I got into freelancing the old-fashioned way: I was laid off from my corporate job at 50. This can be frightening for people in my age group. Age discrimination in the workplace is a very real problem for those 45 and older. According to a recent AARP survey, 76 percent of respondents said ageism affects their ability to find full-time employment.
But that isn’t the case for a freelancer like me. All clients care about is whether I can do the job.
Experience means better rates
I’ve used my journalism background and years as a corporate communicator to my advantage. I choose projects like white papers and case studies because they play to my strengths—research, interviewing, and project management. My ability to tackle complex subject matter about which I know virtually nothing means I’m willing to take on assignments that might make other freelancers wilt under pressure. Despite the fact that I’m not a techie, in the past year I’ve written about AI, IT modernization, and the Internet of Things.
Not surprisingly, I’ve discovered that the more difficult the work is, the better it pays. I’m not a freelance writer who churns out $25 blog posts. I’ve learned to recognize a good client from a bad one. Over time, I’ve been able to raise my rates. The good ones hire me for my experience, and they’re willing to pay for it.
Of course, I’m not immune to feeling like the oldest person in the crowd at networking events or conferences. For those who meet me in person or on video calls, my white hair screams, “She’s old!” But that’s only temporary. My red highlights show that I’m still having fun, and once we start talking about a project, what matters is that I’m a good fit, reliable, and can work within their budget.
It pays to be tech-savvy
I do face some challenges as an older freelancer. For example, I’ve had to keep up with advances in technology, such as video conferencing.
When Zoom first came out, I didn’t know what it was until I clicked on the link for a new client meeting, and boom! There was my face in complete shadow, my ugly sweatshirt, and my dog at my side on full view for the client. I didn’t get that gig, but now I prepare well in advance for video calls.
Other than that, technology hasn’t been a barrier for me as it might be for older professionals in the 9-to-5 world. I worked in digital communications for many years, so honestly, once you know one collaboration platform—whether it’s Active Collab, Google Docs, or Contently—it’s not that hard to pick up a new one.
I credit the Freelance Writers Den with keeping me current on how to run a business, stay tech savvy, and charge decent rates. At any time, I can pose a question on the Den’s Slack workspace and get thoughtful advice from other freelancers who’ve been there, done that—everything from apps to record phone interviews to the best way to invoice customers and manage relationships.
Are there certain freelance gigs that I can’t get because of my age? Not really. I work remotely. Nobody cares if I’m young or old. The fact that I avoid freelance work in social media has nothing to do with my age. I’d rather do something else I’m passionate about.
Full-time work? No thanks
Since I started freelancing full time in 2014, I’ve had multiple opportunities to return to full-time work. I actually took a remote job supporting a company based on the East Coast (I live in San Diego). I lasted six months before I gave my notice.
I have no desire to return to corporate life. I’m not interested in spending time in endless meetings, dealing with company politics, or drinking the Kool-Aid. Now, when I hear of leads for full-time jobs or even other freelance jobs that aren’t right for me, I pass them along to friends. My goal for the past two years is to do work I love and give the rest away. So far, I’ve been pretty good at that.
Freelancing just fits my lifestyle. It allows me the flexibility to take longer vacations with my spouse, be on call for my aging mother, and indulge my hobbies of playing in a band, swing dancing, and volunteering. It’s also the most reliable way to support myself as I head into 60.
It’s tough out there for white-haired job seekers. But from where I sit in my home office, people judge me by the lines of copy I write rather than the lines on my face.
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer supporting clients in defense, agile coaching, and marketing with thought leadership content. She writes from her home in San Diego, Calif.
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