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September 17, 2001
The Highs and Lows of Freelancing
by Sherril Steele-Carlin

It isn't pretty to think about, but sooner or later every freelancer hits bottom. They lose a major client. They don't get paid for a big project. They get to a point where they just don't have any work. These are the low points in freelancing - when the checks don't come in, and the freelancer begins to question their decision to take off on their own. In her article for, Michelle Goodman says, "Sometime in the first year or two of independent life, however, the initial flush of optimism fades and doubts begin to rise.... One reason temptation is particularly strong for freelancers at this middle stage: They've put up with enough of the uncertain cash flow, the irrational clients, and the constant search for work to be tired of them all."

Freelancers say there are four major low points that affect their careers: late or missing payments, clients that are hard to work with, times when there is no work, and isolation. If more than one of these hit at the same time, it can make a freelancer question their entire career and motivation. It can also be difficult on other family members if the money isn't in the bank, and bills aren't being paid. This is the time when many freelancers throw in the towel, and go back to a corporate job.

On the upside, wherever there's a bottom, there's also a top. Goodman says "Freelancers tend to work through five distinct psychological phases in their work cycle: euphoria, optimism, anxiety, momentum, and wisdom." After the anxiety of the low points, freelancers who stick with it can almost always ride the pendulum of motion back up to optimism and euphoria. A new client brings you a major project, you get a check you weren't expecting, or you come up with a great new idea your client loves.

Freelancers have to face the fact that there will always be highs and lows with their business. After a few years, most of them recognize the pattern, and know that they just have to weather the storms. Web consultant Joel Raphael says "At times you are crashing into walls at high speed to finish that wonderful assignment and other times you are playing solitaire. You can work hard at marketing, but you can't make sure you will always have work."

Most freelancers who last beyond the first year or two in business find that they have learned to even out the highs and lows a bit. Many also find that after a few years, they are earning more money than they did in their "day jobs." In an article for her web site, Kimeiko Hotta Dover interviewed several freelancers about their work. Georganna Ahlfors said, "In the beginning it is tempting to be a jack of all trades and take any work that comes along (as long as it pays). But over the long term it pays to brand yourself and position yourself strategically."

Because of the uncertainties, freelancing may not be the perfect job for everyone. But, as an article from the City Business Journal said, "For the freelancer who is able to solicit and satisfy customers, risk the insecurity of not having a regular paycheck, and find his niche in the market, the rewards run beyond profits to flexible hours and control over one's success or failure."

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book
"How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park."
"How to Break Into Casino Jobs."
Visit her web site at

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