You are a freelancer. Right now.
I don’t care if you work on an assembly line, are a salaried middle manager, or are an independent contractor. These days, all of us need to look at ourselves as freelancers. All employers are looking to maximize their own profits – not yours. That’s not a bad thing, really. If they’re making a profit, then they can still pay you. In the past, your loyalty to an employer was rewarded with stability and the promise of eventual perks, benefits, and raises. Much like retirement, those are constantly being eroded whether we like it or not.
So the employers are trying to maximize profit (e.g. pay you as little as possible). There is now no mechanism in place to stop them from just crashing your wages except your ability to walk away from the job.
And that’s why thinking of yourself as a freelancer is such a good idea.
Losing one gig hurts when you’re a freelancer, but it’s usually not a devastating loss. A freelancer keeps looking for other opportunities, has developed other revenue streams outside of their “main” gig, and is known around the community1. If one thing dries up, then it’s a setback, not a catastrophe. And if the employer loses people because they’re too stingy, then they’re forced to raise wages to attract you back. It’s a purer form of capitalism than what we do now.
The major drawback to all of this has been health insurance. Since insurance has historically been employer-based in the United States, that’s made it hard for us to jump around. When “pre-existing conditions” and mandatory no-coverage periods, there’s suddenly a lot more at risk. But with that getting ready to change, your life can change too. No longer will health coverage be the gun in your employer’s hand.
And at that point, you can start to be free.
Side note: I’m just making this transition myself. It can be terrifying sometimes. I had a hard time transitioning from a lower salary in the military to a higher one in the civilian sector because it was not going to be the same amount each month. But while I can be nervous about moving into thinking of myself as a freelancer, I’m also inspired.
Want to start getting an idea of why this is inspiring instead of frightening? Here’s some resources to get you fired up (these are somewhat geared towards writers, but the principles – especially in the first – apply to everyone):
Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion – This book is inspiring. It is not a how-to (although it contains some hints), but it is more of a why-to. Definitely required reading.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Freelancer’s Survival Guide – The most informative and nuts-and-bolts guide on making the transition to being a freelancer out there. It’s still a work-in-progress; donate to the project and get a complete version of the eBook when she’s done. An absolute must read.
Cory Doctorow’s Makers – Fictional, but a definite showcase of the promise that doing it yourself (or with a couple of buddies) has for transforming the way we work and live.
Mike Stackpole’s Digital Career Guide –Definitely writer-oriented, but if you’re thinking about doing creative work, it’s well worth the price.
1Virtual or meatspace, it doesn’t matter.