5 things that continually surprise me about freelancing

  1. Most people are good (and intend to pay).

I used to think that everyone was out to screw me. That they would take my work and simply not pay if they could get away with it. I was sensitive about copyright and intellectual property and confidentiality – even among colleagues, occasionally.

It took a couple of years but I eventually got over myself, and realised that four bad debts in 11 years aren’t so bad. Of almost 200 clients, only 2{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} were bad people – or bad enough people not to pay. And probably only half of those intended not to settle from the very beginning. That’s 98{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} good people.

I’ve also relaxed about my copyright, IP and other bits and pieces. Knowledge is only worth something when you share it (with the right people), and if you keep it to yourself, no-one knows how good you are. Right?

  1. I’m a business-person before I’m a creative.

I was always a confirmed right-brainer. Creative, artsy, known for flowery doodles. Numbers aren’t my thing. I did four languages for Matric. Four!

But 11 years of freelancing have turned me into a business-person who’s much more concerned with numbers than she used to be. I’m also a definite left-brainer these days: interested in plans, strategies, order and discipline. And this has yielded an unforeseen career in corporate copywriting, rather than the sexy agency stuff.

I’ve also witnessed the extent to which business savvy translates into profits. You can be the most talented freelancer on earth, but if your business is badly run and you can’t market yourself and your services effectively, you’re in big trouble.

  1. Freelancing really suits commitment-phobics.

The worst things I could ever imagine are:

  • Having a boss. Who tells me what to do. And when.
  • Leave forms.
  • Having an open-plan office. With other people in it.
  • Other people’s radios playing loudly in said office.
  • Working on the same brand every day.
  • Parking politics and shared loos. With poorly worded notes on the doors.
  • Not having the freedom to choose and sometimes fire my own clients.
  1. The hours are MUCH longer than people think.

When I went freelance in 2004, I went from working an eight-hour day with a one-hour lunch break and multiple chat/eat gaps to working a 12-hour day with no time for lunch and no-one to talk to even if I had the time. Now that I’m also a mom, I work approximately eight hours again, but I’m at full-tilt every single minute of that time.  No slacking off, slowing down or chilling out. There’s not enough time to stuff around.

  1. If you do it right, you make much more moolla.

I think many people think of freelancers as hobbyists who sommer maar think up a nice idea and sometimes get paid for it, if they’re lucky. I did, before. (I had no intention of going on my own; I just couldn’t find the right publishing job.)

But within only a few months of going solo, I had matched my previous salary – and I’ve never looked back. Yes, I have overheads. But I am, if you’ll pardon the absolutely dreadful cliché, the mistress of my own financial destiny. Which is a reasonably nice place to be, especially in a recession. Mostly. I think.

* A version of this article originally appeared on Tiffany’s February 2014 Stable Door column on Freelance Central.