I was reading a chapter book to my eight-year-old at bedtime a while ago - a story about a girl named Ruby whose father supports a family of six. Everything gets real all of a sudden when Ruby's dad loses his job - a reality millions of people are living with since the global pandemic hit.
My daughter listened intently as Ruby struggled with fears that the family would run out of food or be forced to leave their home. At one point, Ruby overhears her dad telling her mom that maybe they should get rid of Ruby's beloved dog to save on dog food costs.
That was the last straw for my animal-loving kid.
"Mom, what if you lose your job like Ruby's dad?" she said, a note of panic in her voice. "Will we have to move to a different house?"
"Don't worry," I responded. "I won't lose my job."
"But what if you do?"
"It's impossible," I said. "I can't lose my job. I'm a freelancer."
A Beneficial Conversation
What followed was a conversation that I realized many adults would benefit from right now. With jobs in short supply and the pandemic-induced shift toward remote work, freelancing could be a good option for a lot of people. Having made cuts at the beginning of the pandemic, companies are now looking at the work that needs to be done. With uncertainty still heavy in the air, they may be cautious about making long-term commitments, so they may be open to hiring freelancers.
Once you've established yourself as a freelancer, the short-term nature of each gig is expected and commonplace, not something to be lamented. You can build up a stable career with an ongoing array of these overlapping short-term jobs. Despite that reality, there seems to be a general perception that freelancing is inherently insecure, that no matter how long or successfully you've been doing it you're always just a few beats away from a devastatingly bad month.
I told my daughter that since Ruby's dad only has one big job, when he loses it he has nothing left. No money coming in the door. (And possibly no health insurance either, but I left that for a future conversation.)
But since I have lots of smaller jobs that I do for lots of different people, if I lose one of those jobs, I still have lots of work left to do and plenty of money left to make. It's highly unlikely I'd lose all of the jobs I have at once, so it is almost guaranteed that I will never be in Ruby's dad's position.
Variable and Secure
What I didn't tell her is that while freelancing is not insecure in the way people often think, it is inherently variable, which means that it can be somewhat unpredictable. You are likely to make different amounts each month - sometimes by a large margin - which can make the career feel less safe than a full-time, salaried position.
But as Ruby's dad demonstrates, traditional jobs can be snatched out from under you at a moment's notice, with potentially devastating effects - a very unsafe situation indeed.
And with freelancing, longevity brings predictability. You can get to a point where you can be pretty confident about what you'll make each month. It's a question of getting established, minimizing your exposure to any one client (no more than half time is a good rule of thumb), learning how to keep your finger on the pulse of your pipeline, and knowing what to do about it when that pulse weakens.
At that level, freelancing becomes just about as predictable as traditional employment. However, it is much more secure, not just because it's unlikely that all your clients will fire you at once. As a freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You can raise or lower your prices as the market demands. If demand for one kind of project wanes, you can shift to an adjacent specialty or skill up in something new. If one industry slows down, you can take your skills to a new one. Yes, there may be some slow times, but never completely dead times. It's said that the best time to be looking for a job is when you already have one, and as a freelancer you're always likely to have at least one.
It takes a lot of legwork to maintain predictability in freelancing, but after a while, it becomes second-nature. And for those of us who love freelancing, whatever extra stress accompanies that legwork is balanced by a career that has flexibility, variety, and infinite potential for growth. And you don't have the stress of worrying that you'll lose your sole source of income.
"You never have to worry about me losing my job," I told my daughter. I'm not sure she really understood why, but my heartfelt confidence as I said those words was all she needed to hear.