So You Want to be a Freelance: Five Reasons to Make the Leap

Last week, I tried to talk you out of freelancing with a list of five reasons freelancing is not all sunshine and roses. Maybe I made some of you give a little prayer of thanks for your 9 to 5. If, however, you’re still thinking freelancing might be the life for you, here are five reasons to further convince you to take the plunge.

1. You can work when you want.

With an office job, flex hours usually mean that you can take every other Friday off if you work nine hours every other day or something like that. You’re still expected to be in the office during “regular business hours,” which typically begin somewhere between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and end somewhere between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. As a freelancer, flex hours mean you can literally work whenever you want. Morning person? No problem. Get up before the sun and be done by lunch. Unable to cope with sunlight until noon? No one’s going to stop you from starting work post the midday meal. Got a little bit of vampire in you? Well, the night’s all yours. If you want, you can change your schedule every day. You can refuse to even have a schedule. You’re welcome to do your grocery shopping at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and hit the gym at 10 a.m. You can go for a walk or a bike ride or just cartwheel around the neighborhood if you like. There are no time limits on lunch breaks. As long as you complete any work you commit to on time, then no one actually cares at what hour of the day you get it done.

2. You can work wherever you want.

Say goodbye to the generic office or, even worse, the cubicle, and set up your work space wherever you want. I find it nice to have a dedicated work space (decorated to suit my taste, of course), but I certainly don’t work there all the time. When the temperature parks itself in the 70s and the sun is bright and the birds are chirping, I pick up the office (aka my computer) and relocate to the back porch. Sometimes I’ll throw the office in my backpack and take it to the Duke Library. I’ve worked from a hammock and on an airplane and in a hotel room and during a long car ride. If it gets as hot this summer as it did last summer, I’m setting up shop in a kiddie pool in the backyard. The options are endless. While I personally remain fairly rooted, an entire army of “digital nomads” are marching all over the planet, working from wherever they can find a wireless connection.

3. There’s no dress code.

Though a lot of offices have become more casual since the days of the dot com boom, most workplaces still maintain a certain standard when it comes to wardrobes. Bathing suits are generally frowned upon. Pajamas as well. Nudity is definitely a no-no. But when you’re working at home you can wear (or not wear) whatever the heck you want, which means you don’t have to spend any of your hard-earned money on a work wardrobe. Wear whatever you find most comfy or most inspirational and go with it. No one’s going to know.

4. You get to choose your assignments.

While working in an office, most of us don’t have the freedom of telling our boss that the project (s)he just presented to us really isn’t what we’re looking to do at the moment. Or that our plates already full, and there’s just no room for anything else. As a freelancer, however, you have the liberty to choose assignments that interest you (as well as work for people that you find pleasant to do business with). Sure, when first starting out as a freelance, you’ll probably take most anything that comes your way, but as your business and reputation grows you reserve the right to be picky. Maybe you want to stick with one specific niche. Maybe you want to try your hand at a whole range of opportunities. The choice is yours.

5. Your income potential is open-ended.

Now, I admit it, this one is a bit of a double-edged sword, since open-ended could mean $200 dollars (or less) or $100,000 (or more). However, there’s something I find fun about being able to pick up a new project and with it a couple thousand dollars. As a salaried employee, new projects don’t come with new pay (except perhaps an occasional bonus). You pretty much know up front what you’re going to be making for the year or until your next review. And while it can be a bit scary as a freelancer not to have that security, it’s also exciting when you find yourself making more than you predicted you would.

Fellow freelancers, what can you add to this list? What is it about the freelance life that makes it your preferred lifestyle?

*The observations in this post and all other posts about freelancing are based on my experience as a freelance editor and copy writer (who does a tiny bit of travel writing on the side). I do think that they apply pretty universally, however, to the freelance experience.

So You Want to be a Freelancer: Five Reasons to Reconsider

I’ve been working entirely as a freelancer since we returned from our trip in October 2009. Nice, right?

Well, actually, until recently, I wasn’t entirely sure freelancing was the life for me.  To be honest, the first 1.5 years of my freelancing career were a bit rocky. I was underemployed to put it optimistically, and I actually missed a fair few things about office life. However, in the past couple of months, I’ve decided that freelancing is indeed what I want to do. It didn’t hurt that my hard work finally began to pay off with contracts and freelance work, but it was a stint back in the office as a contract worker and a subsequent offer for a full time job that made me realize I am actually right where I want to be (or at least on the right path).

What I have learned since starting out as a freelancer, however, is that freelancing is not quite the peaches and cream that you imagine it will be when you sit in a cubicle daydreaming. It has plenty of positives, believe me, but it has its share of negatives as well. So, for those of you considering making a jump into the murky depths of freelancing, let me try to talk you out of it. Here are five reasons why you  might want to reconsider.

