Building Your Business

I’ll Never Make A Million Dollars Freelancing—And I’m Okay With That

By Danielle Antosz October 9th, 2019

From the view of the full-time employee, the freelance life can look pretty appealing. Some might even call it a fantasy. No more meddling boss. No impossible targets to hit. Finally, an end to office politics, “team-building” exercises, and toxic gossip.

In 2012, I was slogging away in a low-paying office job, churning out 50 to 100 social media posts a day. I freelanced to keep myself busy on the side and to learn more about the marketing industry (the extra cash didn’t hurt, either).

Then, in 2014, I took the plunge—I quit my job and went full-time freelance. It was everything I’d hoped for. I took days off to soak up the sunshine. I took trips without worrying about PTO. And, yes, I worked in my pajamas.

It was thrilling and terrifying and freeing.

The pressure to earn more money freelancing

In the beginning of my freelance career, I definitely spent time banging my head against the keyboard when clients asked for edits—again—according to new “requirements” they didn’t include in the project brief. There were weeks I scraped the bottom barrel on job boards, took on work I didn’t love, and wrote things I didn’t believe in.

Then I got married and had kids, and freelancing took on a slightly different hue. My work was (mostly) stable after nearly a decade. There are still amazing benefits—being able to sneak baby cuddles between conference calls is a big one—but as the kids get a bit older and the second baby haze clears, I am faced with a dilemma.

There seems to be a never-ending pressure to do more, earn more, make more. I can’t scroll through Facebook without seeing an ad promising “I make $100K a year freelancing and you can, too!” (Editor’s note: Admittedly, we have published this exact story.)

The steps are predictable, the promises are grand, and there’s the subtle but not-so-subtle dig that I could make more if I just hustled more.

Do I want to make $100k? Sure.

Do I want to blow up the equilibrium I’ve created for myself, balancing work and other priorities, in the name of more money? Not so much.

What freelancers won’t sacrifice for pay

I figured I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, so I talked to a couple other full-time freelancers about their pay and asked what they’d refuse to sacrifice to make more money.

Suzanne Brown, a mother of two young boys and author of Mompowerment, has two businesses and works 25 to 30 hours per week. “The idea is to be able to pick up my boys at school every day,” she said. “I look for slow, steady growth in my businesses, not [to become] a seven-figure business overnight. I love what I do (marketing strategist and work-life balance speaker, strategist, writer, and author). And I’m a much better mom when I have things outside of motherhood—things that are mine.”

For those balancing work with parental duties, the flexibility afforded to freelancers can help out a lot. For instance: I make enough, I like the balance of my life, even if it means taking on the more-gendered tasks of meal management, making sure the sheets get changed, and sweeping up the cat litter while my husband works to support us.

Kate Robe, a freelance writer, author, and mother to two daughters, felt the burden of taking on too much last year. It can be so tempting as a freelancer to never turn work down, because you never know when it might dry up,” she said. “But it can also leak into every crevice of your life and stress you to the point of breaking. Or, in my case, getting shingles.

The drive to do more and achieve more is hard to shake. I could wake up earlier. I could log in after the kids go to bed. But to be honest, I’d rather spend those post-bedtime hours on the couch with my husband catching up on The Handmaid’s Tale.

I don’t want to hustle harder. I don’t want to build my email list. I don’t want to teach other people how to freelance.

I’ll likely never make $100k a year as a freelance writer. I am okay with that.

When my daughter says, “Mama, will you play castles with me?” I get to say say, “Of course.” When my son needs help climbing into his chair to make Play-Doh balls, I can help him up on my way back to the office.

Opting out of the “grind” mentality

It is hard not to remember the fear of those early freelance years. Maybe this week will be the time all my clients drop at the same time, I think. Surely, I can squeeze in one more article this week.

And sometimes I feel like I am failing my 23-year-old feminist self. I am not pushing harder or taking on more because, to be honest, I want to be able to make home-cooked meals and spend more time with my kids.

Feminism is about being able to choose your path, but part of me still feels like I should be doing more, building more, growing a following, and writing the next big book.

I choose to freelance because of the flexibility and the freedom. Choosing to scale back—or at least not scale up—during this season in my life feels right for me, and it feels good for my family.

Am I settling? Am I letting down 23-year-old me?

I don’t think so. I have spent so long reaching for the next milestone that sometimes it’s hard to just be. Maybe when the kids are bigger, when they offer fewer cuddles, when the baby smell starts to fade just a bit more, maybe then I’ll build that empire.

For right now, though: enough is, truly, enough.

Danielle Antosz is a Chicago-based writer and editor who specializes in digital marketing, tech, and business. She enjoys traveling and knitting and hates talking about herself in the third person.

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