I’ve been living the freelance lifestyle for well over a decade. Sometimes, from the outside looking in, it may seem like I have everything in perfect balance. But sometimes things go “off track,” and I have to work on getting my life back into order.
This time just two years ago, I was thoroughly miserable – and as proof that money doesn’t buy happiness, it was a time when I had plenty of it in the bank. I’d just enjoyed a lavish Christmas and showered my young son and various other family members with generous gifts.
In truth, I was spending for two rather messed-up reasons. The first was that my work / life balance had gone to shit, and I was trying to cheer myself up; The second, which was of far greater concern, was because I was feeling guilty for not spending enough time with my son because I was frequently away on work trips. When I wasn’t away I was often shut away upstairs working, or glued to my phone dealing with work-related Slack messages in the evening.
Improving the Balance
I’m glad to say that, since then, I’ve got my freelance lifestyle into far better balance. I’m almost always finished with work by the time by children get back from school, and my overseas trips are primarily to sunny destinations, and taken out of choice!
Each year at this time, my Facebook memories remind me how much I’d once let things slide in terms of my personal priorities.
After posting this, it took me another three months of agonising before I made the changes I needed to make.
The changes I made were pretty drastic. The reason my freelance lifestyle had slipped so far from my original vision was that I’d ended up selling far too much of my time to one client. It was entirely my own fault for allowing this to happen, but it’s easily done when you’re caught up in the day-to-day work and the money keeps coming. But I was ending far too many days feeling unhappy – not to mention starkly aware of how quickly my son’s “toddler years” were drifting away.
I’d also forgotten a golden rule of freelancing, which is never to put too many eggs in one basket.
Is the Freelance Lifestyle Secure?
One strong argument plenty of people have against taking up the freelance lifestyle is that it’s unstable and financially risky. I actually disagree with this in a fundamental way. If you have six clients, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll lose all of them at once. If you have one job and can lose that, that seems rather more precarious to me.
However, if you work freelance and rely on one client for too much of your income, that puts you in a very risky place – and one I’ve fallen foul of before. The thing is, you don’t have to do something wrong to lose a client. I once lost a huge proportion of my income because my main client was successful enough to be bought out by a larger company who didn’t need IT services. Nothing lasts forever.
Anyway, I digress. I resolved to get back to the freelance lifestyle I initially intended, which required me to step away from the majority of work I was doing for that client, and also step away from the guaranteed income.
It was a big and scary step – perhaps even one that more “traditional” readers may view as slightly irresponsible, but I did it. And I’m glad to say that I don’t regret a thing. Sure, I have my fair share of wobbles and the occasional “existential crisis” when business slows down – but I’m back to having business and income coming from multiple directions. Perhaps most importantly, I have back the freedom and excitement of the freelance hustle which, at least most of the time, makes my working days something to look forward to instead of something to dread.
I didn’t really allow myself to realise that my bold/risky plan had worked out until several months later, when I had a chat with an old friend on the phone. I’d seen him that Christmas and had a good rant about my compromised work / life balance. I told him how I now played with my son every evening, made a home-cooked meal several times a week, and how I’d started eBaying some of the clutter I’d accumulated during my “retail therapy” phase!
What I didn’t talk about was money, even though, at that point, I was earning less and needing to spend more carefully. (I’m pleased to say that, another year on, I’ve got back to where I was!) Anyway, of all the adjustments I made, cutting back on discretionary spending was a surprisingly easy one (although I can’t deny that in terms of preparing for any kind of retirement, I probably put myself back a good couple of years!)
Sometimes you don’t fully recognise how embedded you’ve become in a situation until you escape from it, and I can’t now believe I’d somehow slipped into feeling comfortable with giving my son overpriced gifts from airports instead time and attention. I’m so incredibly grateful I made the changes when I did, because children are only pre-school-age once! You don’t get the option of reliving those years when it’s more convenient.
An Unexpected Development
If you want to know the true meaning of panic, imagine how it feels to make a monumental life decision like the one described above, only to discover a few weeks later that you have another child on the way.
Well that’s what happened!
Suddenly my resolve crumbled, along with some of the plans I’d made for my newly revamped freelance lifestyle. But, determined not to roll back my intentions (and with considerable moral support from my wife and others) I ploughed on.
I did have to tweak my plans a little bit; I’d hoped to free up enough time to work fairly solidly on HomeWorkingClub. Instead, it took a while longer to get to that point. With another baby on the way, I had to balance things rather more in favour of client work that I knew I’d be paid for!
The New Reality
Our “new” baby is now just over a year old at the time of updating this article. Things are busy and hectic, but work never feels like a drag, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
While there are inevitably some days when I can’t start building Lego with my eldest son the second he walks through the door after school, we still have time for home-cooked meals and plenty of fun and games. Largely, I fit work around my life instead of fitting life around my work.
My freelance lifestyle means that there’s never any question of me missing my a Christmas carol concert or other school event. I still go on occasional “work trips,” but they’re more like private “away days” where I get some sunshine, regroup, and thoroughly enjoy planning out the next six months of my website projects.
This makes me realise just how much of this freelance lifestyle stuff is so many worlds apart from what I always call “working for the man.” Nowadays, I actually find it hard to relate when friends tell me they have to “check” if they can get a certain day off. I can’t imagine not being able to drop everything without any permission – for any reason from a child being unexpectedly home from nursery due to illness, to an unexpected trip to the pub because a friend happens to be passing through!
What HomeWorkingClub’s About
HomeWorkingClub has never been a website intended to help anyone get really rich, although plenty of freelancers do very well for themselves. For me, the freelance lifestyle is about being rich in ways that go far beyond the financial.
When I was getting the balance all wrong a couple of years ago, my evening meal was often a hastily-ordered and expensive takeaway. Now it’s more likely to be something made in the kitchen from fresh ingredients, while my sons buzz around my legs.
I’m not going to pretend that every day is stress free, because that would be nonsense. But I have moved myself a LOT closer to the freelance lifestyle I had in mind over ten years ago when I started working for myself.
The key thing – and the point of this article – is that money really isn’t what we always need to work for.
Looking back to how I felt back in 2016, there’s no amount of money I’d accept from any client that prevented me being able to enjoy the family moments, and the gratification of seeing my own projects coming to life. That, to me, is what the freelance lifestyle is about, and this site exists so I can help more people move towards it.
If you’re keen to transition away from full time work, this is the article you need.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.