The Born Freelancer on the Value of Having a ‘Plan B’

 This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments. 



“A Plan” or “Plan A” – The ideal career/lifestyle. For most of us it’s creative freelancing.

“B Plan” or “Plan B” – A secondary choice of a different career/lifestyle, seemingly less desirable than an A Plan but frequently more attainable/suitable.


When I first launched my freelance career I was constantly given the advice, “It’s best to have a ‘Plan B’ in case things don’t work out”. This didn’t suggest merely having multiple freelance strands and skill sets (both excellent for any freelancer) but a completely different backup career/lifestyle such as teaching, law, medicine, etc. I heard this piece of well-meaning advice so many times from so many different people that for many years I took it to heart. It made me miserable because I could not come up with a tangible alternative to anything other than my “Plan A” to freelance in radio, TV, film and print.

Ironically, it was only when I stopped worrying about not having any “Plan B” that I became much more contented and productive in my “Plan A”.

And so I came to appreciate that consideration of a “Plan B” has both merits and drawbacks. For some it is sensible advice that can help define true intentions. For others it is utterly counter-productive. The problem is figuring out what type of person you are and whether or not a “B Plan” in any form would actually be helpful. While I can’t tell you which type of person you are I can share with you my thoughts on the subject, pro and con, should anyone in future offer you similar well-meaning advice.


It’s a safety net, isn’t it?

The freelancing life does not guarantee work, success, happiness or fulfillment. Of course, I would argue there are no such absolute guarantees at all in life. Does that seem a dire outlook? Not for me. Such a blank slate (i. e. no guarantees) is life’s “net neutrality” – the greatest motivation of all for anyone to create and live out whatever kind of life you truly desire. Your very own “Plan A”.

However, some people understandably prefer the illusion of guarantees and for them having a more conventional “Plan B” makes sense. It is probably the most reasonable and responsible approach to life especially in certain circumstances, e. g. if you are starting a family. Of course, that doesn’t make it right for everyone.


If you can imagine doing something else, why not do it

Contemplating a “B Plan” forces you to consider what else you might do. This is a useful exploration for anyone at any point in their career. If you can imagine doing something else then why not try it?

For some of us the creative freelance life was our one and only “plan”. There were no alternatives. An early invaluable insight? Possibly. Of course, it could also indicate major shortcomings in our character.

Some creative freelancers only come to realize that it is what they want to do after a period doing something else. They use what I would call a “B Plan” as their “A Plan” and only move to their “B Plan” when the pressure of doing something they hate so much forces them to jump into what they always really wanted to do. This makes sense but only if you are the type of individual who needs to create a sense of “critical mass” wherein the internal pressures are so great you must make a change in order to survive.

It forces you to extend yourself/opens you to other worlds

In opting for a “B Plan” you are forced to broaden your outlook on life. Experiencing life outside of creative freelancing can give you insights and experiences you can always incorporate creatively later to great effect.

When I started out in one of my freelance career strands (radio) it struck me that most of my fellow newbie talkers only knew radio. They had lived and breathed radio all their young lives and now they were in it they had no experience outside of it with which to relate to their listeners. The seasoned professionals I felt most inspired by were those who had also managed somehow to have had a life beyond radio. They had traveled the world and had had extensive “other life” experiences to share. If contemplating and temporarily living out a “B Plan” encourages one to seek out the greater world beyond the narrow confines of any one particular industry then that seems a pretty good rationale to me.

It can distract you, big time

One of the biggest drawbacks of even contemplating a “B Plan” is that it can distract you from diving into your “A Plan” with 100% full attention. There are only so many hours in the day and so many molecules in our brains. I’ve never been a believer in multitasking, it is the gateway to mediocrity. If you are going to succeed in any competitive field I believe you need to give it your total and undivided attention.

Of course many freelancers need day jobs while their freelance careers evolve. I would argue that this is a means of facilitating your “A Plan” and not an actual “B Plan”. It can however prove to be a fatal distraction to your “A Plan” should that day job take over your life.

But can’t you integrate “a” and “b” plans?

This could be the perfect compromise for some. Lawyers freelancing in media with legal expertise. Doctors with medical insights, etc. It may well become much more commonplace in future i. e. specialized freelancing.

Does it protect you from failure or does it damn you to it?

Families may give you the “B Plan” advice to protect you from any perceived future failure. But we actually learn most from our failures. All successful creative individuals have had their fair share of rejection. How else can you grow as a creative person? Protecting you from failure is a natural desire of parents for their children but it is often completely counter-productive in terms of establishing a creative career.

I would posit for some of us that having a “B Plan” can actually lead you to booby-trap your own “A Plan” because it puts the inevitability of its demise in your mind. Giving it as advice seems to me to be a way of saying others have no faith in your success, intentionally or unintentionally. Not having a “B Plan” can force you to make good with your “A plan”. You have no other choice.

When do you inflate your airbag? 

I could never tell when someone with a viable “B Plan” was supposed to junk their “A Plan”. Do you give it one year or ten? Do you set a financial quota? Any “B Plan” triggers seem to doom any “A Plan’s” chances of success. What if you quit your “A Plan” the day before a huge breakthrough? Trust me, a vast number of professionals are successful not because they are the most talented (who often fall by the wayside) but because they refused to abandon their “A Plans”.

It can kill dreams

If you take on a “B Plan” as your life journey you may kill a very real part of yourself. If you never try to fly you will forever be grounded. Now, maybe you were never meant to fly. But how will you find out if you don’t try? Otherwise you will live forever with the poison inside you of “what if?” And there is no poison more corrosive.



Having a “B Plan” is a necessary hedge for some freelancers. For others it is counter-productive. Still others may find unique ways of combining their “A” and “B” Plans.

When I’m asked for advice today I hesitate to invoke the “B Plan” because I know it is advice most newbies will have already received. After several years of anguishing over my own inability to come up with a satisfactory “B Plan” I have learned to accept that what is sound advice for others was never meant for me. For good or bad I have made my peace with that knowledge and it motivates me every day. But I still recognize its potential value for others.

So, if you live with a “B Plan” “just in case” and that works for you, great!

On the other hand, don’t despair if you discover that your best “A Plan” is having no “B Plan” at all.

Some of us are just born freelancers.


Posted on May 9, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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