People often ask me why I’m self-employed. And when I tell them I’m a freelance copywriter, they’re either disproportionately surprised or defiantly confused.
But when you start trying to explain your reasoning to people, you’re back on the slippery slope to wondering things like: why the hell am I doing this to myself?
(Cold hard fact numero uno coming up, here.)
I’m self-employed because I don’t like being told what to do.
To explain, I’ll need to give you a bit of background:
I went to University when it was the done thing.
I graduated into a stagnant job market, where there was little to zero prospects for somebody with a 2:1 degree, no idea what they wanted to do and no relevant work experience to speak of.
Not that those credentials are to be sniffed at, but people like me were ten a penny (back in ye olde 2010’s).
I came from a working-class family of self-starters, business people. My dad came to the UK as a student. My mum worked in the bank. She was the breadwinner until my Dad’s business got off the ground. By the time I was coming to the end of primary school, my parents where in a position to send me to a private *gasp* all girls *gasp again!* school (and that’s another story altogether), in what I like to think of as a last-ditch attempt to keep me on the straight and narrow, before releasing me into the big, bad world.
(Or, maybe, they just wanted to give me the best chance in life they could – but the first one makes me sound exciting and dangerous.)
While all this was going on, I had my career sights firmly locked on my first love – working with horses. My mum, in her misguided innocence, had bought me a riding lesson after a good school report in Primary 2. Since then, I’d been purposefully obsessed. I had the experience and (some of) the ability, by the time I was a school leaver, to make a career of some kind in the industry.
(Don’t be too impressed. This also meant shovelling a lot of shit.)
But old Mom’n’Pops (and my league-table-focused guidance teacher) desperately wanted me to go to university. Not in a “you’re a disappointment and we’ll stop loving you,” kind of way. But in a normal, people want the best for their kids, kind of a way.
Long story short, I did go to University and I did come out with my undergraduate degree. And I’m grateful for that now. Although it didn’t quite catapult me to the top of the jobseeker’s pile, as I had expected, I believe it helped to gain credibility (cough) as I built my career as a copywriter.
(And let’s be honest, what kind of brat lets her parents pay her way through private education and then refuses to go to university on the grounds that she’d rather be playing with ponies? Incidentally, I ended up working in a dressage yard for another 4 years once I’d graduated and been shocked to discover I wasn’t hot property on the job market. But that was a lot of fun, too.)
I digress. On with the post.
The Real Reasons Why I’m Self Employed
Okay, so I said there was one reason. But there’s actually more like 6. It’s just what happens when you start writing with no particular brief in mind. I’d be the worst client in the world. But that’s why this is going on my own blog, where my rambling are available on a strictly opt-in only basis.
1. I Would Not Do Well Under A Dictatorship
I have discovered, over the years, that I have an underlying problem with authority. Luckily for me, I wasn’t born into a society where that might have proven to be more problematic than it has.
I’ll happily bend over backwards (figuratively speaking) to turn a piece of copy into something more than a client had ever imagined it could be, but tell me to turn up every day and work from the neck down, for the duration of an 8-hour shift – and I’ll soon be miserable.
When I started my first business, a year or so after I graduated (whilst working two other jobs) it was A NIGHTMARE. I’d recognised a gap in the market for producing small horse lorries, which had appeared following the change to the UK’s towing licensing laws, in 2013. The idea was a reasonable one and the business was fairly successful but it wasn’t making the money I wanted (or needed) it to, to justify my pitiful sleep quality and generally miserable existence.
When you’re self-employed, there’s got to be something getting you through those alopecia-inducing days and those sleepless nights. Something that’s not cigarettes or mint humbugs.
After that, I went back to work with horses for a while.
But I soon realised, that although my business hadn’t been exactly what I had imagined, I didn’t mind my customers making demands of me nearly as much as I minded being dictated to by a ‘boss’. It makes me feel like I have no autonomy and suffocates what precious creative bones I do have in my body.
2. I Still Want To Be My Own Boss (Yes, even after the first attempt)
They say that when you run your own business, you can be your own boss. But before you start thinking I’m going to claim it’s all sunshine and roses – this is only partly true, and in a convoluted sort of a way.