(If they don’t make you change your mind, tune back in next week for reasons why freelancing is indeed the bee’s knees and then a subsequent post with tips on how to make the leap to full time freelancer.)

1. It can be lonely.
As a freelancer, it’s generally you, your desk, and your computer (or whatever it is you work on). Sure, you can take your work anywhere you want—to the back porch hammock, the coffee shop down the street, or a beach on the Carolina coast. There might be other people around in those places, but let’s face it, the guy working on his novel at the coffee shop probably isn’t looking to be interrupted by some dude he doesn’t know. As a freelancer you don’t have a coworker who you can commiserate with about a project or convince to go on a coffee break with you. There’s no cubicle wall to peer over, no office to pop in on. And while you might be free to go for a beer at 2:30 in the afternoon, your office-dwelling friends probably aren’t, and really, afternoon drinking by yourself is cause for concern. As a freelancer, you need to be either really, really good at alone time or have a pool of freelance friends to drink with mid-afternoon.

2. The work can be inconsistent.
As a freelancer, the best type of work is that in which you’re guaranteed a certain number of hours of work per week. Unfortunately, those gigs are few and far between. Instead, what you tend to find is a lot of project-based work, which basically translates to a couple of days or a couple of weeks of intense work and then a good few weeks of no work from that particular client. Ideally, when one client’s work dries up, another client’s work kicks in, but in reality, what seems to most happen, is that all your clients need all your time all at once. And because each client is your boss and because you want to keep your boss happy, you can’t really call a meeting and say you’re overwhelmed and ask for a bit of help with the workload. (This is especially true as a newbie, when you’re taking all the work you can get and don’t yet have the luxury of being selective.) In the end, this means you’ll have some weeks where you’re working ten hours a day every day of the week, weekends included, and some weeks where you’re lucky to work one full day. Your only constant is irregularity, so if you thrive on a schedule and routine, you might want to reconsider. Every day is a brand new game in the freelance world.

3. And thus the pay can be inconsistent.

When I worked in an office, #2 was true for me there as well. Some weeks I had a ton to do; other weeks I spent most of my time reading blogs. The thing is—and this is a big thing so pay attention—with an office job they pay you even if you don’t do a damn thing all day. As a freelancer, that’s not the case. You only get paid for the hours you actually work. Which means some weeks you might be pulling in the big bucks, and some weeks you  might not get paid at all. If you live hand-to-mouth, this is a not a good thing. It’s also a hard thing for budget keepers, because you never really know how much you’re going to make. Also, as a freelancer, you’re going to have to chase money more often than you’d like. Not all clients are good at paying on time. There’s no direct deposit every two weeks. There’s a check here and a check there, here a check, there a check, definitely not everywhere a check. Give some good hard thought to your comfort level with this kind of financial uncertainty before telling your boss you’re no longer interested in receiving a check from him.

4. Your hourly wage is not nearly as big as it looks.

When you tell people what you charge as a freelancer, you often get looks of amazement, as in “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” And on first examination, it often is. However, if you live in America, you immediately need to knock 15% off that number. That’s how much you have to pay in self-employment taxes to cover the portion of things your employer usually pays for, such as Social Security. Now you have your base pay, from which you will still have to pay income tax (on a self-reported quarterly basis). The self-employment tax is entirely different. Then consider the fact that you’re not getting health insurance, life insurance, paid vacation or sick days, and no employer contributions to a retirement plan. Figure out how much those things are going to cost for you to cover yourself. Divide that out and subtract it from the rate. Then look at the number. It’s not so high now, is it? Now this isn’t to say that freelance pay is bad. It can, in fact, be very, very good, depending on what field you’re in and what clients you find. But when you’re setting your rate, be sure to factor in all the oft-overlooked costs that will be coming out of that money. It’s more than you think.

5. You must constantly look for work.

Job hunting sucks. It’s always a relief to get a job and be able to tuck that resume and reference list away in a drawer and forget about it. If you’re a freelancer, however, you don’t get to do that. Your resume and references should be getting a constant workout. The nature of freelance work is that it is fluid. You never know when work from a client is going to dry up or when a client  might decide it’s easier for them to hire someone in-house to do the work you’ve been doing as a freelancer. To avoid being left high and dry, freelancers must constantly be looking for work, following new leads, making connections, and maintaining relationships with current and previous clients. During both weeks when you have five hours of work and weeks when you have fifty hours of work, you’ve got to keep up the hunt. It’s hard work, and you don’t get paid for it, but you’ll end up not getting paid at all if you don’t do it.

Photo Friday: Hawaii’s Waterfalls

What’s more tropical than a waterfall? Sure there are plenty of waterfalls in nontropical locations—take Niagara Falls, for instance—but when I think waterfall, I think of a tropical climate, complete with orchids, colorful birds, and palm trees. That just seems the appropriate place for waterfalls in my opinion. Hawaii appears to support this theory of mine, as it is home to a plethora of beautiful waterfalls that come in all sizes and shapes (and occasionally varying colors too, thank you rainy season mud).

