Is a Freelance Career Right for You?

Last year, I left my job as a marketing professional in higher education and took a career detour (I may have mentioned this). I quit my job of six years — a field I had about 15 years of experience in — and gave myself a new title: freelance writer. Being a freelance writer seemed to be the answer to many problems. It took my career in the direction I wanted to go (writing), while giving me the flexible schedule I had craved since my daughter was born (freelance). But striking out on my own was unlike any choice I had ever made. I was starting a business after being employed by someone else since college, which was scary and unchartered territory.

Like with most life choices, I consulted the internet. I read lots of freelance websites, and many of them were helpful. But I could never find information about of what type of person is a successful freelancer — or at least, what kind of traits help a person manage the quirks of a freelance career. In fact, I even asked this question in a freelance forum run by a well-known writer, and received a somewhat rude response along the lines of “how would [she] know,” which was, you know… not helpful.

So I’m writing that post myself. After a year of being a freelance writer, I’ve compiled a few… I guess I’d call them life or coping skills that seem to be critical to not only actually building a career, but managing the vast differences between being employed by someone else and being self-employed.

A freelance career sounds like the answer to work-life balance, but here are a few things to consider before you make the leap. Do you have the kind of personality that can cope with the reality of a freelance writing career. Find out...

You can handle uncertainty — lots of uncertainty.

Being a freelancer, especially a new freelancer, means your income is inconsistent, the number of hours you’re actually working and getting paid is inconsistent, how much you’re charging might even be inconsistent… basically there’s a lot of inconsistency. For me, the most nerve-racking part of those inconsistencies was the money part.

If you’re comfortable hanging out in that uncertainty, at least for awhile (at least one year, maybe two), then a freelance career might be a great choice for you. I find this is only palatable if you can reasonably live without a second income, i.e., you have someone bringing home a paycheck that covers all of the bases: mortgage, bills, groceries, and so on. But even if you do have this, and we did, going from two full-time and steady incomes to one plus whatever you make freelancing, which can vary significantly month to month, can be a huge, huge shock to the budget and the system.

You don’t mind being alone.

When you work freelance, you spend a lot of time working alone. There’s no one down the hall to chat with, and you’re not in the mix with any office gossip (for better or worse). Sure, head to the coffeeshop, but chances are you’re just going to sit there by yourself. Being a freelancer is often very quiet. If you’re a person who lives in your own head, this can be dangerous. I didn’t have too much of a problem being alone, but when I ended up back in an office environment, I was practically giddy to have people around.

You are able to set boundaries about when and how your work.

Doesn’t a freelance career sound like the answer to all work-life balance issues? You can work when you want and how much you want, on projects that interest you, etc. The flip side is that being a freelancer means your start time and your stop time are entirely up to you. I often felt like I could and maybe should be working around the clock. Without the artificial boundaries of 9-to-5, stopping work (however work was being defined) was sometimes hard. For me, turning off the to-do list was difficult even during the evenings or to stop for an hour mid-day for some of that “balance” I was so hoping for.

You are self-disciplined and self-directed.

If you’re not self-disciplined and self-directed, a freelance career is not for you. I am definitely disciplined enough (I think), and I’m self-directed when I have a project for a client, but the business of setting up a thriving freelance career means that you have to market yourself (more on that in a minute). This part was particularly hard for me. I struggled to figure out what direction I should take my writing career in (Do I pitch publications, work on the blog, or focus on marketing copywriting? Do I sell myself to a particular industry or will I take whatever I can get? There were a lot of options/questions.) There is a literally endless and mostly undefined list of things a freelancer could be doing to forward her business goals. I often felt stuck in the business of being a freelancer, unsure what would be the most bang for my time-is-money buck.

You’re comfortable with self-promotion.

When you’re working for yourself, you have to market your services, which ultimately means that you have to market yourself. Now, there are totally freelancing writing jobs that you can get without marketing yourself. I definitely got jobs by simply applying for them — the About.com gig is a good example of that. But, my best gigs came about from networking and reaching out to contacts I already had. One great gig I got was with a university, which came about from a letter of inquiry I wrote to a woman I interviewed with a year an a half earlier. Another came from someone I met in a running group who ended up being a VP at a higher education marketing agency. Writing that email to the woman I barely knew was hard. Talking to the VP about what I did and what kind of work I was looking for, and straight up asking her to pass along my resume to the people who make these decisions was hard. For me, self-promotion was… unpleasant — it felt like I was constantly asking for favors — but it was doable, and I got better at it as time went on.

