The things they don't tell you about freelancing

There are a lot of things people don't like to talk about when it comes to freelancing. One topic is feast or famine. One month, you'll have more work than you can handle, the next month, it's gone. The good freelancers are the ones that can outlast this, they say.

People who write about freelance experiences often just cover the positives, or at best gloss over the negatives. I get to work from home. I set my own hours. That's all great. But what about: Where's my next paycheck going to come from? It's something any successful freelancer will go through at least once, even if just for a couple weeks.

I did pretty much everything by the book. I worked full-time while starting my freelance career. From September 2011 through the beginning of February 2012, I was pulling some crazy hours. This happened more than once: Working at my job from 3 pm to midnight, then working on a freelance project until 6 am. I also once stayed up from the night before because I had to leave by 5 am to catch a sunrise. I figured I'd be better on no sleep than a couple hours of sleep.

But it was worth it. I was, for the first time, getting the chance to do what I loved and starting to make a living out of it. I was happier than I had ever been. Someone finally gave me a chance. I was going to make the most of it.

I worked as hard as I could during those 5 months to get everything in order, and finally in February of last year I made the jump. Full-time freelance. Happiness.

Things were great. I was getting a ton of work. I had a couple ongoing relationships that meant I didn't need to actively advertise for work, but even still I had a ton of in-bound inquiries (for a newly started freelancer without a huge network in Columbus, Ohio). I took much of what came my way for the experience and opportunity. The only thing I really avoided was low or no-pay work because, hey, I respect my time.

During this time I was getting to travel around the country, too. California, Texas, New York. Was this the perfect life or what? I thought I could do this forever.

Then leading up to Thanksgiving, work slowed down. Work slowed way down. But work always slows down around the holidays and the end of the year. People are on vacation, companies are getting their budgets ready for next year, or they're just too busy with their customers during the holidays. It happens. It happened the year before. No big deal.

I continued to follow up on leads, as well as develop my next film project. My goal was to keep working every day on something I was passionate about. Even if the money wasn't coming in, I was getting better at writing and putting a project together.

Prior to this, some streams of my steady flow of work dried up. One company moved all their creative production to New York City. Another company re-focused their energy on taking fewer projects, while they had expanded their network the year before when they were busting at the seams, meaning they now had less work for more people. Another company just turned out to not be a good fit for the way I work, and I wasn't able to meet their needs in the way they wanted.

But it had to get better after the new year, right? That's what everyone told me. All signs pointed to me continuing to do the right things. And I've been lucky beyond words to have an extremely supportive and awesome wife who has been by my side during this entire journey.

Except now it's February 28, the last day of the month. I've had a couple small projects since the beginning of November. The easiest way to not get new work is to not be actively producing new work. What a conundrum.

So here I am. Do I keep running my freelance business? Do I become another statistic?

I should back up. I graduated in May of 2010. I started freelancing in September 2011. What was I doing all that time? Applying for jobs. I still am, actually.

Let me just say it. Having my own business was never my short-term ambition. I have always wanted to work for a company in some type of media or communication capacity. I want to help contribute to a team and a company that reaches a lot of people and makes a difference in their market. I want to help build campaigns, whether production or concepts. I could see myself building my own business or working as an independent director or cinematographer maybe 5 or 10 years down the line.

That's not to say I don't love what I am doing right now, because I do. Working from home is really awesome. But I don't have a huge network, and I'm striking out at getting work in my market 9 times out of 10 because people are looking for cheap work. Like $250 for a whole project. Like all creatives, I just want to create. 

I first started applying for jobs a couple months before college graduation. I graduated with Honors with a Bachelor's degree from a private university. I held an internship for 3 of my 4 years in college. I worked at the same job, first part-time and later full-time, for almost 5 years.

At this point, I've applied for hundreds of jobs. Both jobs fitting my college degree and my real-world work experience (customer service). Of probably 400+ applications, I have had just 4 interviews. While you may think that means there must be something wrong with my resume or experience, you might be surprised at the companies I have interviewed with. I'm not sure if I should name them or not, but let's just say there's a good chance you're reading this on a device made by one of these companies.

Much like freelance, I hear the same things. Overqualified. Too talented. (Seriously heard that once.) Otherwise known as the most polite way to tell someone to hit the road.

I worked my butt off during college, and again while working full-time to launch my freelance business. I've built a solid resume and a good portfolio for someone just a few years out of college. Now I'm stuck. I'm too qualified for the low-paying jobs. I don't have the 7-10 years experience required by most jobs that I otherwise meet the requirements for the position. I can't afford and wouldn't be qualified for most internships.

So, what do I do? I don't know.

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