Working in your pajamas, establishing Starbucks as your base of operations, creating your own work hours, hand-picking your clients…these are just some of the things that we freelancers adore about our jobs. But self-employment isn’t always a walk in the park. Self-employed individuals must also learn how to cope with issues such as repeatedly asking clients to pay delinquent invoices, coping with rejection, working through creative slumps, and even learning how to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.
If you’re knowingly nodding your head in agreement at this moment, you may take comfort in knowing that you’re not the first freelancer to struggle with these problems, and you certainly won’t be the last. This is what motivated professional freelance writer and editor Kristen Fischer to author her first book, Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal With Career Ups and Downs.
Creatively Self-Employed isn’t a boring or pedantic manual. Instead, it is a relatable, easy-to-read guide that is styled in Kristen’s cheerful, frank, and conversational voice. This is likely why, over the last five years, it has served as a helpful guidebook to aspiring creative individuals and freelancers everywhere, and has even led Kristen to author two subsequent career guides, including her newest, When Talent Isn’t Enough: Business Basics for the Creatively Inclined, which was just released this month.
While some freelancers squirrel away their best-kept professional secrets in an attempt to gain footing over others, Kristen generously shared with us her best strategies for acclimating to life, both work and personal, as a self-employed creative individual.
KF: The recession! Even though they say more people were becoming freelancers, it really tested the existing freelancers out there. They were faced with companies that were tightening their belts and at the same time, more freelancers were coming into the market that kind of forced them to get serious about business. It kind of weeded out a lot of freelancers in a way, and forced people to look at other sources of income or ways to expand their niche. I began resume writing not because of the recession, but it’s another facet of business that draws upon my creative skills. And when the recession hit and everyone was looking for jobs, it was kind of lucrative for me!
Job Stock: In Creatively Self-Employed, you discuss that for some, adjusting to the solitude of working alone can be difficult. What is your best piece of advice for adjusting to working without the companionship of coworkers?
KF: This is still hard for me because I love my quiet time, but I am a very social person. In the book, one of the contributors said he went to Starbucks in the morning at a set time just to be part of the action, and I think that’s a great way to still get out there. Sometimes I do the same thing; I think I’ve been doing more in my personal life to get out there and socialize more because I am holed up alone so much. And whenever I can, I enjoy connecting with a client or anyone else that’s fun to talk to—sometimes you can get a cool vibe off someone even if it’s only via email. Going to yoga class has helped a lot because I’ve met some nice people and been able to build a practice that keeps me grounded.
Job Stock: You’ve stated that when you began your career as a self-employed individual, you knew you wanted to become an author, and not just a writer. In your opinion, what is the most significant difference between the two?
KF: Well, an author is a writer but in my opinion, an author is published. Most people write, but not everyone can get their work published. I think my interest in being published was part of my interest in the literary world and realizing that my fourth-grade teacher recognized I had writing talent, so I wanted to go with it. When I realized that I had a writing talent, I wanted to follow it because I knew that a career in the science arena was just not for me. I didn’t have a writing degree, but I knew I could become a copywriter and get published. I am still mesmerized when a new clip comes out. A few months ago, I was in Barnes & Noble and they had two magazines with my stories in them…you bet I took a picture of the covers. How exciting! You have to celebrate your accomplishments and take them in!
Now I am still copywriting, but that gives me the time and resources to pursue magazine writing…something I am still aspiring to expand into.
Job Stock: In Creatively Self-Employed, you share that when you were in college, you never thought to major in English or writing because you never thought anyone could make a living from it. Do you think this is a common misconception of the field of writing?
KF: The way I see it, when you’re in college and picking a major from a list like so many people do, you view it as a field and you never see what jobs are in that field, or what the everyday nuances of those jobs are. I definitely think that a lot of people think they need an English degree to write; that’s not true. But I sort of wish I had one, even still. I may have been more apt to intern at a magazine instead of the state’s environmental protection agency, but I wanted that internship at the time. It’d be cool to have made publishing connections as a young adult, because now when I approach magazines I don’t know the editor. But it is what it is, and all my experiences in the past put me where I am today – it’s a perfect masterpiece.
