Anne T. Donahue: Freelance Work Myths and Advice for Photographers, Designers and Artists

If you think it's all peaches and cream, think again—here's what really goes on behind the closed doors of freelancers.

freelance work myths flatlay 1

Between you and me, freelance work seems like an absolute dream. You make your own hours, you determine which bosses you’d like to work for, and then you build your career based on the work you love and your ability to execute it. Bless us everyone, freelancers do what they want.

But that dream can also be a total nightmare. Missed paycheques, a complete lack of work/life balance, and the endless panic of everybody realizing you’re a complete fraud accompany (and sometimes eclipse) the beauty of, say, working from home. But you pretend that everything’s fine, everything’s cool, and that you’re in total control of your destiny, despite often wanting to walk outside and scream into the night.

Here are the biggest freelancing myths, and why they are wrong, so wrong, so entirely wrong, please help us.

Myth 1: You can work whenever you want

Okay so yes, to an extent this is true. If you really want to get up at noon and work until three and spend the rest of the day in the park on a blanket, you can totally go for it and I wish you well. But then when you run out of money, you will learn never to do anything like that again because you get paid only for the time you put in.

Freelancing is kind of like the worst version of part-time retail: if you put the time in, your finances will reflect that. But unlike retail, it gets hard to pick up work if you’ve closed too many doors or kiboshed a gig too early and or before you’ve had a chance to prove yourself a bankable writer/photographer/graphic designer/etc. So where you can pick up a shift at American Eagle from a co-worker who didn’t want it, freelancing is like approaching every manager at every store and asking if you can put in four hours. It’s like How To Make An American Quilt, only instead of fabric and backstories, you’re trying to piece together rent.

Myth 1, Part 2: You are always around

But that said, there’s a belief that because you are attached to your phone or your computer or your creating equipment (whatever it may be), you are always around. And, well, no. That’s not how life works. No one is always around. No person on the planet is always around. The only thing that’s always around is the character Paul Bettany plays in The Avengers who is a robot and whose job is to always be around. And freelancers are not robots. Otherwise we’d all be in finance.

Myth 2: So that said, we all work so hard we secretly want to perish

Now, let’s dial it down: freelancing can be super stressful, but nobody here is saving lives. We’re not nurses or doctors or therapists or teachers—we’re in the arts. (Which is also important, but for sure doesn’t tend to necessitate us performing surgery or anything close.) Is it stressful to worry about your next source of income? For sure. Is it frustrating to chase paycheques or jobs or turn around edits on a piece you may be getting next-to-nothing for? Absolutely. But freelancing isn’t MAS*H—we get to take five minutes to make a tea and take a breath and get some perspective. It can be draining and frustrating to pour yourself into your art every day, but we also get to take a second to chill whenever the going gets a little too tough.

Myth 3: You decide who you work for

Technically, freelancers 100% get to decide who they work for, based on the fact that they choose to reach out to the publications or companies they’d like to contribute to. But that’s about it. Like in any other job, you work with the person in charge of a particular section—you don’t just pair up with a buddy or hand pick your team. (Unless you’ve been freelancing longer than any of us have been alive.) A company is a client, and it’s your job to do what they need you to do. Which means that sometimes work and the people you work with are actual nightmares, and too bad—that’s what the money’s for. (Shout out to Don Draper.) If you don’t like it, you can quit or you can avoid working with them in the future. So there’s that.

Myth 4: Freelancers are very cool

Actually this isn’t a myth, this is very true. We are the coolest. Everything good you’ve heard about our personalities and outfits is accurate. Thank you for checking.

Myth 5: You do what you love

It’s kind of true! Most of the time, you do the work you love for people who champion it. But also, sometimes you do the work you would rather not do for people who will pay you to do it and you happily accept the privilege of earning money in any capacity. Look: we are not all Julia Roberts in Stepmom, deciding to capture the catering guy and make him the little man in the suit. Instead, we’re all just trying to build a career that makes us happy. And that takes time. You earn more money in time, you get to take more risks with time, and you become a better artist in time. But, in the words of Dr. Spaceman, you have to dance for it: no freelancer gets a free ride, nor do they immediately score all of their dream jobs. Most of the time, the freelancers doing the coolest work are the ones who put in the work. (And the ones who remember they can take five seconds to take a breath and make some tea.)

A4 1 4

A Guide to Improving Your Photography Skills

Elevate your photography with our free starter package. Gain exclusive access to insider tips, tricks, and tools for perfecting your craft, building your online portfolio, and growing your business.

Subscribe to the newsletter Field Label