Do You Want Fries with That? 5 Ways Freelancing Is Just Like Your First Job

By Carrie Anton September 30th, 2014

At the tender age of 14, I completed the first of many W-9 forms for my first “real” job: busgirl at a country club restaurant. Now working as a freelance writer, I’m often reminded not much has changed.

As I took on a series of menial jobs before college, I dreamed of the day when an undergraduate degree would guide me away from life as a peon living in my parents’ house and into a comfortable corner office.

However, majoring in literature doesn’t necessarily lead to jobs that have offices of any kind, corner or otherwise. While there are certainly perks to my freelance lifestyle, here are five ways freelancing still reminds me of my busgirl glory days.

1. Cleaning up messes

Like picking up the pieces of a shattered plate, freelancing often leads to cleaning up other people’s messes. And if you’re a freelance editor, messes in the way of dangling participles and misplaced commas are just part of the job.

For writers, coming up with a 2,000-word reported story in one week may be the result of poor planning or the fault of another writer who didn’t deliver the assignment on time. Either way, you’re bussing a table of a different kind.

2. Minuscule pay

While I still eat out, the painful memories of scraping grease, shooing flies, and wearing soggy shoes never fails to remind me restaurant workers don’t make nearly enough money; I barely made five dollars an hour. But here’s the kicker: More than 20 years later, I’m being asked to write copy for the same rate, if not less. Writing a white paper might not be as disgusting as degreasing an oven hood, but a lot of the time, the compensation offered sure is.

3. The customer is always right

Let’s be honest, the customer is not always right, but garnering repeat business requires you to act otherwise. For freelancers, the customer can come in the way of an editor, a creative director, or a communications manager. Even though you were hired to interview two sources, when the client asks for a third, you have to toe the line between doing what is best for the project and appeasing the people paying you.

4. Prove yourself

With every new pitch, letter of introduction, and networking handshake, you are essentially answering one job interview question all over again: “What makes you think you’re right for this project?”

Experience is usually the answer, but getting that experience can be a catch-22. Be it your first job as a teenager or your first gig with a new magazine or marketing company, you’re likely going after the work to build up your resume and/or portfolio. However, often times it can be challenging to land an assignment if you don’t already have the very experience you’re trying to develop. Unless someone gives you a break, proving yourself is constantly an upward climb.

5. The learning curve

I had never worked a wedding, balanced multiple plates of prime rib on a tray, or handed out wedding cake in my life, but I stepped up when a server couldn’t make it to one wedding at the country club where I worked. And because of it, I was asked to work more weddings—events that paid better and were more fun than the weekly Friday fish fry.

Trying something new is a must in any freelance endeavor. Even though I consider my niche to be health and fitness, making a living as freelance writer requires me to completely step outside of my comfort zone. An SEO e-book? Blog posts on hazardous waste removal? Two 21-minute TV scripts on duck hunting (having never shot a gun or even eaten prepared duck)? Yep, those have all been thrown my way. Just as when I was a busgirl, declining an unusual opportunity was always an option, but learning something new in both situations led to more income and experience. The new tasks might feel awkward—even impossible—at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will be to overcome the learning curve.

Image by Lisa F. Young
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