I was reading a chapter book to my seven-year-old at bedtime the other night — a story about a girl named Ruby whose father supports a family of six. Everything turns real all of a sudden when Ruby’s dad loses his job.
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.”
What followed was a conversation that I realized many people much older than seven years old would benefit from. Because 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 presumably 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 lots of money left to make. It’s basically impossible for me to 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.
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 traditional employment.
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, experience brings more predictability. You can get to a point where you can be pretty confident in the minimum you’ll make each month. This happens once you get established as a freelancer, learn how to always keep your finger on the pulse of your pipeline, and know what to do about it when that pulse weakens.
At that level, freelancing is just about as predictable as traditional employment as well as much more secure (though health insurance is a problem, which as I said I’ll leave for a future conversation).
It takes a lot of legwork to maintain predictability in freelancing, but it becomes second-nature. And for those of us who love freelancing, whatever extra stress accompanies that legwork is entirely worthwhile for a career that has so many benefits.
“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.