The Born Freelancer Looks Back Over 4 Years – Part 1

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.



One of the greatest joys of writing a regular column like this is that your work stays online indefinitely and is there for all to read for eternity (or until the CMG forgets to renew the domain name!)

On the other hand, one of the greatest drawbacks of writing a regular column like this is that your work stays online indefinitely and is there for all to read for eternity.

I’ve been looking back over my four years of columns as “The Born Freelancer”. Some of them were pretty good, some maybe less so. But I hope all have helped many of you in some way navigate your own journey as a freelancer. For good or bad I have tried to share my experiences as honestly as possible and with as much self-awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses as I could muster.

I find myself mostly sanguine with their content. I don’t violently disagree with my past self on any crucial points. Indeed, most of the advice I wrote is still identical to what I would say if I were writing the same topics for the first time today.

But I have scribbled down some notes as I reviewed the posts. None of them are exactly earth shattering revelations but rather further additional or updated comments. They are listed in no particular order.

Living within a freelancer’s budget

In a very early post on budgeting for freelancers I discussed various cost-cutting tricks of living within your budget, something I would posit any working freelancer needs to learn to do in order to enjoy the good busy days and survive the inevitable financial droughts.

I wrote (in part) about attempting to renegotiate your telephone bill in order to pay the least and get the most out of your phone provider.

Follow up: I discovered that you actually need to speak to the “Retention Department” (what an Orwellian title!) or (the more friendly named) “Customer Loyalty Department”. No other phone company rep is actually empowered to offer you the best deal possible. When you make noises as if you are prepared to leave them if they do not offer you a better deal only then will they take you seriously enough to renegotiate a better service contract with you. Of course, you do have to be prepared to walk away in the event they still do not give you the deal you want.

There is a lesson in that for all freelancers negotiating any contract with anyone.

Related to that post about phone companies and living on a tight but realistic freelancing budget, in a much later column I wrote about my experiences getting a pay-as-you-go cell phone from the Seven-Eleven “Speakout” service.

I was very happy with the service and my little “dumb” cell phone. This year, however, I made the jump to the 21st century (only 15 years late!) and got a “smartphone” (the Acer Z220) on sale from the same organization. So it still functions as a pay-as-you-go cell phone but now I can use its mobile wifi features whenever I am in a public space with accessible wifi service. That this is a great boon will come as little surprise to all of you who taken such services for granted. For many of us living within a tight freelancer’s budget it came as a pleasant revelation. The Acer cell phone was offered for about $40 as part of a special offer when combined with airtime purchased.

Takeaway: Keep an eye on the Seven-Eleven “Speakout” site for deals and special offers. I continue to be pleased with their budget-minded pay-as-you-go service for voice and text. My new smartphone with wifi has brought me at long last into the “smart” mobile age at an affordable cost. Note: I am just a regular customer. I receive nothing from Speakout for expressing these thoughts in public.

The creative benefits of walking

I have long been an advocate of walking as a means of bursting creative blocks, and maintaining your good health in the otherwise often unhealthy freelancers’ lifestyle. I wrote about this some time ago here on this site.

I have lately noticed a series of health related reports and articles about something called “eco-psychology” which – while supporting my thesis that walking is superabundantly helpful in promoting creativity and good health – zeroes in on the benefits of walking amidst “green spaces” – the countryside, city parks, tree lined avenues, etc.

I guess I have always had better luck bursting writer’s blocks and generally coming up with new ideas while walking about such “green spaces” (as opposed to amidst urban blight) but I had never really seen the evidence backing up those beliefs until now.

Takeaway: Take the time and energy to find your nearest “green spaces” and go for a walk in them the next time you hit a creative impasse. You will be amazed at how that walk will refresh, revitalize and reboot your oxygen-deprived brain into delivering the creative solutions you required but did not know you knew – until you went for a walk.

Old school self-marketing

Is it just me or has there been a rise in the use of old school business cards again?

I wrote about their uses and numerous advantages here but began to notice their use had sort of faded out.

Now it seems whenever I meet a fellow freelancer the first thing they do (before even fist bumps or shaking hands) is to offer me their brand new fancy-schmantzy business card. Personally, I love it. What a great way to get all that dreary contact info out of the way. It’s also potentially face saving. You give/get the card at the beginning of any meeting. So it helps you go into any such encounter with a positive attitude that says it will be mutually desirable to keep in touch. There’s nothing worse than ending a meeting and having one party reluctant to give you their card – a devastatingly clear sign that you have not lived up to their expectations.

Even more importantly, get in the habit of giving them out so when you casually meet a prospective employer you will not feel even slightly awkward handing it out. It is so much more professional than writing it down on some dirty scrap of paper (which is guaranteed to get lost) and immediately marks you out as someone serious about their work.

Companies such as continue to offer incredible deals online. Check them out – or any other similar company – and get some cards today. You won’t regret it.

What to charge?

No question gets asked of me more often by fellow freelancers, novice and pro alike, than “What do you think I should charge for this?”

Bottom line: there is no bottom line.

Your work should be worth what you feel it is worth (in an ideal world).

I wrote two posts about this subject, here and here. I think my comments still hold up well despite the ever changing work environment we freelancers continue to experience.

What has changed, IMHO, during this continuing economic downturn over the last few years, is the sheer ruthlessness of some (thankfully not all) prospective employers. They sense our potential vulnerability in this economically-challenged era and are willing without a moment’s hesitation to exploit it to their own advantage. It’s just good business, right?

I no longer keep track of the number of times I’ve been told that my previously acceptable fees were now too high and if I expected continuing work I had to cut them down. Loyalty? Pffft. Please. Bottom line is all these employers care about. Quality of work? Commitment to the project? Bean counters do not appear to understand or appreciate such value-added-qualities. It’s the bottom line or nothing to them.

You can, of course, in the short term, choose to appease them. We have all done so from time to time. Take what they offer, hold your breath, do the gig and move on. It will continue to pay a few bills (fewer and fewer as the work wears on) as your stomach acids begin to eat away at the remainder of your intestinal lining.

Ultimately, appeasement pleases nobody. Certainly not us. And not even a short sighted employer. Like chomping on cashews, they will never feel like they are ready to stop. Once they’ve got concessions from you, they will never be satisfied until they have you working for free.

“For the exposure”.

And on that day, you will need to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, is this how badly you deserve to be treated?

So what to do?

At some point, I’ve found the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them.

So be prepared to stand your ground. Be prepared to walk away.

As long as you have enough cash otherwise to survive, trust me, it will be the only way these industry bullies will respect you and agree to reasonable fees again in future.

They need to believe that what they are paying for is worth their cash.

If you don’t believe it, why should they?


I would like to thank you for reading my words over the past four years. It has been a rare privilege to share my thoughts with you on topics I live every day.

If you look back over my eighty-four posts to date I think you are very likely to find some useful thoughts relevant to a lot of subjects you are facing or are about to face.

I will be taking time off now for the rest of this summer in order to achieve a major change in my offline world.

I look forward to rejoining you again in a couple months to continue our ongoing conversation about this always challenging, often frustrating but ultimately awesome freelancing life.


Have anything to add to The Born Freelancer’s ideas about money, marketing or the benefits of walking? Please leave us a comment below!


Posted on July 31, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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