This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Freya, who left the corporate world, worked for herself and then joyfully returned to an office job.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I'm a 27 year old whirlwind of Southern belle jet setter with a few dashes of circus and beatnik thrown in. I've been an avid reader and writer my entire life, and have always loved playing with words. By day I write, edit and work with words, and by night I’m a fire eater, burlesque dancer and teacher, and a yoga instructor. It keeps things very busy!
When did you originally become self-employed? And what lead to that decision?
In 2009, I was unsatisfied with my corporate job (long hours cooped up in a cubicle inside a warehouse), and itching for something new. Layoffs were happening left and right, and while my department hadn't yet seen the cuts, I decided to try for something new. I'd been freelancing for several publications and was blogging regularly, so I did already have a base of clips and clients to start with.
Can you tell us about a day-in-the-life when you were self-employed?
I'm more of an evening person, so I started my days around 9am, made a little breakfast and checked in on emails and any holdover work from the day before in my pajamas. Then, depending on the client needs, I went out to interview sources, had phone conferences about brochure copy, or, more likely, went to the local coffee shop (my freelance office) to hunt for new clients. I usually took a break around 4 p.m. to make dinner for me and my husband, Keith, spent a couple hours chatting, and then went back to work from about 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. or so. I teach classes five days out of the week as well, so somewhere in there, I’d be changing and leading a yoga workshop or shimmy class.
What did you like the best about working for yourself? What were the biggest challenges?
Having my own schedule was both of those! I could take an afternoon off to go to the park, or a museum, or just a long lunch, but being always available for clients and classes definitely takes a toll when you teach until 8:30pm, finish a brochure by 10pm, and then have a 6am class to teach.
Why did you decide to go back to the 9-5?
Economically, it was becoming more and more difficult to find clients. They would come for a new brochure/website/etc and that's pretty much what they needed written for the entire year. So much of my work was hunting down new clients, and hunting down payment. I also grew very tired of running multiple businesses, as I had my copywriting business, yoga, and burlesque all to balance financially and time-wise.
So when one of my former students mentioned an opening for a full time writer at her company, I was wary, but interested. Did I really want to go back to working for someone else, on their time frame and their project schedule? I actually went on a couple of interviews with different companies and one was so bad I literally ran away from the building! But this company felt good, like a place I could grow into while keeping only one of my businesses, instead of running three.
Can you tell us about the job that you're doing now?
I'm an internal writer for a mental health non profit. I re-purpose press releases and newswires, interview staff and clients for stories, write articles on the mental health industry, and basically keep staff up to date on all company and state happenings. With many of the therapists based remotely and spread through two states, I'm the hub to keep everyone in the loop.
When you started interviewing, how did employers react to your self-employment?
Online applications are the devil for the self employed! The "previous employer" section was always troubling, but often I'd just list my most often worked with clients. Having a good portfolio is key when interviewing, and having a standout cover letter with links to your work is better. In interviews, it was a little different to talk about “how do you take direction” or “work with supervisors,” but so much of freelancing is project management, and challenging clients can be great interview stories of your deft abilities.
Have you ever reconsidered your decision? Do you think you'll continue to work 9-5 for the long term?
I very carefully considered this, and right now, I couldn't be happier with the position and place I'm at. I'm in a gorgeous spot in the city, overlooking a park I go to almost every day for lunch, and my employer offers a generous time off plan, which is really important to me. I love to travel, so having the flexibility to do so was a big consideration.
As of right now, I plan on being here for a few years. I'm still working in the same field, so if I ever decided to go back to freelance, I still have clips and project managing years to add to it, and the community of an office is really welcome after only having my cats as coworkers the past few years!
I do miss the variety of blogging for a small printing company one day and writing scripts for a hospital television network the next, but I don't miss the gaps in work, or the "it rains it pours" of too much client work at once.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in returning to the workplace?
Write down what you want. The job market is tough right now, so don't get discouraged by the silence but also don't settle. The self employed life is wonderful, so find out what's worth it to you to give up your time and freedom of space. That might be, like me, a lot of paid time off, or frequent travel with your job. Or you might just want health insurance (a big plus!) and the camaraderie of working in a team. Good luck out there!
Have any of you made the switch from self-employed to office job? Would you want to?