Years ago, I invented a phrase to describe people living the kind of life I have now. I called them “pajama-wearing workers” who raked in cold, hard cash. Back then, I saw freelancers as people who had decided to quit the nine-to-five life to travel the world and work on whatever interested them, wherever they wanted.
In comparison, my business was doing badly, I was working long hours — longer than the nine-to-five life — and I was still buried up to my neck in debt. That’s why I decided to settle my debts, close the business and spend the rest of my life freelancing. I told myself that I’d never again get involved in anything that remotely looked like a full-time job, and I’ve kept true to that promise. Sure, over time I’ve realized that not every freelancer is a digital nomad who spends their time hopping from one country to the next — but I’ve confirmed that this lifestyle comes with the financial independence, freedom and flexibility I was looking for.
It’d be a lie to say the freelance economy is the future of work. It’s the present. Employers don’t want full-time employees on their payroll, and fewer workers want the hectic nine-to-five work life.
Since I dove into freelancing, I’ve never missed my old job — and I’m certainly not going to create a business that doesn’t provide what I enjoy. Let’s take a look at some of the main ways freelancing has improved my life, and how it can do the same for yours.
Decide How Much You Want to Work
According to a survey conducted by Upwork, an average freelancer works about 36 hours a week, compared to 40 hours for employees living the nine-to-five life.
That’s not a huge difference, but what makes freelancing so wonderful is that you decide when you’ve had enough. No one tells you to work this little or that much; there are no rules. There are weeks I work 60 hours or more, and then there are weeks I only work 10 hours. If you’ve read Tim Ferriss’ mega-bestselling book The 4-Hour Work Week, you’ll recognize the premise. You’re the only person who can decide when to push harder or ease off.
Throw Away Your Alarm Clock
Another annoyance synonymous with conventional jobs is that your employers determine when you work, when you take a break, when you resume and when you can go home. And they don’t care if you spend hours in traffic: You have to be back to work at the stipulated time.
As a freelancer, I decide when I work. Everything is deadline-driven. Nobody cares if I work one hour or one hundred, provided they get results. My clients are scattered across a half dozen time zones, and what matters to them is the value I give them for their money. I haven’t set a morning alarm for as long as I can remember. There are days I go to bed as late as 3 a.m., but that doesn’t mean I get shortchanged on sleep. I simply wake up at 11 a.m. the following day and pick up right where I left off.
Choose Your Colleagues
Employees don’t get to decide who they work with. You have to put up with your boss and co-workers, even if they’re like Dwight Schrute. But as a freelancer, it’s the exact opposite.
One of my first freelance clients gave me a great offer to help him create content. It was the biggest offer I’d ever had. Then the project started, and I discovered that the client was a nightmare. He monitored the writing process from ideation and keyword research to development and image choices. He was always reviewing and changing his mind, constantly forcing me to start over. He took weeks to reply to emails. I quickly lost interest as the project dragged on. This was not why I started freelancing, so I finished one last task, fired him and threw in the towel.
When you have a nine-to-five job, it’s not so easy to drop a client — unless you’re ready to look for another job. As a freelancer, you can fire bad clients and replace them with better ones.
Boost Multiple Income Streams
Your nine-to-five job is a single source of income; lose your position, and you have to find another one real quick. Try to change the status quo and you could lose your income, threatening your lifestyle, family and health. Freelancing opens doors instead of closing them. You can start as many businesses as you like, often with as little as $100. Chris Guillebeau’s book The $100 Startup is about this.
The average freelancer sells more than one service. You can sell e-books and courses as supplements to your core business, generating passive income from sign-ups and downloads while you’re doing client work or even sleeping. Having multiple sources of income is how you become wealthy. Ask any millionaire.
As Cal Newport proves in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, more and more people will throw money at you if you continue to grow your business and sharpen your skills. They’ll fight to buy you your freedom — but if you don’t learn to say “no” to those offers, you’ll miss the whole point of being a freelancer. Don’t give up the freedom to do what matters: taking care of yourself and building a better life.