How easy it is to be a freelancer
Let us just say it is not easy at all. I certainly cannot talk about any freelance work, but only about that I have been doing for longer than 35 years. I am a medical writer and translator who takes on some interpreting, as well, if there is a good opportunity since I speak, write and understand 4 languages at a native level. I have completed also numerous art projects either as commissions or individual design and decoration projects.
Nowadays, there is not much money in this type of freelancing, I mean in the areas of my specialization. The best years ended for me some time back in 2009, 2010.
The per-word rate between 2004 and 2018 has gone down a lot, hence such writing is paid by word count usually, unless, it is editing, and that is paid by hours. This rate went down from 0.18 US per word in approximately 2005 to 0.08 US per word at the moment. It should be straight the opposite, shouldn’t it? All prices and expenses have gone up big time, and my freelance earnings have decreased abnormally.
The problem is working globally. Every job is available for anybody, located anywhere, that includes countries with not that high living cost and countries with extremely high living cost, like Canada. My work requires huge knowledge and insight in medical matters, conduction of clinical trials, knowledge in chemistry, biology, physiology, anatomy, as well as lots and lots of understanding of human genetics, brain function, including cognitive function and any mental disorders, pharmaceutical mechanisms of action and all kinds of dosing rules, medical interaction of pharmaceutical ingredients and things that apply to clinical indications, such as contraindications and also exceptions.
The main problems and requirements of medical writing
This is not something one can learn within one day or even a year. It took me about 5 years to get to the top of people who work in my respective language pairs, and it certainly was a very intense work. It can be physically difficult to type up to 100 pages of a very complex medical text intended for specialists in just 4 days. Deadlines are tight, sometimes the job is urgent, meaning, I am expected to put off anything I am doing and to start typing right at that moment. That includes skipping meals, forgetting completely about any blog posts, TV or social media sites. It can be typing for 12 to 16 hours a day for quite a few days. It can feel like a real slave work. It drains one enormously. I am not supposed to have any mistakes or errors in my texts, and I must comply with requirements of all medical standards, European Medicines Agency regulations and FDA requirements, as well as provisions of any national regulatory agency. It is tough.
What are the advantages of being a freelancer?
I can work from home; I do not need even to get dressed to start working.
I eat at home; I do not sit in traffic delays.
I can work any time of the day or over the weekend if it happens to be the case.
I learn every single day of my life and I do extremely demanding mental work.
My memory works like a computer with so many new units added every day, it has to use and manage lots of information.
I am free to choose which project I take on and which I reject, I certainly can refuse to work for some company and collaborate with some other.
My end customers normally are billionaire medical companies.
Why the pay is so small for somebody who contributes so much in order they would be able to sell any of their stuff anywhere because of all kinds of regulatory provisions and regulations? Well, just like anything else, this type of work involves a middleman. These are agencies that get in contact directly with the end client because the end client is busy producing pharmaceuticals and conducting clinical trials. Agency grabs much of that what the end client is willing to pay. These prices got really lower once India and China got involved. I’ve never worked with either Indian or Chinese agencies because among them are many pathological non-payers.
What are the difficulties of being a freelancer?
I cannot do any planning. I have absolutely no idea when a new work arrives and from which country it will come from. My most frequent clients come from Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Poland, Latvia and the USA. The least jobs I am getting from Canadian clients.
People who do high and very decent quality job can be at disadvantage.
It is not always that a particular project manager knows a lot about the project, and sometimes anything goes as long as they can mark the project done.
Competition is huge and insane. It is also frequently so that the job will go to a person who possibly provides with lower quality, but cheaper. Cheaper is the god of this century. And think: the billionaires-end clients.
One sometimes does not get paid regardless of all precautions they have taken. I am very cautious, but still did not get paid twice: a genetic research company went out of business or so they made it to look and the second times was very dishonest client from Tennessee, USA who actually paid half, but then started to send really rude and nasty messages in style: how do you dare to ask for more and you should be happy you got paid for something.
Art projects and art commissions and medical writing and translations are activities that one does alone. I do not pick up even phone when I am in the middle of something complex, I do not interrupt my work for meals, I do not interrupt it for nothing quite frequently because timing and deadline can become a very stressful and demanding issue. It is work that is related to isolation. Focusing is extremely important, and that excludes any disturbing factors like social media or TV, or simple talk at times.
That is the reason I haven’t been able to post anything on my lifeschool blog for more than a month.
Prioritizing and managing time
Prioritizing and managing time is of utmost importance.
Freelancers do not enjoy any benefits like real employees do; there are no paid sick leaves, no benefits, and no additional pay for weekend or late night work.
There is a lot of uncertainty regarding workload: I can be overloaded today and have nothing to do and absolutely no income for next 3 months. Last year was pretty much the worse ever for me, even worse than the bad 2016. If one has lots of bad years in a row, they are pretty much broke financially. In my case, that matched the health issues and resulted in a personal disaster.
Freelancer does everything: from accepting the PO, researching the client’s ability to pay for services to providing oneself with tools and facilities. One has to be their own CEO, floor manager, hard tasks performing worker, advertising manager and public relations officer, as well as accountant and bookkeeper. This can mean multitasking at times, for sure because some of these activities are inevitable.
