The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Like every saint I’m pious, preachy and self-righteous in my convictions. Though eating peoples scabs and being burned to death isn’t what I’m martyring myself for.

My evangelical mission is far more earthly and practical.

It involves converting students and unfulfilled drones to the way of the freelancer, by enthusing on and on about what it’s like, and sharing useful tips on how to get started.

And our crusade begins with a series of guest speaking spots at Yorkshire universities as part of their career events.

The most recent of these events was one at Leeds Beckett university on Wednesday 18th November, and the surprise highlight was some one-to-one mentoring sessions with students.

These sessions were a fascinating, first-hand glimpse into the mind of a budding freelancer, their ideas, hesitations, yet more pertinently – what’s stopping them from making that brave commitment with oneself to turn freelance.

Here are the top 5 self-inflicted obstacles I heard last Wednesday:

  • I’m afraid of hearing what clients will think about my work.”
  • I’ve got so many ideas and so little time, I don’t know where to begin.”
  • I’m not sure exactly what it is that I do for clients.”
  • What’s the right way to do ….”
  • I’ve read you need to do… and I can’t start until I’ve done it.

I’m itching to explore these legitimate fears (most of which I’ve already covered in The Human Freelancer book, but instead of a repetitious, tiresome rant I thought it’d be more interesting to tell you what happened while they shared their confessions. Because, just like some kind of sacred miracle, every single freelancer revealed how they can overcome their own obstacles, just through the action of talking about it.

Meet freelancer B

B makes printed artwork for clothes. She’s already worked for a company and it was really successful – with all her designs selling out. Now she thinks there’s potential to do it on her own terms and make a living for herself instead of an employer, after she’s graduated.

So why hasn’t she started yet? To paraphrase her, she’s scared of what will happen next. Once her work’s out there it ceases to be from a company, it’ll just be her – exposed to scrutiny, failure and even success, which too can be daunting.

Without prompting, B enthusiastically talked me through how she’d bought professional equipment to print with, and had even set-up a make-shift studio for herself at home which she was already using to make things with.

Everything was physically in place and ready to go, yet mentally, she’d so far avoided facing up to her fear of criticism and failure by making the commitment to herself that now, she was a freelancer.

I relayed that observation back to her. I said that it sounded like she subconsciously knew freelancing was a smart choice, otherwise she wouldn’t have made all the arrangements, even getting stuck into the ‘making’ bit in her home studio.

We took a different angle. I asked B if she had any other jobs. “I work in a complaints department at a call centre, so I should know all about dealing with problems”, she replied chuckling to herself. “Mistakes just happen because people are human and they’re bound to get things wrong sometimes.”

And with that admission out in the open, for us both to witness, it became obvious how similar, thus trivial and surmountable her worry was.

We went on to discuss what failure was. That it’s inevitable, yet was sure to happen far less than the number of times things go well, or, more likely, transpire in a completely unremarkable way. We even explored what would happen if someone did say her work wasn’t good enough, how she’d simply listen, learn and refund them, then move on to the next design – a better person for it.

Did you see what happened?

B had cultivated obstacles in her mind, letting them take root and grow until they dominated the landscape of her ambitions, shadowing out more realistic seedlings – which were still there, yet undernourished.

After we’d gone for a stroll through the overgrown vegetation of doubt and had a quick prune here and there, light and hope showed the weeds for what they were. Most of the time it was her leading the conversation too, describing parallels with the complaints department, putting things right and chuckling at her worries.

This is why I advocate you Get yourself a Sanity Check in the Human Freelancer book, every now and again with your peers. It’s why coworking is a smart move too, so you can be around like-minded freelancers.

I’m no counsellor, which is a good thing because Im a bit of a gobshite who doesn’t mind being brutal about the truth. But, in the context of this hastily written account, I’m just another freelancer who’s been through what B is going through.

This experience has piqued my suspicion that every one of us is quite capable of devising the best ways to overcome our personal obstacles and change the unsatisfying status quo. Sometimes our worries simply need dragging out of our mental treadmills, and thrust into reality, where we can probe at them for what they are: simple thoughts and feelings that we all have influence over and choice about our response to them.

Actually doing something about the bollocks that drags you down; that’s the real difference between success and failure, I think – not whether you succeed as an affluent freelancer. If you make the commitment with yourself, and have a jolly good stab at making it work, well, that’s enough to earn my respect. You’ve already done what 90-odd per cent of people never get around to doing: getting up of your fat arse and putting thought into action.

That’s enough amateur psychology for one day. I’ll tackle the remaining four obstacles in subsequent posts, making this a wonderfully indulgent new five-parter.

The Human Freelancer book

LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!

Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.

The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.

Buy it now