The Freelancer Balancing Act Between Committed and Stressed

I’m so extra.

One of my bookmarks is an article on the six natural resources that’ll run out. I do mental exercises so my mind is prepared for the pain if ever I’m a victim of anaesthesia awareness.

I don’t plagiarize, but I’ll take an article I wrote my damn self and run it through Copyscape just to be sure.

So it’s no surprise that I make content writing way more stressful than it needs to be.

The job I’ve created for myself since graduating is straightforward. A startup says, “We’re a startup that makes buttons. Can you write an article about fall fashion trends?”

Cool. I bang out an article. They’re happy. They pay me.

This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to move on with my life.

But I get overcome with guilt and intense pride, even if it was ghostwritten. How did the blog post do? Did it do what you wanted it to do? What are your content goals?

I get that a blog article is high up on the marketing and sales funnel and won’t have a high conversion rate.

I know I did the job I was paid for, and thank you very much for paying me on time.

But I’m still curious:

Was it good for you?

So I follow-up. I make suggestions. I get fidgety. Like someone who got attached after one date, I have to keep checking their social media channels, their blog, to see what they’re up to content-wise.

How are you doing? How are you DOING? HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Give away too much and you’ll have a nervous breakdown

It’s a delicate balancing act though.

When you write for a larger company, they have a very clear role carved out for you as their freelancer.

“You write this, you submit it on this date, we pay you. We literally do not need your opinion about anything else we’re doing. There is someone whose job title is that specific sliver of advice you think you’re blessing us with.”

But with startups it’s different. In most instances, so long as you aren’t obnoxious about it, they welcome your suggestions. Not because they aren’t capable of figuring things out for themselves, but because they have no time to think about it. They’re trying to keep the lights on and convince people to give them money so they can stop stressing about keeping the lights on.

They can barely breathe, let alone think about a data-driven content strategy.

But here’s where the balancing act comes in. You end up giving away more than you should, and if you aren’t careful it leads to exhaustion, resentment, or even irritation on the part of the client who never asked for all this extra effort and now feels burdened by your overcommitment.

New freelancers walk a fine line between adding value and stressing for no pay when no one asked them to.

I think I’ve struck a balance, but it took some time.

Add value but demonstrate your worth with informational invoices

I’m not entirely opposed to free work, so long as it’s work that’s building value on top of a piece of paid work and the person you’re providing it for respects your time. But you have to communicate that it’s a complimentary offer very clearly.

The best way to do this is by sending informational invoices. If you throw in a brief summary they can use when they share the article on Facebook, include how much it would have cost and just apply a discount on the subtotal. Another option is to simply point out how much this would have been worth when you send it along.

No matter what, make your worth crystal clear, baby. And a pox on anyone who belittles you for doing that.

Above all, if it gets exhausting, remind yourself that this extra thought is not paid thought and you can take a break guilt-free. This is easier said than done: Freelancers have autonomy and control over their schedule, but most find it difficult to “turn off”.

For me, I think the easy answer is that I should be working full-time for one company. I take a lot of pride in my work, and I don’t like a set-it-and-forget-it approach even if it’s just a teensy, tiny project.

But then I’d have to work on someone else’s terms. I’d have to “be the brand”. I’d have to look presentable every day, and I’m quite comfortable with my ragamuffin freelancer look, thank you very much.

Also: Fuck office politics.

How Upwork Success Porn Fuels My Work Ethic

About once a month, I’ll have a day where I feel completely unexcited about my work.

Does the world really need another blog post about digital marketing? Am I undercharging? Will I get carpal tunnel before freelancing even makes a dent in my student loans?

Being in a funk is a waste of time. So when I have money, I’ll go to Caffé Demetre and get a waffle. When I’m broke (or feeling frugal) I’ll find some candy, put on a random TV show in the background, and spend an hour looking at what I call “Upwork Success Porn”.

What is Upwork Success Porn?

Top-rated profiles. High earning profiles. Profiles that say the freelancer worked a thousand hours. I love that shit. It gets me so motivated to work and sometimes, it gives me pointers on how to improve my own profile.

Upwork Success Porn-min
This is where the journey starts. Right on Upwork’s home page. (Source)

I go down a rabbit hole of profiles. I’ll click on a freelancer’s past clients and then see what other freelancers that client worked with and then see what other clients those freelancers worked with. It gets out of hand.

Successful Upwork Profiles-min
Danielle bringing in that money and kicking out those typos. (Source)

But doing this helps me in two ways.

One, I’m eager to get back to work, so I can get on their level.

Two, I’m motivated to find jobs on the platform. Upwork is no longer my primary source of work. I do like the platform and you can find great clients, but there are so many posts with asks like, “10,000 words for $20” that separating the wheat from the chaff is irritating and inefficient.

The few times I go on an Upwork pitching spree is when I’ve done some serious “Top Rated” profile creeping.

I’ve linked to everyone’s Upwork profiles underneath the screenshots. I’d be over the moon if you hired ME, but I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due so may the best freelancer win.

I promise I don’t know any of these people. Hustle just recognizes hustle.

 

Upwork Success Porn Profile-min
Go on with your bad self, Philip! Get that money. (Source)
Enviable Upwork Profiles-min
Ashley hitting the $100K mark like it’s nothing. (Source)
Good Upwork Profiles-min
Fellow Canadian Ryan writing copy that converts. (Source)
Great Upwork Profiles-min
NICK C. MEANS BUSINESS! (Source)
Successful Profiles on Upwork-min
“God damn copy genius” Stefan. (Source)

It is officially time for me to get back to work.