One has to pretty much become a workaholic. I personally never rest or take breaks just because I feel tired. I have to push myself to the limit very frequently and regardless of bad pain or feeling exhausted. Working is all I am doing. Has it resulted in a ny decent income? Not really while all middlemen are having million dollar apartments in NY or LA, Monaco and Paris, traveling the world and enjoying luxury.
Issues and concerns
Who is to blame? Nobody in person, but the system that enables a lot of advantage taking for sure. It is also freelancers themselves: some are so desperate for work that they will do anything for hardly any money. Well, 20 bucks can mean some money in some countries, but certainly not in Canada, and that is the aspect the unfair freelancer market system is exploiting: if you are desperate and poor, you will work for peanuts and praise us.
Freelance work is an option for people who are not living in their native country, have some disabilities or problems finding real work. I know there are freelancers who make mega bucks since they work in IT and all kind of marketing and advertising area. That is not what I have specialized in and I also love my work. I have achieved extremely high level doing it. The fact that it is not remunerated in a proper way is a global problem of advantage taking because realistically: one has to underpay somebody in order to boost their profits. The bad part is that actually the person who creates the result is the one that suffers.
I would advise anybody to rather be employed than do freelancing. Benefits of good employment and building up a real career outweigh to a big extent freelancing of the type I do, which is art, design and decoration and medical writing and translations.
Would I still do it if I had a secure income?
Most likely, not to extent I am engaged now. However, like other people go to exercise to the gym, I push my brain exercises to the limit every single day. I can remember and learn insane amounts of new information at a very short time. I have practically photographic visual memory. That makes me happy and keeps my brain very active, and that also allows me painting and drawing without any photos or pictures.
16 thoughts on “Being a freelancer: the tough ride”
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It sounds stressful.
It really is. I cannot make mistakes and I have to write very fast. Everything is top-complexity. Deadlines definitely are stressful and tight.
The free-lancer’s life and the artist’s life are never easy though often they seem to be glamorized as pinnacles of freedom and Bohemia. It is not for the faint of heart or those not passionate about their work. Thank you for the advice you give the rest of us when you do find time to blog and for your beautifully inspirational art. May this year be more prosperous than the last. 💐
Thanks! Some people inherit money and are in the right social circles, and they may not experience this. I would always prefer real work with all employee’s benefits, such as sick leave or paid vacations, bonuses, etc. what I used to do back in Europe. Freelancer doesn’t have any of such support, and the workflow is very unpredictable. The freedom is certainly overdone because you are still responsible for meeting the deadline and fulfilling the contract’s provisions. We are seeing now how some companies want to put on freelancer all responsibilities of an employee, just without benefits of an employee. There are always lots of papers to sign, non-competition and non-disclosure agreements and similar. There is big uncertainty about getting paid also. Much of work falls on the weekend and holiday time.
Thanks for your nice comment! I still have some health issues to cope with, but I believe so too, that this year is going to be better. However, I have never made even the minimum salary even when working 24/7 and until exhaustion. That is just my reality.
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Sad to hear you are still coping with health issues. Wishing you a quick and complete recovery!
To get to any treatment takes a long time here in Canada. I’m just trying to get another surgery, and it’s been 2 years already because of abnormally long waiting times. Technically, the system is very bureaucratic and while one waits the condition obviously does whatever and goes from acute to chronic which then takes much longer time to recover. It’s going to be a few months still before I know what exactly will be and possibly when.
Will be thinking of you and hoping for your best.
Thanks! Yes, it’s taking so abnormally long. I hope, too, I get a fix finally.
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It’s a crazy gig economy growing out there in the world at this time. I have no answers, Inese, only more riddles of my own to add. I am sorry you are still waiting for surgery up there in Canada. The American medical/insurance system also has its serious problems.
I know. Some problems are everywhere, yet, the health care being that slow is unacceptable. That was the major cause of all my problems.
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Here it is unaffordable, even with insurance. The insurance premiums are so high, and cover so little.
I believe everything associated with insurance is a rip-off one or another way. The system cannot support the normal hum,an needs, and it just becomes silly. I doubt there is an ideal system that works, but so far I think some European countries have quite big achievements in this regard, for instance Germany.
Well, dear, welcome to the uncertainty of living in the ruthless environment of a capitalist society, where the objective, it’s to get the most out of the workers, for less they can get away with, without the cumbersome protective laws, and rights, that every decent society should provide for their citizens!
What can I say?
Maybe since your work it’s freelance, which means you can work wherever you have an internet connection, you should look to explore to move to a country, where living it’s a lot more cheap, and since you are fluent in four idioms, will be easier for you to thrive.
At least I did, a few months ago, in order to extend my retirement check. cost of living it’s cheaper, there’s some inconveniences, like everything, but the weather, and food it’s certainly better! 🙂
I have considered that. The decision does not depend only on me. We will see how it goes, but I couldn’t agree more that some countries are abnormally expensive, like Canada. All the necessities are very high in price, even simple things, such as internet or TV which I rarely watch. The food and health issues are the most urgent.
Good for you that you are changing something to the better!