What’s It Really Like to Be a Freelancer?

When I tell people I’m a freelancer, I often get asked “What’s that like?” or “What’s it like being a freelancer?” Having freelanced in three different ways—as a side hustle, while travelling, and as a career choice—there’s no simple answer. But today I’ll let you in on what it’s really like to be a freelancer in these three different scenarios, with both the highs and the lows.

The side hustle

When I first started freelancing back in 2010, it was alongside a full-time, 9-5 office job. I freelanced in the evenings after work and at weekends. This went on for a few years.

The lows: Coming home from a day of work to yet more work is tiring, and sometimes exhausting. I’d occasionally find myself falling asleep at my laptop trying to proofread at midnight. And my social life was practically non-existent.

The highs: After a few years, the experience gained me my dream job—working in-house for a book publisher. It wouldn’t have happened without the freelancing jobs, because I couldn’t get experience any other way. It got my foot in the door.

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The digital nomad

After a few years at the publishing house, I went travelling around the world for a year with my husband. I packed my netbook into my tiny rucksack and freelanced on the go—from beaches, beside swimming pools, in forests, and on the road.

The lows: It wasn’t always easy to find WiFi and plug sockets, especially when we were off the beaten track. This led to some frustrating searches, and sticking around in some less-than-thrilling venues. Plus, I didn’t particularly feel like working when I could have been seeing beautiful sights instead.

The highs: I earned a decent amount of money from freelancing on the go, which topped up our travel fund and meant we could pay for some more expensive excursions, like seeing the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays Islands. I worked from some beautiful places, and I avoided winding up with a gap on my CV.

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The career freelancer

When we returned from travelling, I contemplated going back to an employed job, but there wasn’t much around, so I took a chance on becoming a full-time career freelancer and have worked my way up since then. Three years later, I’ve turned my freelancing into a limited company.

The lows: The first six months were honestly gruelling. I spent long hours looking for clients, earning barely anything, and seeing the same four walls. Low income, high time cost. It was also difficult starting a freelance career with an unstable income and no back-up savings to rely on.

The highs: After six months, I found a big client and it was essentially smooth sailing from there—growing and expanding my freelance career. These days, my life as a freelancer is pretty amazing, with a much better work-life balance than I ever had in an office job, more annual leave, the flexibility to spend time with loved ones, and being able to work from home with my cat.

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The verdict

Despite the lows, freelancing as a side hustle, a digital nomad, and a career has offered highs that certainly outweigh the lows. Freelancing gave me the opportunity to gain vital experience, earn money while travelling, and develop a better lifestyle. And for all of that, I’m very grateful. So when people ask me “What’s it like to be a freelancer?”, my answer is “It’s awesome!” Because it really is.

If you’re a freelancer, what have your highs and lows been? If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, what aspects are you looking forward to? Comment below or get in touch.

Stay tuned for more freelance tips and insights every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on A Freelance Life…

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