About 7 months ago, I lost my full-time job and experienced all 5 stages of grief just in time for Thanksgiving. ('Wallowing' is one of those stages, right?) Losing a job that you've gotten used to having is quite an emotional hit because it piles anxiety and depression on top of financial uncertainty, and the hard truth is that wallowing in misery--a perfectly reasonable approach--will not help you get employed again.
So I set out to look for a new job, and started doing some freelance writing and editing in the meantime. The job search didn't go all that well at first, but after about 60 applications (with 60 tailored cover letters, thank you very much) I landed a few interviews, but nothing really panned out.
But at the same time, my freelance business was growing.
At first it was just a few editing jobs here and there for former colleagues who were familiar with my work and needed some extra help to meet a deadline. Those people liked having me around and started sending me more work. I reached out to more people in my network and scraped together the money to join a fantastic organization, the Editorial Freelancers Association, which has resources and job postings. I even responded to an ad on Craigslist looking for part-time writers. And, much to my amazement, I got responses and I got work--for reasonable pay!
I was really surprised to find freelance work so easily. I had always been afraid to do freelance work because it seemed like marketing and getting the work would be too difficult for an introvert like me. But, as it turned out, the hard part of freelancing is planning and doing the work while dealing with uncertain workloads.
Work-life balance--that thing we expect our employers to understand and support--is equally difficult, even more so, when your employer is you. It's so easy to say "yes" to a request from a client, even when you know the only way you'll get the job done is to work over the weekend or skip a family outing. But this doesn't help you or your client. By accepting too much work, you are sending the message to your client that you are available at all hours for last-minute work, which gives them the false impression that they can wait until the last minute to send something to you. Unless you're single, childless, and don't really care to have a social life, this will not work out well.
So the trick is to schedule your work time. Get a calendar, whether it's a big wall calendar or an online tool, and plan each and every job that comes your way. Triage it when it first comes in and estimate how many hours it will take. (Your client will appreciate this, too!) Then block those hours out on your calendar. During the designated block of time, only work on that particular project - don't try to multitask!
If your time is running out and you still have work to do on that project, talk to your client and explain the situation. The work is probably more involved than you or your client thought it would be. The client may not be thrilled to hear this, but he or she will appreciate your willingness to communicate and your commitment to doing quality work.
Of course, it's not always possible to plan ahead. One of my clients gave me work almost every day for a month, then nothing the next month, because one of their projects got shelved unexpectedly. I kicked myself for having said "no" to other clients, even though I knew it was the right thing to do based on the information I had at the time. I managed to find work to fill that sudden gap, but the experience brought home one of the other realities of freelance work: it is a financial and emotional roller coaster and, like a real thrill ride at an amusement park, it's not for the faint of heart.
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to help freelancers survive the ups and downs. Talk to people in your field about joining a professional association; these are great sources of information, education, contacts, and job postings. If you find the right one, it's worth the annual dues to join. I have found a lot of practical information about the business of freelancing on Freelance Switch. And of course, there is some great information here on CurrentMom on succeeding as a freelance writer or editor, women entrepreneurs and maternity leave, working from home, and the top three myths about entrepreneurs, just to name a few topics.
Roller coaster photo by hounddiggity on Flickr via a Creative Commons license.