Sunday, February 28, 2010

Event Review - Freelancing

I used to be self-employed. In fact, when I started writing Drake's Flames, all I was doing was freelance design and running VixenTor Games. And every time I would tell someone I was self-employed, they would tell me how lucky I was. What they didn't really understand is that being self-employed means that you have to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I did it for two years, and had exactly three days off the entire time. And they were all in a row. I would talk to people who had jobs and they would say, 'hey, I'm just glad it's Friday!', which was funny, because I hated weekends. It meant my kids were home, I couldn't get suppliers on the phone, and inevitably, someone was going to be looking for something to be shipped by Monday.

I'm not whining, though - I loved it. I slept in every day, and took a nap every afternoon. I went to lunch with friends, I watched a ton of TV (while making dice towers at the coffee table), and saw a lot more of my family. Plus I never, ever, ever wore a tie. Ever. I would be self-employed now, if only the crashing economy had not resulted in the bankruptcy of several of my best clients, which in turn meant that my income was cut in half.

But old habits die hard. I still run VixenTor Games, although now I have my wife, son and a good friend making dice towers for me, instead of doing them all myself. And I still do freelance design, which seems like it would be cool until you consider the fact that the companies who can actually pay for freelance designers tend to do really boring stuff. It's not all that glorious to tell people that you're making a three-page course schedule for a night school, but it sure beats having the mortgage company sending foreclosure papers.

In all honesty, I would quit it all and just write Drake's Flames, but we kind of need the dough. My wife has a connective tissue disorder, and it kicks her ass like a steel-toed work boot. She can't work outside the house - how many employers do you know who will let you sleep in the middle of the afternoon? They're just not all that interested in an office worker who works like a champion for most of the day, and then has to take painkillers and steroids just so she can keep from throwing up her lunch. I can't afford my mortgage on just my day job, so I keep plugging away at the extra stuff, because it pays the bills.

Freelance work has a lot of upsides, though. For one thing, you can take that extra time at night when you would be surfing Facebook or watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond and turn it into money. And nobody ever complains if your shirt isn't ironed or you need a shave. Plus, even when I'm tired and want to go to bed and really wish I could just spend the night playing on the Xbox or catching up on White Collar (seriously, that show is blast), there's a hell of a sense of pride you get when you know that people are willing to pay you good money for doing what they can't.

So I spent this weekend working on a huge dice tower order and finishing a catalog of classes for the local university. It's kind of weird to spend three hours cutting wood in the shed, then another three hours formatting text, but I almost never feel like I wasted my weekends. Maybe I'm a little addicted to working, but more likely, I'm addicted to eating my wife's amazing cooking, driving my very nice car and living in my very pleasant middle-class suburban home. And if I have to work myself death to do it, well, I'll die in my house with my belly full.

I know lots of people who have lives that are far more interesting than mine. I always kind of dreamed of being a reporter for National Geographic or a marine biologist, and traveling the world in search of odd stuff. But if I'm honest with myself, I'm not cut out for that kind of life. I like running things, working hard, managing my business and hitting my deadlines. I'm no Donald Trump (for one thing, my hair doesn't look like I stuck it in a cotton candy machine), but it's pretty cool to run a business, even if I do kind of suck at it.

If you want to experience the joys of working for yourself, there are a few things you should know. First, it never pays as well as you thought it would when you started out. You'll work twice as hard for half the money. Second, you'll work harder than you ever knew you could work. Third, there's no room anywhere for a pissy attitude - you can't sandbag or just try to look busy when you're paying yourself, so you have to suck it up and get it done, because you can't sell an excuse. Fourth - well, hell, I could go on and on, because there are probably about 80 different things you need to know, and there isn't time to cover them all here.

But whatever drawbacks there are to freelancing, the upsides make all the difference. Pride, a sense of ownership, and let's not forget cash dollar money - these are wicked good motivators. And you'll learn stuff that you can apply anywhere, like work ethic and attitude and business savvy. It's not easy, but it's worth every minute.

At least, it's worth it as long as you're getting paid. And writing this is not getting me paid, so I think I'll stop now and go to bed.

6 comments:

Monica Drake said...

I just wanted to post about how much I enjoyed reading the article on Freelancing. As a recipient of your hard work, I'm very grateful to you for all the hours cutting wood, formatting text, paying state taxes, negotiating deals, and figuring out how the heck to make dice towers and boxes into something people want to buy. Here's to a flamboyantly successful 2010--you deserve it.

Matt Drake said...

Thanks, baby.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

You said: First, it never pays as well as you thought it would when you started out. You'll work twice as hard for half the money. Second, you'll work harder than you ever knew you could work. Third, there's no room anywhere for a pissy attitude - you can't sandbag or just try to look busy when you're paying yourself, so you have to suck it up and get it done, because you can't sell an excuse.

Man you REALLY nailed it. Truer words have never been spoken.

I ran my own software development business for 14 years, and just switched to working again in Corporate America (HERSHEY chocoloate) as of Summer 2009.

There are plenty of things that I miss about my old business, the biggest of which is the self satisfaction in creating YOUR OWN COOL THING and the PURE JOY you get when other people actually buy it, use it, and love it. Nothing beats that. But I certainly don't miss working my ass off and dealing with the constant stress for nowhere near the same pay I'm getting now.

Kudos to you for sticking with the VixenTor thing and doing something you enjoy. I'm making a mental note to purchase another dice tower from you this year (already have a couple). Gotta support the good guys!

Tom & Karen Boylan said...

Good Times>! Sounds like fun to me, I get to play games at work since I am the boss!

Hendal

Anonymous said...

If only certain freelancers can actually produce a brochure in a reasonable timeframe so he can issue a check..

~The Bald Guy From Guess Who

Gerald said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I consider.
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