The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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It’s hot and smells of farts and coffee. Even bright daylight hesitates to enter, diffused through opaque slit windows accumulating breathy condensation. Misguided participants sit around me exchanging trivialities about ‘actions’ they’ll spend the next week trying to ignore.

I’ll never understand why they call these stale meetings ’workshops’; no actual work gets done (unless you count eating biscuits). Several times a week office staff around the country wing it for hours on end in these meetings then reconvene a week later to chat about how very little got done in the intervening period despite everyone being incredibly busy. It’s like one big excuse to feel important, state the fucking obvious and distract ourselves from the disturbing realisation that no one actually produces anything useful any more in corporate Britain.

This is why I always felt at odds with mainstream salaried employment. I could never do the political thing and contribute to the arse-scented flummery because my soul yearned to be elsewhere creating things. It’s also why five years ago I quit a well-paid, full-time job to clear my head, and quickly decided to go freelance for a life of self-employment in copywriting and photography.

The tortuous demons stirred by the one-off training event described above are now safely repressed again. I haven’t had a relapse and taken a proper job or anything – in fact I’m quite happy to plod along indefinitely as a freelancer. I hadn’t even realised it was my five year anniversary until a few ex-colleagues kindly shared congratulations via LinkedIn.

That’s what provoked this article: I owe the world another preachy article evangelising the benefits of freelancing which rubs their thoughtful little faces in it. Here’s my account of what it’s like after five years now that the fug has well and truly settled.

Money (or lack of it)

As a freelancer my income is no more abundant. In fact if you compare my income now with what it was back then I’m worse off financially. But then I chose to earn fuck all. Yes you read that right. I threw away a stable job with a decent salary so I could optionally earn less.

I’m not a cave-dwelling Bohemian loafer or anything, I just earn enough to live comfortably each month then I stop. Nor do I deprive myself of the little luxuries of modern civilisation, but then neither do I saturate myself in them. It’s a combination of time-honoured traditions like avoiding borrowing, not buying what you can’t afford (or waiting until you can) and a make-do-and-mend approach. Austerity is unlikely to be the fault of any decent human freelancer.

This began as a way to save money when I began freelancing and had very little work: I cut out meat, cancelled my gym membership and went cold-turkey on an unhelpful gadget addiction so I could last survive longer on the bare minimum. Then I noticed how little you actually need to get by and and stuck to this philosophy ever since.

As it turns out this lifestyle choice is good for your health, both mental and physical. I’d unwittingly escaped the global crap vortex of relentless consumption and instead pursue happiness in the things that bring genuine joy: experiences that cost nothing, or at the very least require only one other consenting adult.

Certainty (or lack of it)

One of the biggest myths about freelancing is that life’s more uncertain because you never know where your next job’s coming from, if it comes at all.

That was true for a little while at the beginning, but after a while (depending on how much effort you put in) you rarely find yourself waiting around very long for jobs to come in. It certainly isn’t a typical state of affairs for a seasoned freelancer like me to be out of work for longer than a week or two. You gain repeat clients, get recommendations and people stumble on your Internet footprints and ask you to work with them. That becomes exponential and your net widens, ever increasing your chances of work finding you.

It’s also surprising how focused you become when you know how much you need to earn to live comfortably. It attunes you to new opportunities and sets your mind to creatively inventing new ways to make ends meet.

I won’t deny that my income still oscillates wildly after five years but it’s possible to negate that with the frugal lifestyle described earlier, living responsibly within your means, and by fattening the cow when times are good.

Job security is such a laughable concept it barely deserves exploration here, especially in the economic climate of the last ten years. I defy you to say you don’t know anyone who’s had a pay freeze, salary cut, lost their job or lived in perpetual fear of losing it. These are now alien concepts to me because I’m in charge of my own destiny – not some greedy director who rapes the planet for shareholder gain.

Contentment (or profusion of it)

Am I any happier five years on? Yes, by degrees. That doesn’t mean I’m one of those clappy tits who sing in public. If happiness is when thought and deed are in harmony: doing what you intend to on your own terms, then that’s what freelancing allows you to do. It brings a sense of quiet contentment as, job by job, you push your boundaries and learn more about yourself and what you’re capable of.

It isn’t always easy, the pressure can get to you sometimes but it’s more challenging than any other occupation I’ve ever had and I used to swill vomit out of public toilets. I appreciate that other career choices offer similar fulfilment, but imagine the limitless potential of doing what you love at your own behest and making a living from it.

That’s freelancing and that’s why it’s fucking brilliant.

Would I ever go back to full-time employment?

When I left my ‘proper job’ colleagues and friends said I was brave. It turns out that that first step was one which required the least amount of bravery. Turning down a generously paid career wasn’t saying no to good money, it was saying no to the collective depression of Monday mornings, the low-ebb of mid-week drudgery dragging out work that only stands to make privileged people richer, and the desperate, enforced joviality of dress down Fridays.

So no I wouldn’t go back, not for all the money I’ve never earned.

Those colleagues and friends who thought I was brave to leave were the same ones with a jealous glint in their eyes – like they’d always fancied turning a hobby into an occupation but kept talking themselves out of it. I’m guessing you’re one of those people too or you wouldn’t have endured this sanctimonious rant thus far.

If you have talent or even a tiny suspicion you could make a go at self-employment then give it a try. What’s the worse that will happen? You’ll end up drinking meths under a viaduct? Unlikely; I’ve yet to get further than sucking off tramps behind the station for ciggies. When you do make the leap my book is an excellent starting point – as is telling your slave masters to go fuck themselves.

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