Part 1: Balancing family, friends and work.
It’s not all glamour and champagne over here in the freelancing corner, you know. Even when you go on vacation, it’s hard to leave work behind, knowing that there are bills to pay and all sorts of other random things you have to find the money for (plane tickets to be bridesmaid at your best friend’s wedding for example).
I knew early on that my Christmas vacation would be a working one. However, being a freelancer does make it easier to work while travelling. Read on for part 1 of my thoughts on freelancing while travelling and what it means in terms of family and friends.
This life is hard. It is difficult. I see my family once a year on average since I live away from them and when I do see them, I am caught up with deadlines for stories or with finding more clients. In these economic times, freelancing will get you money where you can’t get it from part-time or full-time employment but it will also require you to be extremely well organised so that there is a relatively steady flow of cash coming in. That depends, however on finding the clients willing to pay you which is another matter all together. Finding clients means you have to get out there and work at it.
There is that fear that sets in if you have a certain level of autonomy regarding your work. The sort of idea that “I don’t have all my working hours for this month filled so I need to find work or I won’t get paid.” or the “I have to find more editing work or more articles to send in so I can get paid enough to pay this bill next month.” and so on. That’s all you. You don’t have someone in marketing responsible for getting more people to think about hiring you, you have to do that. At the same time, you have to deliver on what you say you will do. You also then have to record all the data of the work, the transaction, the money and then do the analysis needed to find out if you are on track to earning as much as you want or need to. You have to find time to do all that. It’s hard enough finding the time to do that when you are working during the rest of the year, let alone during a vacation.
If you’re smart, you have actually budgeted for the holidays so that you don’t have to work during the holidays (see here if you haven’t). But sometimes freelancers have to take their four weeks off during another part of the year. Sometimes Christmas can be the busiest time of year for some freelancers and if family insists that you take Christmas off, you might have to fit the work in around the celebrations and the catching up that occurs. I found it hard to explain that no, I wasn’t being a loner, yes, I was aware everyone suddenly seemed to miss me and wanted to see me and that yes, I actually was working in my room.
It required a lot of conversations with various family members. Involving them in some of the business decisions I was making (“Hey, this is a new situation so what do you think I should quote this client?”) did seem to help people feel a bit more comfortable. Often you find that family members are fine with supporting you but aren’t always sure how to explain your work choices to other people they know, when the usual attitude towards freelancing in that society is that of disdain. I’m quite used to chatting to my family about what I do and I often discuss what’s going on with the publishing industry with people but it was a nice surprise to overhear my mother explaining some of the current trends with companies outsourcing work to someone else because that person clearly required a justification of some sort for my unorthodox work choice to be presented. The important thing was that in that situation where an explanation had to be given (she couldn’t brush it off as it being none of the person’s business), she had one and she was quite comfortable giving it and it made her feel better as well.
Of course, another minor annoyance of family holidays is that it isn’t always a comfortable position to be in when someone asks “What do you do?” and you have to tell them that you freelance. Or that you are a journalist. Or that you are a writer and editor. There are usually two camps: one camp thinks you have a very glamorous job and therefore are dining on champagne and caviar every night (or whatever lovely fantasy they have spun up around the idea); and the other camp thinks you are foolish to even try and that you’re just being lazy because you don’t want to get a ‘proper’ job.
My solution to this is to talk about what I write about and for whom and then start a conversation with “I have been working while I am here actually – I’ve been going over my business plan and my marketing plan and trying to sort out my taxes and super contributions beforehand so I can discuss it with my accountant first thing in the new year.” If that doesn’t drive the point home that I am serious about what I do, then I don’t know what will. Another tactic that I didn’t even realise at the time was the flashing of my press pass. I was so genuinely excited about it that I didn’t realise that showing it off, eased the tension somewhat. People visibly relaxed – if I had a press pass, someone must have given it to me therefore someone had approved of my ability to do this so all was well.
So how do you deal with balancing family, friends and freelancing? Post a comment below and let me know.