Millions of people dream of quitting their full-time corporate job and working for themselves. And who can blame them? Many aspects of the freelancer lifestyle are appealing. Independence, flexibility, and autonomy are just a few of the enticing benefits. To be a freelancer also means stepping into the spotlight. You are entirely responsible for yourself and your results. I will always be the first to encourage people to follow their passions and stand on their own two feet. There's nothing like being your own boss. As you might know, I'm kind of a fan of the BOSS thing. :)
But as bosses, you should know the reality of being a freelancer. There are myths and truths. A common myth is freelancers never get time off, never see friends, and turn into a shell of their former selves. On the flip side are people who think freelancers only work two hours a day from a coffee shop, followed by a long afternoon nap. And when you do work, it never feels like work because you're doing what you love. All those perceptions and expectations are a bit misguided. There is a kernel of truth buried deep within, but it's usually blown out of proportion. There is a balance. I hope to shed some light on what you can expect along your journey.
Are PJs the new business casual?
One of the first myths about being a freelancer is that you get to work in your pajamas whenever you want and spend more time in fuzzy slippers than in dress shoes. Every day is "Casual Friday" when you work for yourself. Sounds like a dream, right? While it's true that you will spend more time on your own, in your own workspace, and no one will see your bunny slippers, it's helpful to keep your mind focused on "business professional." There is a psychology to "getting ready" for work, even if work is at your kitchen table. And the opportunities for in-person networking events and conferences will increase soon. Don't burn your work clothes just yet. As we emerge from the last 18 months more accustomed to Zoom meetings, it's helpful to remember to present ourselves professionally, at least from the waist up.
Does anyone really know what time it is?
The myths surrounding work time as a freelancer are fairly extreme on both sides. Some people think freelancers never go home from work. Stories of late hours, working all weekend, and 80-hour workweeks are typical. (I will admit, this is more of truth for me.) The other extreme is the idea that freelancers barely work at all, choose to spend two hours a day responding to emails, and still make as much money as a 40-hour per week desk jockey. (I'm working towards this one!) In truth, both of those myths have a kernel of truth, but they're exaggerated. Sure, the rule of thumb is true, "you get out what you put in." After my 15+ years of freelancer experience, I can attest to the fact that you'll need to maintain a balance to keep moving forward. Work too long and hard, and your creativity and productivity will suffer. Work too little, and you won't see results. The key is to set boundaries and stay organized. Establish work hours and do your best to stick to those hours. There will be times when you need to work late on a project, and there will be times when you can take off in the middle of the day when you need a break. When you have a routine and a system to stay on top of projects, you'll feel more in control of your time. In truth, the benefit of freelancing is that you have more control over your time. And that feels amazing.
Who's the man? I'm the man! :)
When you dream of freelance life, there's often a desire to no longer have a boss. People think if they could only work for themselves, they would not have the stress of answering to "the man." The truth is you will have a boss and more of them. When you work for yourself, your bosses are your clients. Your clients have deadlines and expectations, just like that 9-5 job. When you work for yourself, you still need to maintain relationships with clients. My advice is to look at clients less like bosses and more like partners. Partners work together to achieve results and reach goals. There is give and take. If you find yourself feeling like you're giving more than you're comfortable with, and a client has dug in their heels, then you have the ability and right to walk away from that client. That's the real benefit of working for yourself. As you become more experienced, you'll learn to spot problem clients quickly. You want to find clients who pay on time, respect your work, and don't micromanage.
It's not work if you love it.
The romance of only doing what you love is a powerful aphrodisiac. You can get wooed by the idea of getting lost in your work because your work feels like play. You're always eager and raring to go. You can't wait to start the day and get paid to do what you love. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but there is some truth here. Yes, when we get in our booths and read for our clients, we often come out smiling. It's a great feeling. But a lot of our time is spent getting that work. And, you know what? Sometimes that can be REALLY hard. And because we are freelancers, we need to keep finding new work to sustain our businesses. Remember the 80/20 rule. You will spend 80% of your time outside your booth working on your marketing, networking, and other ways to build your business. Don't think scripts magically fall in your lap when you declare yourself to be a voice actor. There will be many days, especially at the beginning, when you'll spend the majority of your time "working."
More is actually more
When you start your new freelance venture, you may believe the myth that you have to charge less to compete with more established voice actors. You may even think you're not worthy of charging the same rates as the pros because you're a beginner. The truth is you can charge regular industry rates right from the get-go. YES, you can! In fact, you can do yourself harm by offering low rates. Most of the time, perception is reality. When a client perceives you as a "low-cost" provider, you undermine your professionalism. They might pass you by because you present yourself as a bargain. Rarely do the ideas of quality and bargain go together. And people who hire freelancers are beginning to catch on. Cheaper isn't always better. Plus, quality clients understand what they are getting for their money. They are more likely to get out of the way and let you work. This can be one of the hardest concepts to grasp when you first start in the business. It takes courage to charge what you are worth, but I have faith in you! You just need to have faith in yourself. Professionals look for professionals. Be professional, act professional, and get paid like a professional.
Everything is Awesome!
You've probably heard someone say the best part of being a freelancer is the commute. Instead of driving 25 minutes to the office, they take 25 steps. And yeah, that is great. It is awesome to work from home. But there is a sneaky underbelly to working from home. Most of the time, you'll be working alone, and while it seems great at first, you may find yourself missing the camaraderie and interaction of the workplace. Having people to bounce ideas off of or just chit-chat can boost your mood. You should get out, see people, network face-to-face, and create a community. Heck, just a VO class like the VO Peep's monthly meetup can do wonders for your outlook. The other things that can sneak up on you are the small daily chores. Taking 20 minutes to fold the laundry, put away the dishes, or even mow the lawn can pull you out of a flow. Remember, set boundaries and establish work hours. Don't let the line between work time and home time get blurred.
You are a BOSS!
Remember, millions of people desire the life you want. But in reality, only a few actually make it work. If you want to be in the second group, you must remember to do what others don't do. Find a balance, a middle ground, when it comes to maintaining your business. Give yourself a break from time to time. I always say this business is a marathon, not a sprint. If you can keep that perspective in mind, you can maintain your sanity and keep your business moving forward. Before you know it, you'll move from surviving to thriving. Heck, you'll probably start needing to hire freelancers yourself! (YES to that!) You can find success in the freelance world. You can be your own boss. You can do what you love. Please remember to shower every day. Your cat will appreciate the effort.
Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.