You’re capable of advocating for a fair rate in exchange for your services.

So this isn’t a personality trait, exactly, but I found that advocating for a fair rate was extraordinarily difficult and very, very important. First of all, it’s hard to find good information about what exactly you should be charging, and freelance writing rates are literally all over the board. There are people making well below the minimum wage writing for Upwork and other content mill-type sites. There are people charging over $100 an hour for copywriting services. Most publications typically have a set rate that they pay — blogs, if they pay at all, can pay as low as $25 or $50 with online media sites like Jezebel clocking in at $250. Consumer magazines typically pay more, trade magazines often higher still. In the interest of getting the work I desperately felt I needed, I had trouble asking for what truly deserved. I worked in exchange for services sometimes, my rates were all over the map, and I took whatever I could get.

Here’s the good news: I got better at this, and with a few exceptions, by late summer 2015, I had set a rate of $40/hour for copywriting services, which cut me out of the running for a lot of local and smaller businesses looking for writing services. That, I learned, was OK. But here’s the bad news: As I saw very clearly this week while looking at a freelance writer’s proposal that I should have been charging more.

You don’t mind working with minimal direction and appreciation.

I’ll give myself this much — Working with minimal direction, dealing with gray areas, and coping with missing information about what a client or employer actually wants when it comes to copywriting, I can easily live in this space. I have a sense of when to push for more direction and when not to, and my instincts on how to approach something totally undefined are often close to spot on. I don’t know how I got here, but it’s definitely one of my strengths. Writing for media outlets, I would say this is less true, but I’m comfortable with a swing and a miss, which might just be a byproduct of age and experience. The bottom line: When you’re a freelancer, no one is holding your hand, and you can’t walk down the hall to get clarification. You have to have the confidence in your ability to just move forward and get the work done.

As for appreciation, as a freelancer, you will not find an overabundance of it. You’ll have clients who are grateful and clients who like you, but you’re not really part of the team. You’re the hired help, quite literally, and the whole point of being a good freelancer — IMHO — is that you can quickly do the work with minimal direction and without being coddled. That’s what they are paying you for.

You’re patient.

Taking a sharp career turn to freelancer often means playing the long game when it comes to building a reputation, a client base, and an income. That marketing and self-promotion I did? I sent the email to the woman at the university in February or March. In October, I was contacted by another woman in her division — my resume had been passed along. The running group VP? I gave her my information in July. I heard from that agency in October too.

It takes awhile. Since the beginning of February, I’ve been contacted by another higher education institution and another agency, both because I had contacts who knew me, with gigs that would have paid well. I had to say no. But, it drove home the point: It takes some time to really establish yourself as a freelancer. If I would have stuck it out, I likely would have had a lot more options today than I had this time last year. But the thought of a steady paycheck and boundaries of a normal work day were too good to pass up after a year of uncertainty.

Why I Stopped Promoting My Blog (OK, Not Totally)

As I approach my one year blogiversary (or maybe I’ve passed it, who even knows), I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve swung in every different blogging direction over the past 12 months.

I’ve gone from, “It will be fun to blog again,” to “I AM DOING THIS MOMMY BLOGGER THING FOR REAL / WATCH OUT WORLD,” to “effe this nonsense,” to “Eh, I’m just going to do this blog thing for fun.”

Full circle, much?

I’ve learned a little about myself — about what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do as a blogger (including that the term “PR-friendly” doesn’t apply to me) as well as where I need to focus my energy for my freelance career (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not on my blog). On one hand, I put a lot of energy and hours and a little money into attempting to promote and learn how to monetize this blog, but it’s a weight off my shoulders to admit this isn’t a world I want to compete in.

The best part is now that I’ve made my way back over to the “whatever” end of the blogging spectrum, my authentic writing voice seems to have returned and I’m actually kind of enjoying enjoying social media (gasp!) rather than feeling overwhelmed by it. To be more succinct: Acknowledging my blog is not going to be my business took the pressure off and has made me feel more creative.

That said, in the process of figuring this out, I read about ALL OF THE THINGS I should do to facilitate my meteoric rise to blogger fame. I tried many of these tactics, and a lot of them didn’t really seem to have the impact I was expecting.

