Breaking Into The Mainstream After A Career As A Freelance Writer
Freelancing is probably the best part-time job option you can find. There are plenty of websites that cater to freelancers from all backgrounds. Whether you’re a writer, a web designer, or an illustrator, you will find that there’ are plenty of ways in which you can generate some extra cash.
The Downsides of Freelancing
However, as valuable as these websites are, there are no shortages of scammers. And no, I’m talking about the freelancers who cheat. In fact, in my experience as a freelancer, it’s pretty easy to spot someone like that. First of all, every major freelancing website has a review system. If the freelancer has a gap in their resume for more than six months, you need to be cautious. It’s a given. Just because someone was performing well six months ago doesn’t mean they will deliver the same service now. A lot can happen in six months.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. My point is that so many websites focus on the “con artist freelancer,” but hardly anyone ever talks about the scams most employers commit. In fact, in my experience, when you take on a new client- there’s a 1 in 10 chance that they’re going to either:
- Pretend that the service you’ve provided is inadequate (even though you’ve literally done what they asked for)
- Pay you less than what they owe you over some weird excuse (somehow the milestone system has magically taken 50% in commissions)
- Leave a bad review and not pay you at all.
I’m super cautious when I’m taking on a new client. To me personally, it’s just not worth the risk. In fact, I’ve developed a ten-point requirements list which I refer to when deciding to take on a new client. The problem with most freelancing websites is that they want you- the freelancer- to appear as human as possible. You’re considered “shady” if you’re using a pseudonym. You’re not performing well if you decide to use a logo instead of a professional picture. Most employees seem to be in a hurry to hire you without answering questions.
I can’t tell you how many times a client will directly click on the “Hire Me” button of my Freelancer profile and expect me to accept their project. Some of them won’t even answer my inquiries about the project and ask me to accept it, or they’d choose someone else.
First of all, accepting a project automatically cuts the project’s fee- which is Freelancer.com’s commission- even if we don’t do anything at all. The last time I checked, I was freelancing to earn money- not lose it.
Secondly, even if I did accept the project, there’s a HUGE chance that the employer would realize that they probably should’ve spoken to me before hiring and decide to leave the project altogether- without closing it.
If they close it, there’s an automatic review of a dispute that appears on your profile- making it seem as though you’ve probably done something- and if they don’t close it, your completed project percentage goes down.
There’s really no winning with these guys. My personal favorites are the ones who will stay online for days on end as you’re doing their project, but the minute you submit, suddenly, they have this massive chain of command that needs to review your content. Naturally, they either don’t pay or delay payments to the point where you just give up.
As you can imagine, after four years of experiencing this constantly, I got tired. It’s not like my entire career as a freelancer was horrible. I’ve actually worked for quite a few cool companies. I’ve worked with these MASSIVE automobile, customer service, technology-oriented companies, but I can’t name-drop them because Freelancer.com makes you sign an NDA. Which is reasonable, but at the end of my four-year tenure as a freelance writer, it seemed as though I didn’t get enough benefits.
I didn’t get paid as much as content writers working at proper marketing firms did. Sure, I got to keep my own hours, but there wasn’t much to add to my resume.
The Problem with Freelancing: How It Became a Hindrance Rather Than an Advantage
When I started freelancing, it was largely based on the idea that I’d write on my own terms. That I’d set my hours, choose my clients. And while I did set my hours, I actually spent quite a bit of time working overtime and not being paid for it.
In fact, in the beginning, it was more about being the freelancer who charges the least because I wanted to make fifty bucks a week, and if someone’s going to pay me a tenner, that’s one-fifth of a fifty. I tried several approaches. I tried being reasonable; I tried being a stickler who knew her worth- but nothing came of it. In the end, it all came down to the employer’s mood.
Which honestly, is the worst measurement of making money. It’s not my fault that the employer’s having a bad day. I’m providing a service to them. That doesn’t give them the right to talk to me in a certain way- and yes, I’ve experienced so much abuse at the hands of “professional, millionaire business owners” who’re so cheap that they won’t hire a company to do the content writing for their businesses.
Freelancing really teaches you about human psychology. Because, unlike you, who is essentially exposing their identity as a freelancer, employers can literally call themselves John Doe, and you wouldn’t know who they are. On the other hand, you need to verify your identity, provide a home address for invoices, and so much more. I’ve had so many employers who listed their home address as “Disneyland” or something, and it was never verified because all freelancing websites care about is the commission they’re going to make.