Being waterfall fans (come on, who doesn’t like to see gushing water jump off of a cliff?), we searched out a selection of waterfalls on our visit.

On Kauai, we first visited Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls, both of which you can drive up to. Much better roadside attractions in my mind than a giant ball of twine.

We then saw more of Kauai’s water wonders on a visit to Waimea Canyon. We viewed many of the falls from a distance, but we earned the right to get up close and personal with Waipo’o Falls on a challenging hike through the canyon. Honestly, the view of the falls is better from afar, but it was a scenic hike. And from a distance, my parents could not have practiced their American Gothic pose while standing over a waterfall. Worth it.

The Hilo side of the Big Island is well known for being wet, which might be a downer for some, but on the plus side, it means you’ll find lots of waterfalls. Just a bit north of Hilo, Rainbow Falls is a well-established tourist spot, but even when a tour bus full of cruise ship passengers pulls up at the same time you do, you can still get some uninterrupted views. It’s quite powerful in the rainy season months, but it’s also quite brown thanks to all the run-off.

Well worth the $15 admission fee, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden overflows with beauty. Nestled amidst all the flowers and trees and ferns and other tropical plants is this lazy little waterfall.

Battling for the tile of most noteworthy waterfall in Hawaii is Akaka Falls,which plunges 420 feet into a pool.

It’s practically impossible to go to Hawaii and not see a waterfall unless you plant yourself in Waikiki and never leave. With many waterfalls either right on the road or just a short walk from it, plan to pull over for the view.

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah: Zip Lining on Kauai

I like to think that I’ve done a fair amount of adventurous things in my life. I’ve jumped into a glacial river and gone hydrospeeding down it with nothing but a little piece of foam to guide me through the rapids. I’ve stepped into crampons and climbed a wall of ice. I learned to scuba dive. I’ve soared over Victoria Falls in a microlight. I’ve rappelled down a waterfall. I’ve rafted (and in part, swam) down the Nile.

In short, I like to do things that fall a little bit on the adventurous side. Until our trip to Hawaii, I had not, however, gone zip lining. I was way behind the curve.

But thanks to my mom (yep that’s right, my mom), I’m all caught up.

Now my mom likes to have fun and try new things, but she’s not the queen with a capital Q of adventure. Yet when I was making our Hawaii itinerary and asking for suggestions, she kept throwing out zip lining. At first, I thought she was kidding. Then I thought it was weird that she just kept bringing it up. So finally, I asked her if she was serious. Turns out, she was. My mom really wanted to go zip lining. So I did a little research, made a few phone calls, and the next thing I knew, zip lining was on the itinerary.


We woke up to gray skies and rain on the morning we were to go zip lining. Not exactly what I had in mind as I pictured myself soaring over the valleys of Kauai. But we were on the Garden Island, after all, and unfortunately none of us are sweet enough to melt in the rain. So we forged ahead.

Weighed and then outfitted with harnesses and helmets, we jumped in an old Army-style vehicle to bump our way up to the top of the valley we were going to zip line down (and which was the same valley where Tropic Thunder was filmed). The rain came and then went, teasing us but never clearing entirely. We were meant to get wet it seems. And boy did we ever.

But honestly, the rain didn’t affect our fun one bit. Though clouds surrounded the valley, we still had beautiful views down the valley, lush with trees and rivers. And zipping over it all turned out to be a great rush and not the least bit scary. As someone who isn’t super fond of heights, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like zip lining, but even on the tallest, longest runs, I didn’t feel a bit of fear. It was really just plain fun, and I’m glad I can now add zip lining to the list of adventures I’ve been lucky enough to have.

As for my mom, well, I think she’s been looking for her next chance to clip on, leap off, and zip away. We might have an addict on our hands.

*Sorry for any blurry pictures. Taking photos of moving objects in pouring rain is tricky.

*We went zip lining with Kauai Backcountry Adventures, who we would highly recommend.  The staff was fantastic—both very knowledgeable and very fun—and the course was great fun.

Photo Friday: Tasty Hawaii

Right near the top of my list of reasons I love to travel is the opportunity to eat local specialties. This is true of whether I’m going to New York or New Delhi. Everywhere in the world, as far as I can tell, has its own special cuisine—something they do better than anywhere else. Hawaii, of course, is no exception. Here, in words and pictures, are my favorite Hawaii eats.

(Please note, I am not much of a food photographer. This is primarily because I am a top-notch food eater, and I either get so excited about my food that I forget to photograph it at all or I get so anxious to eat my food that I fail to take a good photo. I’m sorry.)