Now this isn’t to say that my expectations weren’t the problem in these scenarios, but the return on time investment didn’t pay off for me. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other bloggers out there who have found these tactics to be super useful and valuable to their growth and goals. But, if you happen to be someone who has tried one or more of these only to see minimal, if any, results, I want you to know you’re not the only one.

Four Things I've Stopped Doing to Promote my Blog

No More Link-Ups

I loved the idea of link-ups. There are a few bloggers I like a lot who host link-ups, and I tried to get with the program on several occasions. And while I would see a trickle of referrals, it never amounted to much traffic or participation for me. Moreover, reading other blogs, commenting, pinning posts — whatever the deal was — was incredibly time-consuming. I always followed the link-up rules (because no one wants to be known as someone who link drops and runs, but I don’t actually know how anyone truly figures out who participates without a complicated manual calculation), but the ROI just wasn’t there for me. This isn’t to say link-ups aren’t a great tool for you to grow your blog, they just didn’t work for me. If I had all the time in the world, I’d probably participate in approximately 20, but I don’t, so I’ve crossed this one off the blog promotion list.

Embracing Tribe-less-ness

For real, there are bloggers who I like and follow. There are (a small number of) bloggers that I feel I’ve made a more personal connection with — though some of those are from my old time-y blogging days. There are bloggers whose stuff I promote via social media whether or not they reciprocate — I don’t care — and there are blogs I more regularly comment on. But the idea of a blogging tribe remains elusive for me. I suppose I should provide my definition of a tribe to you, so here it is: A group of maybe 5-10 bloggers who consistently promote, comment on, and participate in each other’s blogs.

Now maybe what I’ve described is a clique and not a tribe, but truly, that’s what I feel like I’m supposed to have. Again, maybe the problem here is my perception versus reality, but I tend to shut down when anything feels vaguely like high school, so this has not been an easy feat for me. Maybe I will change my mind about the importance of this eventually, but right now, I’m not putting any effort into finding my tribe.

No Guest Posting Original Content for Free

For a writer-slash-blogger, guest posting felt like the holy grail of blog success. So I did it a few times. For most, I guest-posted content that had been repurposed / reprinted from something that I had already published on Mommy Sanest. I’m generally OK with that approach, though the editing process can be a little bit time-intensive. But I did write a few free posts with original content in the process, which ultimately amounted to very little exposure for me. I’m not saying writing for free is always a bad thing — there are extremely high profile sites out there that can boost your writer cred and send your blog significant amounts of traffic (though, to be honest, I’d probably argue that these are exactly the sites that should be paying) — but I never saw much growth from any of my guest posting activities. Again, perhaps I haven’t done it enough or in the right places, but I struggle with the idea that this is how I should spend my time when I can be doing other things to further my writing goals that also happen to pay.

Ix-Nay on the Blogger Groups

It took me awhile to figure out that there are tons of Facebook groups dedicated to bloggers supporting other bloggers. You can share links, get more comments on your blog, ask for likes on your social posts, etc. So here’s the deal: These do work — though depending on the rules, some work better than others. If you’re a committed blogger with time on your hands or a virtual assistant, this is actually a pretty good way to increase your numbers. But (BUT!), being involved in these groups takes a lot of time. For some it may be time well spent, but it made me feel like my blogging duties were never ending. Visiting dozens of sites a day, stumbling posts, liking tweets, commenting — despite seeming super easy to do, takes a ton of time. So I stopped. And I’m pretty sure my blood pressure went down (medical fact). This isn’t to say I won’t participate in some blogger group activities (I participate in one very active group that from time to time will do a follow thread for different social media platforms, and I will do those if I happen to catch them), but I’m picky and have generally stopped promoting individual blog posts this way.

I haven’t totally stopped promoting my blog — despite my leaning-toward-click-bait title and graphic — but after 12 months of this mess, I’ve figured out where my time is well spent. And my time is well spent on Pinterest, other social platforms to some degree, and search, but really Pinterest. I invest time and a small amount of money into my graphics and pinning strategy, yes, but that’s way easier to handle when I’ve taken several other items off the list.

What about you? Do these promotional activities work for you? Are there other promotional activities you’ve stopped doing for your blog? Is it me, and not you? Or is it you, and not me?

May is the Longest Month

It kind of blows my mind that June is here. So much has happened, and I’m aware that I’ve been a bit silent here. May began with a blogging conference (my first!), and continued on with some higher highs and lower lows. May shook things up, and now, the pieces seem to be settling.

