I’m not really sure how to start this story, but I’ll try to keep it as short and as sweet as possible. Like most freelancers, I’m guessing, I didn’t start out as a freelancer. Once I’d landed my career as an automobile technician, I was fairly certain I’d be doing it for a long time. In less than ten years, I’d gone from a low-level lube and tire tech to a full-on ASE (Automotive Society of Engineers) Certified Master Automobile Technician.
To explain to the non-technical, I’m one of those few who has the ability to completely tear apart a vehicle and put it all back together again. When I left the shop, I was making about $55K. The money was good, my wife and daughter were comfortable, and we lived in a nice apartment close to work, but there was something else that was tugging at my conscience.
I’ve been baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for over twenty years. One of the joys of this service is to engage in the public preaching and teaching of the Bible, something which each and every Witness partakes in, whether young or old, man or woman, for however many hours per month they feel they can dedicate to this all-important work. That’s what was tugging at my conscience, as I’d always felt that I could do more, but a full-time job wasn’t allowing me to do it.
I’d asked for time off, even unpaid at times, and this was a relief, albeit short-lived. I’d even gone so far as to ask for a reduced or compressed work schedule, which were incredulously declined. In any case, I kept looking for ways to increase my ministry without sacrificing my family’s needs, so I had to keep working. Eventually, because I am a perfectionist, both a blessing and a curse when you work for someone else, I was let go from working at the shop.
I think it was my wife who suggested freelance writing, since I happen to have a knack for words, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Going to find work at another shop wasn’t in my cards, and suddenly, I realized that freelancing might give me the freedom to pursue my spiritual goals. Some changes were definitely necessary. Since my wife is Peruvian, and we were serving in the Spanish congregation in New Jersey, we figured we’d give Perú a try.
We’d recently become debt-free, in spite of losing my job, so we bought tickets for a six-month stay. That was September 1, 2012, just a few months after losing my technician job, and we only came back to the United States for a few months, in 2013, to sell off some belongings and put some emergency stuff in storage. We’re now happily living in the highlands of Perú, with no immediate plans to return. I have enough freelance work to keep me busy two or three days a week, my wife and I are homeschooling our five-year-old daughter in English and Spanish, and we spend the rest of our time in the volunteer bible educational work.
Of course, in the beginning, the challenge was to find enough freelance work to make ends meet, as well as adjust to a reduced income. Regarding income, this involved some serious changes in lifestyle. In my case, moving out of the country turned out to be a huge advantage. I may be making just 20% of my former salary, but the cost of living in Carhuáz, Áncash, Perú, is about 15% that of living in Middlesex, New Jersey, except for gasoline and automobiles, which cost about the same. Even so, we had to live off some of our savings until the freelancing picked up.
I started out just being able to mention my experience in the automotive field and my interest in alternative fuels. I maxed out my proposal credits every month with little to show for it, until I got a big break from a new website who wanted some studies on electric vehicles. The job itself was small, but I used that as a springboard into all my other proposals.
As a freelance writer, now with a little over two years on the boards, I write weekly for about half-a-dozen websites, which takes me about two days to complete each week. I still have time for one-offs and short projects, but I don’t go looking for them, they come looking for me. I haven’t used a proposal credit in nearly a year.
Regarding finding enough work, I would say patience and determination are key to making it work. Realize that, in spite of perhaps decades of expertise, being a new freelancer on oDesk, Elance, or any of the other freelance hubs, is really starting a new career. No matter what you’re freelancing, always start out presenting your best. In proposals, don’t hesitate to toot your own horn. After all, no one is going to toot it for you, and there are maybe a thousand others just like you looking for the same contract.
Ask for what you’re worth, and then deliver what you’re worth. Don’t accept underpaid contracts, “just to get the job.” Maybe you can offer an introductory price for an ongoing job, but don’t root around in the bargain basement. Those contracts and clients are not worth your valuable time and effort for such little return.
The personal benefits of switching from a full time career to part-time freelance writing have been priceless, in spite of the pay cut. I have more time to fulfill my spiritual goals, for which I’m ever thankful. Perhaps more importantly, however, I have more time with my family, with whom I’m closer than I’ve ever been before, and there is no price that can be placed on that.
I suppose that, whether your specific goals are spiritually- or family-oriented, like mine, or you just want to escape the rat race and live your own life (and who doesn’t want that?), making a go of freelancing just might be your ticket to freedom.
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