I’ve been freelancing full time for just over two years now. And in two years, I have really learned so much. There have been countless ups and downs, questions, regrets, wins, losses, etc. But at the end of the day, have I found success as a freelancer?
What ISN’T success as a freelancer
For many of us, success is usually defined by a monetary value. A successful frelancer is a freelancer who brings home $X per month. I used this metric quite a bit. I remember boasting to friends and family that I was bringing home more every month as a freelancer than when I was working my 9 to 5.
One time, I was sharing this fact with an uncle of mine, and let slip that I would still have to pay income tax at the end of the year. He laughed, saying that I really wasn’t making more money then. This happened over a year ago and I still remember the interaction so clearly. Immediately, I felt deflated. I was embarrassed. How could I be bragging about my new freelance lifestyle when I wasn’t making way more money than my old job? I felt like a failure.
Because, dollar for dollar, I probably wouldn’t call myself a successful freelancer. Yes, most months I do take home more than I did in my previous 9 to 5 job. But I still have to pay income tax on that money. And I no longer have benefits, sick days, vacation days or other office perks. I’m also comparing my current freelance income to what I was earning in 2016. Many of my colleagues have moved into new roles where they’re earning a lot more.
Monetary success as a freelancer? Not always.
But is that what success really is? Do I want to define my success as a freelancer purely by the income I make? Of course not. But it’s so hard to get out of that mindset when making money, spending money, saving money and tracking money is such a huge part of life – especially for a mid-twenties homeowner who loves to travel.
It’s not about the money, money, money
So if it isn’t all about the money, what is success as a freelancer all about? To be honest, I’m still figuring this one out.
But here are a few metrics I think us freelancers need to be measuring, as well as our bank accounts:
- Freedom. As freelancers, we have the freedom and flexibility to create our own schedules and work from wherever we want. We also have the freedom to work with who we want, which is huge.
- Passion. I assume most people turned to freelancing to focus on a skill or service that they’re passionate about. You can’t always say the same in a 9 to 5 office job.
- Lifestyle. Working as a freelancer is a completely different lifestyle to a typical 9 to 5. For some freelancers, this means taking your work on the road as a full time digital nomad.
- Growth. With freelancing, the opportunities are almost limitless. We can take on new clients, pivot into new industries, hire employees and grow our business.
Finding my success as a freelancer
So, if I group all of these metrics together, I now have money, freedom, passion, lifestyle and growth. Success as a freelancer is no longer a single scale and no longer defined just by a dollar amount. Of course, that’s not to say that money isn’t an important metric. Realistically, it’s important to make and measure money in your freelance career.
But it’s not the only metric for success. And it helps to be reminded of that.
So let’s see how I’m doing. Have I found success as a freelancer?
Yes and no. If I had stayed in my 9 to 5 at UBC and progressed like my colleagues into new roles, I would have more money in my bank account at the end of the day. But with my current income, I’m still able to afford my life including my mortgage, retirement savings and lots of travelling.
More importantly, the amount of money I make each month changes. And one of the biggest variables is me. I’m not restricted to a certain annual salary or number of shifts per month. With many of my clients, I can put in more work and make more money. This is both a pro and a con!
This is a huge metric of success as a freelancer. I get to work from home which means enjoying my home office and spending time with my dog all day long. We likely wouldn’t have adopted Ellie if I wasn’t home to walk her during the day. My flexible schedule also means I can mimic Colin’s schedule so we have time together. For example, when he works weekends, I’ll work weekends too so we can spend the weekdays together.
I’m able to take care of things around the home and spend time with my little family whenever is convenient for us. This freedom and flexibility has also been invaluable during family emergencies. When Colin’s grandmother was getting sicker in January 2018 and eventually passed away, I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to be with her during her final days. If I had been in a traditional 9 to 5, I may not have had that chance.
The whole reason I decided to quit my 9 to 5 job and pursue freelance writing was passion. I hated my job. It wasn’t that the work was difficult or the people were mean. I was just bored. I was so uninspired by what I was doing. It was easy, the money was good and the benefits were great. But the actual eight hours a day I spent behind a desk were soul crushing.
I didn’t want to spend 40 hours a week hating what I do. I was too young to give up on my passions. And I didn’t have any debt or dependents, so it was the perfect time to take a risk and go after my passion. And now, I get to spend every single day doing something I love. If that isn’t success – I don’t know what is! I get paid to write. That’s a huge win in my book!
So far, my lifestyle as a freelancer has mostly consisted of working from my home office and going on trips. I love that I can say yes to almost every flight deal that crosses my path. I don’t have to take time off or use up vacation days. And I can just go and take my work with me! Or I can do my work ahead of time and enjoy my trip and time away. As a travel addict, this has been a huge pro of going freelance.
I wouldn’t say I’ve found perfect lifestyle success as a freelancer. I want to take better advantage of my opportunities and create a lifestyle that involves working out regularly, reading and working from outside of my home.
Eventually, I’d like to take this lifestyle on the road. I’m so envious of digital nomads and would love to live that way at some point. I guess we’re going a little nomadic when we move to the UK – and I’m so glad I can take my freelance career with me. The freelance lifestyle is also going to be a huge part of us one day growing our family and splitting up childcare with work.
Here’s an aspect of success as a freelancer that I’m having a lot of fun with: growth. When I first started out on this journey, I was only doing blog and article writing. Since then, I have grown my skills and now do a ton of work in editing, content management and social media. I still write, but I have found other skills and services that I love and excel at.
And then there’s the growth of my business. I’m coming to the point now where I’m more confident in my skills and want to prove that to my clients. I’m working on ways to grow my business by niching down and growing my team. And I’m looking at other projects, like this blog, that I would love to grow. One of my favourite things about freelancing is this opportunity for limitless growth.
So have I found success as a freelancer? I’d like to think so. I don’t think success needs to be a zero-sum game – either you’re a success or you’re a failure. I think I’m succeeding. There’s definitely way more for me to accomplish and a lot of little spots where I have failed. But I am making a career of my dream job and creating the lifestyle that I want. That sounds pretty successful to me.
How do you define success? Let me know in the comments below! I would really love to hear from you. If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much! Write me a comment to let me know what you think.