Career Advice, Life

Why becoming a freelancer was the best career choice I made

If you have too many interests for just one job and like being your own boss, it could be good for you too.

Finding your dream job used to mean discovering what gave you joy and then working until you reached your career goals. But what happens when you have so many interests that it feels as if one job won’t fulfill you? As someone who has (as I’ve been told) too many interests, picking one career is difficult. The idea of sitting at a desk doing the same thing day in and day out fills me with dread. Why can’t I work a career where I get to travel, plan events, interact with people regularly, write, edit, read, and still have time to myself?

Once I graduated college, this became a reality I would have to face. Whether it was this fear that was holding me back or the terrible job market or my equally terrible interview skills, I was having trouble getting my foot in the door for any field. That’s when freelancing entered my life. At the time, the “gig economy” was just beginning to grow. I got a part-time consultant position working on an annual conference for a journalism non-profit. I loved almost every minute of it. It was the best of both worlds – I went to an office regularly, but also got to work from home and make my own schedule, I helped plan a large-scale event and during the conference, I was able to help with all types of tasks. It was hard and nerve-wracking but I enjoyed the challenge. As the months went on, I felt my confidence growing, along with my skills.

Once my contract ended, I was job searching again, but it didn’t take me long before I found another client. From there, I started attending regular networking events and meeting more people. Though I studied journalism, I realized there was a growing need for social media specialists. Everyone knew that in order to grow their business, they had to promote it through social media but no one wanted to do it. That’s where I came in. I enjoyed the challenges of figuring out ways to promote businesses and events, that I got to attend. It was creative-problem solving and multi-tasking at its best – something that fit my personality and short attention span perfectly. I could make my own schedule, work when I wanted, travel when I wanted, and take breaks when I wanted. Being my own boss was something I actually enjoyed doing, despite my terrible business skills. Many in the US are finding joy in the same way. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that 16.5 million people are working in “alternative work arrangements” with almost 6 million (or 3.8%) United States workers holding these types of jobs.

Working as a consultant definitely has its ups and downs. There are periods where you may struggle to find work and you have to learn to advocate for yourself, which means sometimes fighting to get paid an amount you deserve, even if your client disagrees, or managing client expectations while still allowing yourself to have a life. As a consultant, you could easily spend all day working, which is the downside of being your own boss. But, if you find yourself not working well with someone, you can find another gig and leave. You can choose the projects you want to work on and if you need a vacation, you can take it. There’s no boss to answer to or limit on the number of days you can take (something the US needs to work on in my opinion).

If this appeals to you or – like me – you just have too many interests to contain in one job, freelancing might be a good career choice. If I could go back to when I first started freelancing, I would tell myself that mentorship and networking is key. Find someone who is already doing what you want to do and ask them for advice. Find out how they got to where they are today. Make sure you are continuously learning to stay above the competition. There are always new skills and trends to learn about. Websites like Lynda and Coursera are great ways to bulk up your experience.

I also discovered that there are many ways to network, besides just in person. I hate talking about myself to people and trying to “sell” myself, even if I really have to. But, if you want to avoid doing this, an easy way is through online networking groups. There are several Facebook groups for consultants like Binders Full of Entry Level Content Writers & Jobs.

The other important part of freelancing is time management. Once I started taking on more clients, I had to figure out how best to handle multiple projects. I discovered an excellent time management tool called Harvest, which allows me to track my time and make invoices, but there are many other tools out there.

I feel lucky to have stumbled upon my work because I think it has helped me grow personally and professionally. I may not want to do this for the rest of my life, but for now, it’s helping me decide the direction I want my career to go and that’s all I can ask for.