The fact is, that everyone becomes your boss when you’re self-employed. You work for every contact, customer and supplier who plays a part in your business. You don’t have to answer to one particular person but sooner or later you have to give everyone the answer they’re looking for – or you won’t have a business.
But I still prefer the second option.
3. I’ll Be Taking The Credit From Here, Thanks
No matter how stressed I was trying to make my business work, it still didn’t feel as restrictive as working for someone else.
It’s worth noting here, that this is not a reflection on any of my previous and long-suffering employers. On the flipside, a few of them, in particular, have become friends I hope to keep for life.
But everything I do as a self-employed person takes me a step closer to achieving my own goals. I’m not a half-arsed kind of person, so even when I was employed I put my heart and soul into my work and after a while, you can only give so much of that without wanting to put your own name to it.
4. I Want To Have That ‘Work-Life’ Balance – Not Just Talk About It
When I was trying to work out what I was going to do at school, at university and with my impending adult life, I always thought I had to pick between what I loved doing and what I could make a living from. Working in the equestrian industry was fun and rewarding, but it was hard going and it’s never going to come with a six-figure pay packet (or maybe I was just doing it wrong).
And I tried office work. I loved working with people but the paperwork and the long hours being cooped up inside just weren’t for me.
“You’re good at having the crack with people, Suzanne. But you’re sh*te at paperwork,” as my dear brother used to tell me, quite regularly.
When I first dipped my toe in the horsebox building business (yes, that’s a thing), I thought this could be the best of both worlds. It wasn’t – and my business plan was as full of holes as I was of ideas. But I learned a hell of a lot in a short space of time, including how to implement a foolproof digital marketing strategy that I used to build myself a loyal customer base – without spending a penny on advertising.*
*Ah, the good old days of Facebook marketing, but still.
The Sun Might Not Come Out Tomorrow: FACT
Still, too much desk time! The thing about working in an office is that everyone (usually) wants to be somewhere else. The sun doesn’t come out much in Scotland, so when it does, most people want to be outdoors enjoying their hobbies and spending time with friends and family (in a beer garden).
I think that there’s a misconception that you have to sacrifice your life to make a living. And I just don’t think that’s necessarily true.
Being a freelance copywriter has shown me that I can pay the bills doing something that feels natural to me and get some living in before I retire. When it’s sunny, I go outside. Whether that means taking my laptop into the garden or working later on when the sun goes down, I have the flexibility to choose how and when I work. I’m also significantly more productive this way and the quality of my work is incomparably improved to those days when I was stuck in an office for from 8 ‘til 6.
5. I’m Not Miserable And Neither Are My Clients
My clients benefit from this setup too, because they only get the most valuable of my hours – when I’m 100% ‘on’.
And they’re not paying a member of staff for those extra hours during the day spent gazing, wistfully out of the window, or watching the clock.
That said, I’d still probably be under less pressure with the regular wage that comes with a ‘normal’ job. And it can get wearing when you’re always chasing the next big project. But I can’t see me ever going back. Unless innocent drinks want to give me a full-time gig, showcasing my irrelevant ramblings on their blog – you guys wouldn’t see me for dust.
6. For The Potential To Build An Empire – Not To Be Capped By A Glass Ceiling
If you’ve ever the pleasure of working with your own family, you’ll probably have some insight into our occasionally ‘rocky’ journey. On those afternoons, when my brother was ready to leave his papers at the desk (or throw his computer into the canal) and close the doors, he would always say the same thing.
“I’d be better off working at Tesco.”
Now, let me follow with a quick caveat: neither he nor I, had (or have) anything against the supermarket giant (although my mum thinks they are taking over the world, so it must be true) or it’s employees. It’s actually quite the opposite.
(Other supermarkets are available, they’re just not as good.)
The point is, that it’s easy to mistake small business owners for self-made millionaires. We both knew people who’d worked their way up in big chains and had hit their mid-twenties with a salary we could only dream of, an enviable holiday package and those other employee benefits we didn’t have – like set working hours and sick-pay.
