Freelancer Diaries: Week 4

Closing in on one month in this side-hustle experiment. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve been learning lately:

Out of Order

When I get really excited about something new, I often dive right in, full steam ahead. Freelancing was no different. For the first 3 weeks, I was reading books, watching webinars, taking notes, and sending out bids to dozens of potential clients on a couple of websites. I was ready to grab the bull by the horns and make stuff happen!

And after 3 weeks of HUSTLE™, I was left with just one client…whom I had agreed to help for free. What began as a request to correct his document’s formatting turned into almost 7 hours over the next 2 weeks spent learning the basics of e-book publishing.

The gentleman was nice enough about it; he even gave me a 5-star review on Thumbtack and $30 for my efforts.

On the other hand, I had invested about $60 paying for client “contacts” on a freelancing site called Thumbtack, with little to show for it: my one paying client, and a few folks who promised to contact me later this year. That’s it.

Three weeks into my new part-time business, I was $30 in the hole. 

My internal pendulum suddenly swung the other way.  I just sat on my couch one night, sulking, frustrated that I wasn’t immediately successful, second-guessing the whole enterprise. I considered chucking the whole thing and forgetting it ever happened, but I had told a few people about it (along with the entire INTERNET) and felt too embarrassed to give up entirely. So I just moped about it for a few days.

[Some of you more seasoned freelancers are trying hard not to scoff openly at my newbie pity-party. I appreciate your restraint.]

I spent the weekend feeling defeated, deflated, listless. My wife kept asking if I was okay. I would just shrug in reply. I could feel that heavy-blanket funk start to press down on me.

I’ve learned over the years that my little depressive bouts are often a “check engine” light of sorts. When these moods hit, I need to pause and consider what’s out of balance in my life.

I finally realized that part of the reason I was so downcast was that I wasn’t taking care of myself (sleep, hydration, exercise), I wasn’t creating anything for myself (blog posts, short stories, poetry), and I wasn’t keeping freelance work in its proper place (this is a side-project and not my life).

A specific example of how things were getting out of hand: In my eagerness (desperation?) to drum up work, I was even sending out bids between services at church, rather than interacting with my church family. I was late walking into the corporate worship time last weekend because I was busy tapping away at my phone, firing off just a few more bids so I didn’t miss out on work. My wise and patient wife had to call me out on it later that day. She rightly reminded me that I was at church to (duh) worship God, not hustle for work.

If nothing else, this incident demonstrated that I needed to build firmer boundaries so that work (the “anxious toil” the Psalmist warns about) doesn’t drift into my worship time.

This past week has taught me that I can’t keep going full-tilt like this. When these different spheres of life are out of balance, I feel miserable and become ineffective. What this means practically is that I’m going to pull back on the hustling, spending less time on trying to drum up work and more time on what is most important: my relationship with God, with my family, and with my circle of friends and fellow Christians.

Is It Worth It? Should I Work It? Put My Bid Down, Flip It, and Reverse It?

It’s amusing how much people value their own time and how little they value the time and efforts of others. I shouldn’t be shocked by this; it’s no mystery that people are naturally selfish. However, I didn’t expect to see it demonstrated so clearly in fee negotiation.

A hypothetical but not-at-all unrealistic example: I’ve seen more than a few job postings that say something to the effect of, “Developmental editing and proofreading needed for a novel. 80-100K words. Only professional editors wanted. Total project budget: $150.”

Considering that a book of that size would take even the most seasoned editor about 30-40 hours to complete, not counting post-edit follow-up with the author, we’re talking about a paltry $4-5 an hour. (Fun fact: Industry standard for freelance developmental editing is around 10 times that, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association.)

In Side Hustle, Chris Gillebeau writes that people who perform service-based side-work should make sure that they’re making about as much as they would in their day job. After all, our evening hours are just as valuable to us as our morning hours, aren’t they?

When I thought about it that way, it only made sense that expert editors should get paid like…um, experts. When a client sets such a low-ball budget for a project, it means either they haven’t done their homework to find out how much things cost, or they just don’t think your services are worth much. In both cases, that may not be a great client to have.

Considering my newbie status as a freelancer, I’ve been dialing my rates down below the industry average, but there is definitely a “floor” rate I won’t go below, because I value my time. No matter how slowly the jobs come in right now, I need to take my own time seriously. If I don’t, no one else will.


Your Turn: Have you ever gotten so excited about a new project that it suddenly takes over you life? What do you do to maintain balance?

Let me know in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “Freelancer Diaries: Week 4

  1. I understand the sentiments, brother. Really, I do. Allow me some commentary:

    1. The quality of a man which causes him to do heroic things, fight for his wife or the truth, and protect his daugher is the same drive that will cause a man to spread himself too thin. Being a guy who gives 110% is an awesome thing, unless you’ve overcommitted. Then it’s just a burden. The lesson to learn, IMO, is how to properly prioritize and say no, not to criticize yourself for being dedicated. The problem lies in the “why is it so hard for you to say no?” question, rather than the, “Why can’t you just do things with low quality?” angle.

    2. For me, the problem has always been one of wanting the person in front of me to like me. I have trouble telling any little kid selling candy bars, “No.” I have trouble NOT helping people with computer issues, giving to their charity, or committing to helping them. A part of me likes helping in a godly way, but my flesh also screams to not feel like I disappointed someone, so my own pride isn’t hurt. Learning to say “Yes” to all the right things helped me to say “No” with better conviction and less anxiety.

    3. I don’t know where you stand on the Sunday sabbath doctrine, but I believe in the whole “don’t work Sunday, focus on the Lord, etc” type of thing as opposed to the “it’s just another day of the week, but we meet at church that day” mentality. The point is this, if i am right, then you are sinning on Sunday being focused on work and that is why you are hurting as the result, not solely because you weren’t “getting God’s best.” Keeping the sabbath holy is out of vogue and in many ways is the most universally rejected commandment, yet it does seem clearly written on our hearts from creation. Just some food for thought.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us. i enjoy it.

    1. Good words, Mike, thanks. I think your ideas on saying no / “fear of man” / people-pleasing are pretty on point. It’s an area I’ve been aware of and have had to do battle in for a while.

      As for Point #3, while I don’t think “strict Sabbatarian” is the way I’m going to go, I’m “coming back to the heart of Sabbath,” so to speak. In fact, I had already been thinking along those lines for a couple of weeks before starting this side-hustle process, and it seemed like there was instantly a conflict and temptation to work on Sunday. Suffice it to say, I realize now that I need those firm walls between work and worship.

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