More than 30 percent of U.S. workers are now freelance or independent, according to an article by National Public Radio. I read this statistic one morning while lounging on my couch in pajamas, while many of you hauled your power-suited butts off to the cube farm.
What a life, I thought as I watered my garden, pondering how the number of freelancers or independents has spiked because so many have lost their jobs in the sputtering economy.
But many of us stay independent long after layoffs, like me at 20 years and counting. We discovered we love the flexibility, the independence and the pajamas. We also learned how to cope with the bad stuff.
Here are my top 12 annoyances with being an independent, and how I’ve learned not to sweat them too much:
1. Hearing people say, “It must be great to work for yourself.” No, as independents we work for clients, not ourselves, so the trade-off for having coffee and reading a newspaper on the couch or in the garden in the middle of the day is often working into the evening or on weekends. (I always reply to this comment in this way, as you never know who might become a future client.)
2. The refrigerator. If you work at home, the refrigerator is too close. So are the cookies. I compensate by working out, which is easier to fit into a flexible schedule.
3. Hearing people say, “You must keep marketing, even when you’re busy.” If you’re already working into the evening and having clients call at the last minute, you don’t have any extra energy to pick up the phone, dress up for networking events, write a brilliant blog post or anything else.
My advice: Don’t think about marketing during these times. Nobody wants to talk to someone with a stress-induced eyelid twitch. Knowing when to ignore this advice is the sign of a well-balanced professional.
4. Marketing. When you’re not in a work frenzy, you need to sell. When I led Toronto’s special interest group for independents, we could always fill the room for any talk about how to make money without cold calling. Fortunately, there are other ways to market your business, such as writing articles like this one.
5. Hearing people say, “It must be nice to save money on clothes.” It is. But occasionally I wander the malls, fantasizing about how I would feel in new clothes I don’t need. I often iron one outfit that I wear to every meeting or event I have that week. Boring! To cope, I usually buy something I’ve coveted whenever a big invoice is paid.
6. Deciding what to wear while at work. Although I start most non-meeting days in pajamas then progress to distressed gym clothes, many independents dress like they’re ready to tear off to a board room on Wall Street. These are the same people who cite studies that found that student doctors who wore lab coats were more efficient and confident. Ultimately, it’s your call.
7. Hearing people say, “It must be tough, what with all the layoffs.” Actually, layoffs can be good for freelancers. Organizations still have to communicate. In public, try not to look too happy when the conversation moves in this direction.
8. Hearing people say, “Not knowing where your next assignment is coming from, all that insecurity, it must be tough.” As an independent you should be prepared for uncertainty and adventure. Don’t feed into negative thoughts. Breathe deeply and repeat: “I am worthy of the abundance of the universe,” or some other mantra.
9. Worrying during slow stretches. As an independent you’ll worry that you’ll never work freelance again, that you’d better start looking for a job, except there aren’t any jobs, and that because you’ve been a freelancer so long no one will hire you.
Thoughts like these come with the territory. Keep busy with marketing, strategic planning, bookkeeping, training, comparing cell phone plans and everything else your employer used to do for you.
10. During busy times, assuming the work will continue and that referrals from happy clients will keep the ball rolling. Although this works much of the time, sometimes the ball is abruptly halted by your favorite contact getting laid off or the company going through financial trouble. Be prepared for these kinds of interruptions with savings and a good marketing strategy.
11. Hearing people say, “It must be nice to take time off whenever you want.” Long vacations happen only if you’re not paranoid that your clients will find somebody else during your absence and like them better. Because of this fear, I went back to part-time work soon after the birth of my children.
Mind you, it worked for me because I love what I do and craved mental stimulation. What’s more, I mastered the art of breast feeding while typing. Having the flexibility to work less, or shift your hours, when you have babies, sick parents or other personal responsibilities is one of the big reasons I love this life.
12. Hearing people say, “You must get lonely.” I am a social person, but I don’t miss small talk with boring people or corporate power games. After work, I connect with family and friends, do volunteer work and otherwise have fun. I enjoy chatting with my fitness buddy, also a freelancer, on the exercise bikes during midday breaks.
Then there are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn groups and other social media diversions. The solitude means less listening to people make annoying comments about the independent life. I think they’re just jealous about the pajamas.
If you can overcome aggravations like these and learn to stop sweating the annoying stuff, you’ll thank that downsizing company for the push to an exhilarating independent life.
Toronto writer and trainer Barb Sawyers is the author of “Write Like You Talk Only Better,” the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page. A version of this post first appeared on her blog, Sticky Communication.