The Guide to Indie-pendance: How to Be a Sane and Happy Freelancer

A couple of years ago, I left a coveted and creative position as a Visual Manager at a well-known retail store to work for myself. At the time, I was fairly uncertain of what that meant but I did have three years of bonuses stored away in my savings account and I was pretty sure that I was going to have a breakdown if I stayed at my job.
So I jumped.
My goal was to craft for a living, to make things and sell them on Etsy and at craft fairs. I learned very quickly that making things to sell was not going to earn me a living wage. Most of my crafts are one of a kind and I just can’t do assembly lines. But I found a lot of other work out there in the world of crafting. When people ask me what I do now, I say, “well, I do a lot of things” and that’s true. Sometimes I write for blogs, websites and even books, sometimes I work as a stylist on photo shoots, sometimes I even sell a few of those one of a kind, handmade crafts.

A photo of my "home office".

Working for oneself can be both extremely rewarding and excruciatingly frustrating. Though I am often watching the mail for checks to come in, I am also often in my PJs for days at a time. That’s pretty cool. And it’s incredible to be able to focus so much on your own career and business. But, freelancing is definitely not for everyone. Here’s a little guide to see if you have what it takes. I asked a couple of freelancers to share some of their tips and tricks for staying sane, paying the bills and managing time.

Money Matters

If you ask any freelancer what the hardest part of their job is, they will mostly likely say the money. Jobs fall through, checks take forever to process and some months you are left wondering how you are going to pay the rent. I recommend having a lot of money saved before you branch out on your own. Determine how much money you need to live on per month and save six months of that, three if you’re a risk taker!

Though it’s a little less stable, there are still ways to try to get a more secure paycheck when working for yourself. Lorelei was trying to balance her full time writing job with her burgeoning doula career and it was getting to be too much. She negotiated with her company to work part time and spends the rest of her week building up new clients. Though she is technically a freelancer, she continues to have a steady paycheck.

You also don’t have to commit to working for yourself in one fell swoop. MaryAnne works as a teacher, which allows her large breaks of time to focus solely on her jewelry business. “The breaks inherent to teaching allow me to produce enough to sell and keep the business afloat,” she says. “Wabisabi Brooklyn is only one year old, so maybe some day I will be able to support myself in the manner in which I've become accustomed (dental!); but even if that were the case, I imagine I would always keep teaching at least part time. Jewelry making and selling satisfy a certain side of me, but I get (non-financial) rewards from teaching that would keep me in it. In a perfect world, I'd just like to switch the ratio of the time time I devote to my two careers!”

If you’re totally strapped for cash, work a few days as a server or a bartender, have a stoop sale or sell a few things on Ebay.

It’s all about Timing
One of the hardest parts of working for yourself is learning how to budget time. Everyone has a different ways of keeping themselves on track but you absolutely have to plan what you’re doing every day, week and month. I keep a notebook with me at all times and write lots of lists. Crossing things off as I get them done always feels great!

Lark, an artist and web designer says, “Keep your freelance/ craft time separate and take your crafting time seriously and prioritizing it beyond social needs, if necessary. When I question what I should be doing at any given moment of "free time" I just head over to the studio and get cracking. I also prioritize my prior commitments with myself (i.e. creative work, meditation time, relaxation etc) over freelance work.”

Working for yourself also allows you the flexibility of working whenever you want. If you are most productive at night then you should set your schedule as such. I write best early in the morning when my mind is fresh, so despite being somewhat of a night owl, I set my alarm to 7 am when I have a big writing gig.

There are going to be times in your freelance career when you work day and night and you just want to hang out with your friends. I have worked many a weekend and late night but I always reward myself later with fun plans after a big job is done and, hey, sometimes I can stay out until 4 on a Monday. How many working stiffs get to do that?

Your Business, Yourself
Often as a freelancer, you will find that the lines between your work life and the rest of your life are blurred beyond distinction. This can be good and bad. On one hand, I love that my hobby (crafting) has become my work and thus my life, but sometimes I really need a break. It sounds silly but try to find hobbies or activities that have nothing to do with your job. Mine is karaoke but maybe yours can be tennis or fly fishing.

It is also really important to carve out a space to work in that is specifically for your work. While mine is in a spare room in our apartment, some people really need to get out of the house to get their work done. May, a ceramics artist and graphic designer says, “because of the nature of ceramic craft, I must have a studio. I found that separating work and home is very helpful for my sanity. I had a studio when I used to work in illustration as well and I found that I could be more creative in my work. journey to-ing and fro-ing to the studio gives me some creative thinking time and that is quite valuable too.”

Though the freelancing life is not always easy, I can imagine my life any other way. I hope to never have to work full-time for anyone again!
Thanks to May, Lark, Lorelei and MaryAnne for your wonderful insights!