Remote Freelancing Isn’t What You Think It Is

Rumor has it that freelancing has become a big hit and encourages changes in the way we work.

Well, that’s not really a rumor. It’s reported that “between 2014 to 2019, the amount of people who freelance full time rose from 17 to 28 percent.” And because of the pandemic, more people have their eyes on this thing called freelancing.

As good as it sounds to be your own boss and become a full-time freelancer, there is plenty to unpack in terms of what remote freelancing actually looks like.

If you think it’s café-hopping and working by the beach or waking up late and working in a fancy home office, that’s more of a fantasy than reality. Unless, of course, you already have a fancy home office. The reality of building a freelance business remotely is much more than what social media might have you believe.

The truth about coffee shop and beach photos

To be fair, it is possible to work at coffee shops. I am even guilty of café-hopping every now and then. But for the bulk of my work, and the most important aspects of running a freelance business, I usually do my work in quiet spaces. These are spaces where I can focus and where there are no people yelling complex coffee orders.

Same thing goes for beach photos. It’s safe to say photos of folks sitting by the beach with their laptops will forever trend. Honestly, I’m just scared to get sand in my keyboard! I’m also perplexed as to how these digital nomads are able to focus on work with such gorgeous scenery in front of them.

While these images look nice and enticing, they are unsustainable since they give aspiring freelancers the wrong impression of remote work. In a world where many people learn and discover things through the Internet, it’s important to be realistic and honest about how remote freelancing is done.

How remote freelancing actually shakes out

So how does remote freelancing actually work? Well, that depends…

As a writer, I spend the bulk of my time either in the living room or in my bedroom — which also doubles as my home office. For the mundane parts of the job, like creating invoices, scrolling through Instagram, and finding new brands to potentially collaborate with, I usually have music on at a low volume. It sort of serves as white noise. For the actual job, which is writing, 80% of the time I want peace and quiet. I work nights because I love the idea that the rest of my tiny town is quiet and asleep.

I set deadlines and alarms on my phone because there is no boss who would remind me of these things. I double-check on time zones to make sure I have my schedule in sync with my clients. I have a whiteboard for my daily to-do list and things I didn’t finish the day before. When traveling, I use a big sketch pad, tear a piece, and tape it on the wall.
Some days I’m productive AF. Other days I just don’t want to function. There are days when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m not a good enough writer. I’ll cancel trips and coffee shop plans to just lay in bed in a fetal position. It is not easy running a business full-time and doing it remotely.

Freelancing looks different from person to person

Whether you’re new in the freelancing business or in the process of growing and expanding yours, it will look different from person to person. What remains the same is the fact that we wear multiple hats — even when we have people working for us. We still check their work occasionally, follow up on certain things, learn to figure out time zone differences, and are constantly updating our tech knowledge as we navigate through different software and tools for online collaboration.

What is most important when freelancing remotely is to find a system that works for you. Don’t get too caught up on the beach photos and people traveling and working at airports during layovers. Don’t stress if you don’t have a nice and quiet coffee shop in your neighborhood or if your home office doesn’t look as fancy as those on Pinterest.

There is more to running a freelance business remotely than these things. As long as you’re happy with how you’re doing things — and your clients are too, that is really all that matters.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.