But for some reason, as a freelancer, you kind of just expect it as a norm rather than something to hold people accountable for. The first time this happened to me, I wrote 32 complaint emails to customer support, but nothing came of it. Somehow, because I was struggling with these clients, I justified that it was worth it because I had “experience.” I assumed that when I’d actually make my resume, it would magically reveal all the hardships I’d faced.
But let me tell you something: everyone’s impression of a freelancer is bad. They’re going to pretend that they’re cool with it, but they’re not. For some weird reason, even content writing companies think that we’re probably slacking somewhere, even though I’m pretty sure they’ve had to deal with demanding clients as well.
I found out about this after my very first interview with a content writing company. I’d been meaning to begin applying as a content writer, but until the pandemic, I never really got around to it. It was actually the lockdown that made me consider applying because so many companies went remote.
Of course, that is also when I realized that there were plenty of remote opportunities for writers even before the pandemic- but let’s ignore that for a while. We all learn from somewhere.
So, I applied to this content writing firm and had my very first job interview. I was super excited. I had a few work experiences related to my degree, some voluntary stuff, a few university projects, and then the freelancer work experience. I thought I’d do well.
I couldn’t be more wrong.
The interviewer and I ended up spending a whole hour (I’m not joking) talking about my experience as a freelancer. She tried really hard to get me to name-drop some companies I’ve worked for, but I couldn’t because of the NDAs. By the time our meeting ended, I knew for a fact that I was not getting hired. I was shattered.
As I said, I thought I’d fit the bill. I stopped applying after that- not that it mattered because none of the fifteen places even called me for an interview, so maybe those guys were being nice. Then a week later, the interviewer actually reached out to me, requesting another meeting.
I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would go as bad as the first time around. But Dana (she allowed me to use her name) actually wanted to discuss a few things. I hadn’t gotten hired, of course, but she had some really great advice for me.
She told me point-blank that without names, there was no point of my “freelancing experience.” Companies want to know who you’ve worked with. They want to see the kind of content you’ve written for others, or else they’re just taking your word for it, and that’s not a sound business move. Your “portfolio” can’t be a Google Drive link unless you’re prepared to name the companies your samples belong to.
What companies wanted was completely different from what I’d envisioned. And what they wanted was the complete antithesis of my freelancing career. They wanted names: I couldn’t do that because I’d signed a document. They wanted samples: none of my work belonged to me after they’d paid me. They wanted references: well; I didn’t have those either.
I realized that my entire freelancing thing was just that… a thing. There was no description of it. There was no importance of it. There was no point of it. Sure, I’d made money- but let’s be honest, I would’ve been paid more if I worked with a marketing firm. The time and stress that went into the freelancing gig just weren’t proportionate to the money.
Turning It Around- And You Can Do the Same As Well
I felt heartbroken after that. The freelancing was pointless. When I started writing, I’d assumed that I’d end up as Carrie Bradshaw but with my own column where I’d write about things that interested me. But a blank resume wasn’t something that Carrie experienced, and that was very much my reality.
So, I decided to take a step (a month) back and think. I started looking at websites that offered portfolio-building opportunities, and I also started contacting some companies I worked with. Yes, even the ones I signed NDA with.
Not everyone was friendly, but some companies agreed to let me use their names for my resume. Of course, they made me sign another document stating that I couldn’t ask them for more money because they owned the writing, but I was okay with it. At the end of the day, I ended up with a handful of companies (out of the hundreds I’d worked with). It was kind of disappointing, but now I had the basis for making a resume.
So, I did that. I even convinced someone to write a recommendation for me, and then I applied to as many portfolio-building places as possible. I got into two, but I chose the one I thought resonated with me more.
For some reason, I thought that I’d have to write hundreds of writing pieces to create a portfolio, but after just four pieces under my name, things started looking up. A friend suggested that I apply anyway because I had something under my name- and behold, she was right!
So, after naming companies and creating a very tiny portfolio (but I guess online presence counts), I was finally able to start getting interview calls and, more importantly, being taken seriously. Since this was technically my first job hunting season, I got really excited after the positive feedback I got from my first call and applied to more than thirty places. That was a terrible idea because I spent three weeks just scheduling meetings, but in the end, I actually got a job!
Was the experience worth it? I don’t know, but it did provide me with some valuable insight. In the end, I would say that it is very important that you break away from freelancing as soon as possible before you start to feel as though you wasted valuable years’ worth of experience.
1 thought on “Breaking Into The Mainstream After A Career As A Freelance Writer”
Keep up the good work!