting to discover that despite a huge upturn in self-employment over the last few years (Interesting article about this from The Guardian) the perception of the freelancer lounging around in pyjamas is still pervasive. So what does the world at large think we do?
1) What’s a job? I have lots of different jobs. Some are ongoing like being an associate trainer for an education company and some are one-offs like project work in schools. Perhaps I should call them all projects (ugh) or assignments (a whiff of CIA or school homework) because I have a dear neighbour who asks me, ‘got a job yet?’ every time I step outside the front door. He recently asked me this question just as I returned home from a successful interview for a new role (that’s it!) in Newham. Now I get, ‘started your new job yet?’ and ‘almost time for the new job to start?’ I’ve tried explaining that this new job will be in addition to my other work, not instead of. I’m expanding my portfolio rather than preparing for a Monday to Friday desk job. I suspect, however, that come September I’ll be leaving the house every morning swinging a briefcase and whistling hi ho hi ho just to avoid awkward questions.
2) I’m always in during the day. Every day. While I often work from home I’m not welded to my kitchen table. I’m not precious about my work hours and like the degree of flexibility I have to meet friends, do DIY or phone my mother. I do, however, make the hours up in evenings and weekends. The postman has started dropping off neighbours’ parcels if he knows I’m around. Another neighbour asked me if I wouldn’t mind letting her cleaner in one day as we were key holders and she would be away. No problem I said. The cleaner popped in, collected the key and dropped it back when she had finished. I felt all neighbourly and smug until the following week when the cleaner appeared again. And the week after that and the week after that. I had to explain to the poor cleaner that I wouldn’t be around the following week so she might need to make alternative arrangements. Everyone seemed a bit put out by this.
3) If I’m in, I’m not working. This links to point 2. I’m at home wearing casual clothes and working from the kitchen table so the work isn’t real, right? Even if I’m not working directly on a job/ project/ assignment/role I’m looking for the next job/ project/ assignment/role or preparing something, writing something or maybe doing my tax or admin. As I mentioned, I’m open to interruptions but I do have to make the time up so please don’t assume freelancers can take a day off just like that.
4) My income is the same. Unfortunately it’s not. On the whole my work pays well but it doesn’t pay every day so my income is erratic and I have to make sure there’s enough in my account for taxes. As I’ve also found out, payment is not always forthcoming. I was paid in June this year for a piece of work I did in December last year. Although I knew they would pay eventually, it’s endlessly frustrating waiting to be paid for work already accomplished. You’re not my bank! I’m happy to tighten my spending belt a little but need to consider other revenue streams during quiet periods like summer. Car boot sale anyone?
5) Freelancers don’t need holidays. I’m on holiday all the time, right? Not exactly. My husband and I recently took our first holiday for three years (see above point about income) and we needed it. When you work from home it’s impossible to truly switch off and even on holiday chilling out by the pool I was organising work assignments via my phone. I came back mentally refreshed and ready to face the rest of the year. Definitely worth investing in!
So until next holiday- and who knows when that might be- I’ll be at the kitchen table or hiding from the neighbours.
What other assumptions do people make about working freelance?