But there was one thing that kept him (and now me) from jumping ship. I’ve never climbed the corporate ladder because I’d never felt inclined to try. And it’s quite possible that I’d fall off the first rung. But when you work for somewhere else, there’s always a higher power keeping you in your place – that’s just how hierarchy works. Yes, when you’re a small business owner, your failures are all on your shoulders but the fruits of your success are entirely your own, too.
* * *
(Because this was too long, get it?)
And that’s what really gets me out of bed in the morning. If I do nothing, I’ll get nowhere. I don’t make a six-figure salary and I don’t have a company car, but isn’t being able to squeeze a bit more living into your life a worthy trade-off for those things? And if I focus on where I want to be, there’s no one there to rein me in. Which is also the scariest part.
Stay tuned for more from a freelance copywriter, whose list of things she knows to be true about the world is slowly but steadily diminishing. Next time I’ll try to break it up with a fun post about the dog (who I’m pretty sure thinks I’m the live-in help).
If you’ve made it this far, well done. Let’s hope you managed to look sufficiently busy while you were reading that. If you’re looking for a copywriter in Perth and Kinross, or in the rest of the world and beyond, take a look at my services page or get in touch to find out about working with me.
Just nosey? Start here.
John Espirian · May 4, 2018 at 7:43 am
Lovely stuff, Suzanne, and full of personality. What do you think about using ‘freelance’ when describing what you do? The best advice seems to be to refer to yourself as an ‘independent writing consultant’ or something a bit more weighty but in the same vein.
Suzanne Al-Gayaar · May 4, 2018 at 10:40 am
Hi John, thank you that is very kind of you to say! Can always rely on you for support (and a critical eye where it’s required!). To your question – it’s a very good one and something I’ve been musing over quite a bit.
I do think that the term ‘freelancer’ has gathered some negative connotations in the last few years, especially with the rise of remote working. I think it’s easier now to get lost, as a professional, in the sea of ‘Fiver’ and ‘Upwork’ type contractors. So I can see why ‘consultant’ is being subbed in for ‘freelancer’ more often than not, and I’ve been guilty of using them interchangeably – I’m still not married to either. To be honest, I don’t like to mince my words and there’s something that feels a bit disingenuous about changing the language I use to describe myself – rather than calling a spade a spade (or a freelancer).
Short answer – I don’t have one… yet. What’s your take on this?
John Espirian · May 4, 2018 at 10:47 am
Nice one, Suzanne. I’m a habitual freelance-mentioner, but when I’ve smartened up to ‘consultant’ or ‘independent writer’, it has usually made a better impression. Something for us each to practise doing more, I’d say.
Suzanne Al-Gayaar · May 4, 2018 at 7:42 pm
I think you’re probably right there, John.
Sandy McCurdy · May 4, 2018 at 8:12 am
Most people who are not self employed don’t get it Suzanne. One of my friends once said to me “Nobody knows what you do Sandy. Your job seems to consist of wandering about until somebody phones you then you go and have a coffee and a chat with them.” I just agreed and sighed.
Suzanne Al-Gayaar · May 4, 2018 at 10:32 am
It’s almost as if he’s been a fly on the wall at one of our meetings, Sandy! But all too familiar. Still, wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking forward to coming to see you speak at the ASB conference in June (which is now in my diary!).
josh martin · June 15, 2018 at 12:33 pm
Hi Suzanne, I can understand the feeling of a freelancer. I am also a freelancer. I think all the persons in the world have rights to choose their work what they want to do. If we want to work as a self-employed, why somebody has a problem. I am happy with my freelance work. So, I think there is nothing wrong with saying like “I am a self-employed or a freelancer”.
Suzanne Al-Gayaar · June 20, 2018 at 10:59 am
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s always good to hear from other freelancers. I agree with you that we should all be free to choose. But I do think that sometimes the term ‘freelancer’ brings with it some baggage that we might want to avoid. Like, for example, the misconception that freelancers are easier to take the piss out of.