There’s so much talk on the internet about being self-employed, going freelance, joining the flexible working revolution and how if you’re doing so, you’re living the dream. And for some that may be true, but what if it’s not sunshine and rainbows? What if you decide that the 9 to 5 is best for you? Does that mean you’re failing?
I don’t think so.
Just over a year ago I left my job at a digital marketing agency because I knew it wasn’t the right path for me any more, and because I wanted to carve out my own. The move into going freelance as a copywriter seemed like an obvious one, although looking back on it at the time, it was fairly risky. I’d only had a small bit of work, and was willing to get a day job if needed. To be honest, I didn’t really have a plan, and I think that was the problem.
As soon as I went freelance, emails rolled in from old contacts and clients who wanted to work with me. It felt amazing. It was so exciting to know that these business owners wanted to work with me, pay me to help them – not an agency that I was just a part of, they wanted my skills. I felt valued.
I always worry that when I tell people that I stopped freelancing (although it might be more appropriate to say stopped making it my main source of income, as I do still work on small contracts alongside my job), that they’ll think it’s because I was no good at it. That I failed to get the work in, that I couldn’t do it. But that’s simply not true. I was earning more during my time freelancing than I was before I left my job, or than I am in my new job now.
The money and the clients were coming in, but something else was missing.
I was lonely, and it affected my mental health
Everyone says it, but it’s because it’s true. Working for yourself, by yourself, is so fucking lonely. And isolating.
I’d spend days in my office, feeling like I was chained to my laptop. Sometimes a whole working week would pass and I hadn’t left the house, and the only human contact I’d had was with my boyfriend James when he got home.
And it was weird, the more I was home alone, the less capable of going out and interacting with other people I felt. I sank into a sad, low, dark mental hole and would end up resenting my work instead of enjoying it. I’d procrastinate all day and end up working all night, and my sleep pattern got affected – and that’s something that really impacts how I function.
I’m an extremely introverted person, but I’ve realised that I need interaction and a sense of community, of teamwork, in what I do, or else I become unhappy pretty fast.
There might be more I could have done to tackle my loneliness – though I did try. I rented a coworking space for a while, but it didn’t help; I was still just working alone, but surrounded by people.
I didn’t feel fulfilled, or as though I was adding value
The services I provided my clients was primarily copywriting, so producing blogs and text for them to share on their website; social media content and management; and there was a bit of general project management in there too. Even though I know I’m a good writer and the content I was sending was good, I felt deep down like I wasn’t giving my clients true value for what they were paying me.
This isn’t because I wasn’t good at what I do, because I was. It’s because I know that blogs and content, even social media alone, don’t make a complete marketing strategy. Now for a number of my clients that was okay – they were taking care of the rest and just outsourcing writing to me, and that’s fine. But I knew that the hours I was spending, the days I was passing by researching and writing content…. I couldn’t see a return from them. I felt like I was cheating. I was often writing about things that didn’t ignite a passion in me, which every copywriter has to do, but doing that for a living ended up draining the enjoyment out of it.
I was spread too thin, doing bits here and there for lots of clients and never being able to settle, to focus, to really put my all into anything.
I didn’t like that how much I earned was dependent on the hours I put in
I read a book called ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink a good few months ago. It’s a great read, one I’d highly recommend, and it looks at what really motivates us. There were two things that really resonated with me – that once we get paid to do the thing we’re passionate about, it becomes less appealing and enjoyable for us (for me, that was writing), and that having our worth in terms of work determined by the number of billable hours we have can be one of the fastest ways to suck the joy out of what we do.
Working freelance in the way that I did, writing for business clients, much of what I charged was based on how long it was going to take me. It’s hard enough to estimate how long something takes you as it is, and then ask people to pay you for it, but when the amount you earn (and therefore, sadly, how successful you feel you are) is almost completely dependent on the precise number of hours you’ve worked, it can cause a weird friction in your mind. Or, it did for me anyway. Doing your work becomes more about how long it takes you/how quickly you can do it instead of the quality you’re producing.
So, I changed it.
Around 9 months passed, with the feelings above growing more and more intense each day.
Why do I feel sad, I thought? Why don’t I feel like I’m living the freelance dream, like everyone else probably thinks I am? I was proud of myself for earning my own money and building something completely my own, but it just felt like life was too short to go on despairing every day I woke up.
So, I decided I wanted a job. I looked around, there was a few that caught my eye. I have always felt, and still feel, like what I really want to do in life can never be found in a job description. I’m not sure I’ve found my calling just yet. But I knew that I couldn’t complain about my current situation – after all, I was the one that put myself there, so I had to get myself out.
I put finding a job back in my hands
I’ve been working with The Printed Bag Shop, who is now my employer, for years. They were one of the first clients I looked after in my job at the marketing agency, and became a key client for me when I was freelance. I knew I clicked with Craig, the director, and that I could really make a difference at that business. Working for them officially had crossed my mind before, but it hadn’t felt like the right time to make it a reality until now.
I took a breath, brainstormed all the ways I knew this would benefit the company as well as myself, and compiled a lengthy proposal that I knew they’d find it hard to say no to. Ringing Craig to tell him I had a suggestion for him…it was nervewracking, I won’t lie. I’d never put myself out there so much to take something I wanted, rather than waiting for someone to offer it to me.
Good news – they offered me the job.
Working 9-5 as the Marketing Manager for a printed bag supplier, I can safely say I’ve never felt so confident in my work/life balance. My role is now pretty much the least stressful thing in my life, and that feels good. It’s not that it doesn’t challenge me – it does. The to-do list is neverending and there’s definitely a pressure to perform for the business, but I know I’m in a place where I have autonomy and trust and a great team around me, and the ability (and space) to really make an impact. Contrary to popular opinion, I feel like I have more freedom in my work now than I ever did being freelance, because I’m the one deciding what I do on a daily basis and how I know I can add value, rather than working to the whims of my clients.
It’s not about the hours I put in now, it’s about how well I use them, and it’s going really well so far.
I have more space to think, space to breathe, and space to pursue my own passions too (like this blog!), have a life outside work.
I have balance, and it feels good.
I’m not saying that I think freelancing is bad, or I’ll never work for myself again – I just know that when it came to choosing between that and the 9-5 for me, right now, there’s no contest. I chose the 9-5, and I know I chose right.