Working Past Worry
As I’m writing this, I have other people’s problems on my mind.
Today, a friend is worrying about finding a new job as he’s just been let go from the company he’s been with for nine years. Another friend is worrying about whether she should leave her job to pursue something new.
And I’d guess that you and/or some of your fellow AWAI members are worrying about whether to become freelancers.
In all three situations, there’s some element of risk involved. And that’s true of any formative experience. Big career changes have the potential of not going according to plan.
And before I became a freelancer, I had a wide range of worries. Some of these included:
- Will I regret leaving my old company?
- Will prospects like me enough to hire me?
- What if I get a client I don’t want?
- Do I have the skills to do a project well and on time?
These are all worries about the unknown.
It’s natural to worry about becoming a freelancer because being a freelancer certainly feels risky, at least at first.
But after being without full-time employment for the first time in 10 years, I’m seeing disturbing trends in the world of work. I think people should be more worried as full-time employees than as freelancers. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But if you look at the big picture, I think you’ll see what I mean.
Here’s the first thing I want you to remember. You can’t be safe with only one source of income.
Once upon a time, employers were loyal to employees, and employees stuck with an employer. But those days are long past. According to the federal government, from January to June 2012, there have been at least 767,890 people laid off by their employers. That’s the lowest number in any six-month period since 2007.
So at a minimum, each year for the past few years, over 1.6 million Americans have lost their jobs. Right now, at least 12.75 million Americans are unemployed. That’s almost the population of Illinois.
The idea of a “job for life” has gone away. Even professions where job security seemed automatic, like law or medicine, are experiencing layoffs and shrinking opportunity.
I’ve been a freelancer for four months. As of today, I have projects with four companies. A couple of these I found from networking, asking friends or former colleagues for referrals. Others came to me from my marketing efforts – website, social media, and email. Those are all skills AWAI helped me develop, and they’ve proven to be effective.
I’m building relationships and income streams from four different sources, with more sources to come.
For me, that beats having all my eggs in one basket. I’m controlling risk just like investors do – I’m not putting all my time, energy, and income in one place. Would you put 100 percent of your retirement fund in a single stock? No? Then why put 100 percent of your income in your current employer?
Here’s a fact that will help you assess the risk of leaving full-time employment. From Day 1 as a freelancer, I made more money each month than unemployment would pay me. That’s not a bad start.
But there’s another upside to freelance work that’s easy to overlook. You’re less likely to become obsolete because you can embrace change.
I came across a list of obsolete professions the other day. They included:
- Telegraph operator
- Switchboard operator
- Inspectors, testers, samplers, sorters, and weighers
More recently, we see the gradual decline of postal workers, toll collectors, and television repairmen.
Every month, we hear about a layoff at a manufacturing facility where somebody is quoted saying, “I’ve been building this for 20 years, they don’t need me anymore, and I’m too old to retrain for something else.”
The pace of change makes professions go away. But in freelance life, freelancers naturally keep up with change because they must.
In marketing, for example, the Internet drove a fundamental transformation. Businesses went from producing printed reports, white papers, and brochures to creating content for the Web, driving social media, and creating online video. Freelancers, even today, enable big companies to adapt to change.
Freelancers always change with the times. I can anticipate that in 30 years I’ll be producing holographic product simulations that exist in immersive virtual reality, or my friend the travel writer will be vacationing in some African spot that’s war-torn today. Change is inevitable – and freelancers are more flexible, more agile, and more responsive to change.
The final thing to remember is that becoming a freelancer opens many doors.
I don’t just mean that you, as a freelancer, can work for many clients, although that’s true. What I mean is that you can leverage your skills and time in many different ways.
For example, my long-term plan is to build a collection of marketing programs, sell those through my site, and create another income stream. I’m helping my wife start a little side project on the Web for additional income. I’m also in talks to start speaking at events – for pay.
As a freelancer, I can pursue opportunities all over the world without leaving the comfort of my home office. So in my eyes, freelance work offers more opportunity and less risk than having a conventional job.
If you haven’t made the leap yet, I know you’re worrying about becoming a freelancer. Don’t. With the right plan, you’ll be much safer than in the 9-to-5 world. Drop me a note and let me know if I can help.
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