Why It Took Me Four Years To Become A Freelance Hard-Ass

My new dress code. ... Okay. Not really. I'm wearing a sundress sans bra right now.

It can be tough to be tough with clients when you’re first starting out as a freelancer.

After all, you’re new to all of this: the self-promotion… the self-discipline… the hustle… the rates-setting. You’re unsure of yourself: unsure of what you’re worth… whether or not you’ll fail or succeed… whether or not you have what it takes.

Because of all this, you end up saying yes to every damn project, out of both desperation and fear. You end up lowballing yourself when setting rates. You end up working nights and weekends, with nothing to show for it.

After three years, I still had nothing to show for it.

Don’t get me wrong. After three years, the work was coming to me. My professional network was vast. My portfolio and resume looked a thousand times better than they once did.

But I was still struggling to pay the bills, and my work/life balance was seriously out of whack.

It took me four years to finally become a freelance hard-ass. What finally clicked?

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Clients Not Respecting Your Time? Sorry. That’s Your Fault

couple arguing over overtime

A dramatic reenactment of my marriage, by a woman way cuter than me, and a man not nearly as cute as my husband.

My husband and I are incredibly different people. I’m an antisocial introvert; he’s a social butterfly. I love fresh eggplant and tomatoes; he loves Slim Jims and energy drinks. I love cheesy dance music; he loves slacker rock. One thing we do have in common? We’re both ambitious workaholics.

What this means is that we often put our work before our relationship, and that’s a dangerous thing. I’m always working through the weekend, loath to do dinner with his family or go on day-long outings. I have a neverending to-do list, and leaving work behind for an exercise class or friendly happy hour makes me anxious. I also hate low-key, “relaxing” vacations. If I’m not doing something action-packed or hands-on, I’d rather be spending my time being productive.

Michael, meanwhile, is one of those insufferably rude smartphone addicts. He checks his e-mail and answers texts and phone calls when we’re out to dinner together… when we’re watching TV together… when we have company over. He lets both his employer and his clients walk all over him, responding to messages immediately, and working in his off hours (without additional pay). One time, while on a weekend trip in celebration of our three-year anniversary, he popped open his laptop and started doing some work for his full-time employer. Despite the fact that he had taken a vacation day. Despite the fact that he was supposed to be celebrating with me. I was livid.

Because — while I do find it difficult to step away — I force myself to do it way more than he does, for the sake of our relationship, and for the sake of my sanity. I don’t want to be perpetually connected. I don’t want to be held captive by my clients’ every whim (though I do all that I can to take care of them during my working hours). I want a healthy work/life balance, and I want my family to come first.

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