A re-evaluation of goals

In the beginning of May, I headed to Arizona with the family to visit Gena and attend my first blogging conference. I left Mom 2.0 feeling inspired, full of ideas, and ready to (re?)conquer the blog world.

Clearly, that is not how the rest of the month played out.

I have so many things to say, but the state of blogging as it is today (please see this article) fatigues me — I struggle to have a sense of where I’m going and if pouring everything I have (creatively and time-wise) into this site is the right choice.

Post-Mom 2.0, I decided that the answer to that question is no. It is not the right choice for me, and yet (YET!), I am not going to leave this space. If it magically becomes a highly trafficked blog, then cool, but my goals are diverse enough that I simply cannot spend the time and energy necessary to compete in this space the way other bloggers are able to do. And so, I’m tapping out from the frenzied world of FINDING MY TRIBE and CONSTANT SOCIAL MEDIA INTERACTION and PARTICIPATING IN FOUR DOZEN BLOGGING GROUPS. And I’m just going to write on my blog instead.

Your least-pressing question answered

So will this change the content? Yes and no. I worked hard on coming up with content plan, but basically I’m going to write what I want to write. Some posts will still be Pinterest-worthy with tips and whatnot, others will be less so, and I plan to do a bit more old-school-style blogging, if you will. Gena has free reign to do basically whatever she wants, whenever she wants, as long as she wants to do it.

That said, while I don’t do a ton of toddler-parenting posts here, you probably won’t see any from me in the near future — not on Mommy Sanest anyway. That’s because, as of yesterday, I am the newest Toddler and Twos expert on About.com. I’ll be writing there twice a week about all things toddlers. It’s a paying gig and when the job came through, it 100-percent made me feel like, OK, this whole freelance writing thing is going to work out. My first piece, inspired by my child, the puker, published today: 10 Tips for Traveling with a Carsick Toddler.

summer

There’s more where that came from

Like I mentioned above, I realized in May that my goals were diverse enough that I couldn’t pour everything I had into this blog. But, I also realized I had to focus, or maybe refocus, on the main reason I quit my job. That reason was to be a writer — a paid writer for brands and media outlets.

Focusing on that goal — with the help of an amazing class I took — netted a couple big wins for me last month, which I plan to share with you in the next month (hopefully). In all, after spending January through April writing two or three paid articles a month, I have 13 pieces due in June between About.com, my brand clients, and two freelance pitches that were accepted. It’s no where near a full-time salary, but it’s a huge leap forward for me.

What Do You Do?

The other day, I was talking to someone about becoming a freelance writer, and the real and/or perceived struggles I am experiencing. Anyway, I had an epiphany and I wanted to share it here. Maybe it will be helpful to you, particularly if you’re thinking about self-employment.

Being someone who willingly walked away from a “good job” to pursue a freelance career, I just realized that one of the most difficult aspects of this transition for me is figuring out how to answer the question, “What do you do?”

How to answer the question, "What do you do?" when you're self-employed (especially newly self-employed).

Here’s how I typically end up answering, “What do you do?”

Um. Well. I’m a freelance writer, but I only have a couple of clients. I just quit my job three months ago, so I am kind of still figuring it out. So, we’ll see if it ends up working out for me or not.

You know what that sounds like?

It sounds like I don’t believe in myself. It sounds like I’m worried about what other people are going to think about my life choices. It sounds like I’m making excuses. (These are true to some degree.)

That lovely saying you’ll hear about a gazillion times between the time you finish college and when you retire or die comes to mind: Fake it ’til you make it. Clearly, I need to take that a step further.

Fake it until you can fake it better.
I’m bad at faking it. I have no patience for inauthenticity, which is why I sometimes swing a bit too far in the other direction with extreme honestly and too much information. I let my feelings about how I’m doing encroach on the facts about what I’m doing.

So what do I do? Tell people what I do without implied question marks or caveats.

I’m a freelance writer, a content strategist, and a small business owner.

Simple, true, and to the point.

5 Surprising Ways Essential Oils Can Make Your Home Life Easier + a Giveaway

By Angela Baker

Are you using essential oils? It seems that everyone and their neighbor has started hoarding these tiny bottles. I started learning about essential oils a year ago, and the natural approach to wellness and housekeeping immediately appealed to me. The more I learn, the more it seems that keeping a stash of essential oils in the home is a smart move when you consider the many practical uses.

Practical and smart ways to use essential oils in the home. Easy recipes (directions) for making homemade, natural pest control spray, all-purpose cleaner, shoe deodorizer, and hand sanitizer using essential oils.