No trip to Oahu is complete without a trip (or was it three? or four?) to Leonard’s, home of the island’s most famous malasadas. For all of you sad souls have never had one, malasadas are Portuguese donuts. Best eaten straight from the grease and piping hot, traditional malasadas are served covered in sugar, though at Leonard’s, you can also opt for malasadas stuffed with chocolate, custard, haupia (coconut milk custard), or the flavor of the month (it was pineapple in February, macadamia nut in March). Expect lines out the door at Leonard’s, but don’t let them deter you. The malasadas are totally worth it.

Another Hawaii must-have is shave ice (note: it’s called shave not shaved ice). To be clear, shave ice and snow cones are completely different things. Shave ice is about one million times better than snow cones, because of the way that the ice is shaved very, very finely with an incredibly sharp blade so that the ice actually absorbs whatever flavoring is added to it unlike with a snow cone where it all drops to the bottom. It’s very common in Hawaii to eat your shave ice with ice cream or red beans at the bottom. I’ve never tried the beans, but the ice cream is a fun choice because it gets all the leftover syrup and thus makes for a tasty treat. As for flavors, I like to stick with the tropical choices, including liliko’i (Hawaiian for passion fruit), mango, and pineapple. Probably the most popular shave ice shack in Hawaii is Matsumoto’s on Oahu’s North Shore. I’ve had it and can vouch for it, though this time we tried Aoki’s and I would rate it just as highly.

I’m a big fan of seafood, especially when it’s served in a casual atmosphere, and it’s hard to get much more casual than the shrimp shacks and trucks dotting the islands. The biggest collection of them that I am aware of is in the vicinity of Kahuku on Oahu. These “restaurants” keep things simple with a small menu that basically consists of shrimp served in a couple different ways (with butter and garlic sauce, with cocktail sauce, with a hot and spicy sauce). They’re delivered in a styrofoam container with the common two scoops of rice, and there’s really nothing to do but dive in and get messy. The shrimp are ridiculously huge and delicious. The only negative is how long the wait can be. This is not fast food; waits of 40 minutes are not uncommon. But, hey, you’re in Hawaii. This is island time. Get used to it. As for recommendations, I’ve tried both Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp Truck and Romy’s Kahuku Shrimp Shack and can vouch for both of them, though if you’re a fan of spicy, I’d suggest Giovanni’s. Their spicy shrimp live up to the billing.

I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets, so of course, I made it a point to seek one out in Hawaii and I’m definitely glad I did. We happened to arrive in Po’ipu on Kauai on the day that the farmer’s market was being help in nearby Koloa. As we pulled up, I thought that there must be something else going on in the park where it was held, because of the overwhelming number of people, but nope, people just take their farmer’s markets seriously on Kauai. (There was a gate keeping people out until the designated start time, and there was a huge crowd waiting at it, so to get the good stuff, get there early.) The market wasn’t huge, but the offerings were delicious, with a special emphasis on the tasty fruit grown on the island. We loaded up with apple bananas (my favorite!), oranges, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, starfruit, and tomatoes, all of which were awesome. I highly recommend seeking out a farmer’s market while in Hawaii. Each island seems to have a near-daily farmer’s market, though they rotate locations (every Monday in one town, every Tuesday in another, etc.).

Sadly, I didn’t get photos of the other food we enjoyed in Hawaii, but on our list of favorites was the ahi tuna (just barely seared; so good), Kalua pig, saimin and other noodle soups, the Korean barbecue, and the sweet bread rolls.

Other restaurant recommendations include:

Nico’s on Pier 38 (Honolulu): Casual seafood right on the pier. Get the ahi.

Pizzetta (Koloa): The pizzas are really delicious. Pasta servings are large and tasty as well.
Scotty’s Beachside BBQ (Kapa’a): The brisket sandwich was really good, and I loved the baked beans. Nice view as well.
Duane’s Ono-Char Burger (Anahola): We only had the milkshakes were (nice and thick), but I’ll go back for the burgers next time.

Kona Inn Restaurant (Kona): If you’re looking for a splurge, I enjoyed the classic Hawaii atmosphere here. The view is good too, and the ahi was excellent. If you opt for the mud pie, share it with the whole table. It’s ridiculous.
Kona Brewing Co & Brewpub (Kona): Fun atmosphere, good beers, and good pizzas.
Bite Me Fish Market & Grill (Kona): Right in the marina, Bite Me does the seafood proud. Picnic-table eating with a view of the water is teh way to go. (Don’t opt for a salad here. They’re very sad.)
Thai Thai (Volcano): Food options in Volcano are extremely limited, so if you’re staying in Volcano bring food with you or be prepared to drive down to Hilo. Or you could just eat all your meals at Thai Thai, where we found excellent curries and stir fries.

*Be sure to check out other Photo Friday fun at Delicious Baby.