Job Stock: Most self-employed individuals embark on a process similar to yours, by beginning at a desk job, then progressing to self employment. Do you think this is a necessary process? Or do you think that today it is possible to skip the corporate step and go right to working for yourself?
KF: It definitely depends on the individual. I think some corporate experience is good not only because of the skills but because of the professional networking. Being self-employed can work for anyone, but having the foundation of a corporate job can definitely provide benefits. I still connect with people when they see Asbury Park Press or Coast Star on my resume. I like having those roots.
Job Stock: What is your best piece of advice for rekindling the spark of creativity when it dwindles?
KF: Get away from your individual craft. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh, let me write some fiction” but it’s still writing. And when I don’t want to write, I don’t want to write anything. I like getting out to look at art or books, taking a trip, or just driving to the ocean. Preferably with Starbucks Chai in hand!
Job Stock: When you began your career as a self-employed individual, did you have a mentor?
KF: Nope. But I looked up to several people and read their websites and books as inspiration. Gail McMeekin, Andrea Scher, Sabrina Ward Harrison, and SARK didn’t help me improve my writing skills, but they gave me the encouragement to follow my dream. That was all I needed. The rest I kind of just figured out, and honestly a lot of it came from fear of failure. Knowing I needed to make bills helped me bust my butt and do things well.
Job Stock: Were there any challenges that you feel were presented because you began your career as a self-employed individual under the age of thirty? If so, how did you break down those age stereotypes?
KF: Definitely! I always felt like “the kid” but then my work started to speak for itself. Now that I’m the ripe “old” age of 34, I feel more like an adult, plus my portfolio shows that even if a client thinks I’m too young, I still have the qualifications to compete. Also, I think social media helped – now clients and companies look to Generation X.
Job Stock: What is your best tactic for eliminating distractions while working on your own, whether you’re at Starbucks or at home?
KF: I think you have to work at your peak times and pay attention to environments. Right now I am in the living room with Bravo on the background – it’s probably not the most conducive environment, but it’s inspiring me to be more conversational (probably because Bethenny Frankel is a professional role model of mine…and she’s super chatty). It’s cool because I’m just talking to you, but if I am working on my book or a copywriting project, I need background music or complete quiet. I have one client I write for and I only do their projects sitting up in bed, fully dressed, with the bed made. Other times, I need to be at my desk. My environment can help limit distractions just as much as the time of day I am working. Also, having a laptop and desktop is a blessing. When you have more options for work, you can work at your peak levels. So if I don’t feel like being at my desk, I can take my laptop to the beach or on the couch to work, and I’m happy because I’m tuning in to what works for me.
If you have kids, that’s a mega-challenge; I don’t, so I wouldn’t even know how to advise someone who has children on how to work distraction-free. I guess you never work without distractions, you just have to set yourself up for success doing what you know works for you.
Job Stock: In Creatively Self-Employed you offer some advice on waiting for clients to pay up. Can you tell us what you think are the best strategies for managing this process?
KF: Build everything into your contract. As the years went on, I learned to specify what I needed as I dealt with various situations. Now, I’m upfront about a contract and deposit right away, and it seems to weed out the bad eggs. Deliver your work on time and hold up your end of the bargain, because then you can use that as leverage. And if all else fails, try a “drive by.” (No don’t, but do take my tips on Freelance Radio for being firm and assertive with clients.)
Job Stock: And finally, Creatively Self-Employed talks about the importance of building confidence as a self-employed individual. Can you tell us how you managed to do that in the early days of your career?
KF: I was a mess in the beginning for the most part. I think many creatives think they have to have it all together, or use a defined formula. The truth is that you have to learn as you go. It can be painful and tough, but as long as you do your best and draw upon your strengths, you can thrive as a solo professional whether you freelance full-time or moonlight.