Pest control

You suspect you have a pest problem, but you’re not ready to call the exterminator and spray your house full of who-knows-what. Try a homemade pest control spray with essential oils instead. Peppermint oil naturally repels many of the most common pests, including mice, ants, spiders, house flies, and some other things you don’t even want to think about.

To make a natural, indoor-friendly bug spray that’s safe around kids: Fill a small spray bottle with water and 10-15 drops of peppermint oil. Spray around the affect area. For greater coverage, spray the entire interior and exterior perimeter of the house.

Even better, many essential oils have properties that naturally repel mosquitos and other outdoor pests. Essential oils are derived from the part of the plant that produces the aromatic compounds that protects it from natural predators and other environmental threats. Using the oils as an insect repellent means you are harnessing the natural defense system of several different plants, and using them to boost your own defenses. TerraShield Repellent Blend is safe for the whole family and naturally repels mosquitos when diffused, blended with water to make homemade bug spray, or applied directly to the skin.

Less mess = Less stress

Lemon oil has a multitude of household cleaning uses, all of which will save you from purchasing separate products for specific messes. Among the cleaning problems solved by lemon oil: scud marks, tarnished silver, grease marks on the range hood, and hard water build-up, along with your everyday, dirty kitchen counters and bathroom fixtures. Lemon is safe on practically any surface, including stainless steel appliances and granite/natural stone counters.

To make a homemade, all-purpose cleaner: Add ½ cup white vinegar, 1 ½ cups water, and 5-10 drops of lemon oil to a glass spray bottle. Use to safely clean surfaces throughout your home.

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Deodorize summer shoes

Sometimes parenthood stinks in the most literal sense. Potty training? Aggressive diaper pail odor? Stinky shoes? Essential oils don’t just mask odors — they neutralize and replace some of your home’s most offensive smells. And tiny, sweaty feet can produce some of the most impressive shoe odor in the summer. Rather than trashing the offensive shoes, deodorize naturally with essential oils.

To remove the stench from a favorite pair of shoes: Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda with 5 drops of DoTERRA’s Purify blend (or your favorite citrus oil). Dump one tablespoon of the mixture in to the heel of each shoe, and shake it down to the toe area. After sitting for up to 24 hours, shake out the excess powder, and voila, de-stinked shoes.

Immunity boost

As a parent, I would do anything I could to avoid my children getting sick. And yet, I don’t want to keep them locked in the house to avoid contact with potential runny noses.

Essential oils can support your effort to keep your family healthy by boosting the body’s natural defenses and curb the spreading germs through the house. Just like essential oils are the natural defense system of the plant, they are also the immune system. The aromatic oils of a plant keep it healthy and protect it from environmental threats. By applying appropriate oils, you can harness the power of plants to support your own immune system.

To make homemade hand sanitizer: Mix 5 tablespoons aloe vera gel, 4 tablespoons water, ¼ teaspoon Vitamin E oil, and 8-10 drops OnGuard protective blend. Pour in to a small squeeze container.

Shaken, not stirred

Parenting goes down easier with a chilled beverage. Enhance your bedtime celebration with an infused cocktail. No need to keep a fully-stocked bar. Essential oils make it easy to get creative when mixing up drinks. A drop of lime oil pairs nicely with a gin and tonic. Or ,give your mojito an extra punch with a drop of lime and a drop of peppermint.

When using essential oils in your drink, make sure you are using the highest quality oil available. Not all brands of essential oils are safe for consumption, and the bottle will let you know if yours is safe. DoTERRA oils are Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade, which means that many of them are safe for consumption. Look for the nutrition facts on the label if you’re not sure. Other, less pure and concentrated brands have a warning label instead: Not for consumption.

Of course, essential oils offer many, many more possibilities for home use. These are just a few of my favorites. What’s your favorite way to use essential oils?


Angela Baker is a mother of two daughters, natural living ATBenthusiast, and DoTERRA wellness advocate. Her blueberry sourdough pancakes are better than you can imagine. Follow her on Facebook at Naturally Easy Living to hear more about essential oils and ways to keep things simple at home.

DIY EssentialOil Shower Bombs Try these five strategies to help you feel more balanced throughout the day. Perfect for overwhelmed moms who feel like they don't have time to center themselves. All of these take less than an hour a day (and some save you time). My Natural Skincare Routine | Oil Cleansing | Homemade Skincare Products