Those of you who determine freelancing is the way to go, be warned. When you least expect it, some ‘thing’, or a chain of disparate things will at some point come together in such a way that you will long for the return to regular employment where, no mater the intrusions on your life, there is a guaranteed wage at the end of each week or month. In other words, the shit downtime you endure in paid employment will seldom interfere with the regularity of income.
Call it what you will, Murphy’s Law, Sod’s Law, or Finagle’s Law, a freelancer’s life is often governed (seemingly) by such law. That is, when you least expect it, what can go wrong, will go wrong. How do I know? Well apart from having suffered the unwanted invocation of such law – in all its varieties over the years – I last had a paying gig in mid-February. And that gig cost me more than it paid simply because Sod’s Law reared its untimely head, turning downtime into shitdowntime.
For a freelancer, unplanned downtime can turn your earning capacity to shit, severely interfering with your projected income for any given month, or months.
As a freelancer you are not only the business owner, you are its chief cook and bottle-washer.
You do your own marketing. You do your own accounting. You are your own IT professional, maintaining your computer system or systems, including hardware and software and you are your own social media manager. You are both the dog and its master.
Add to these, you may – as I do – work from home and being married have to juggle your ‘working’ life with family life.
While avidly waiting for someone to invent self-washing dishes and self-washing clothes, I have two large dogs that need walking twice a day. I have twin girls who need walking to and from school. They all, along with a working wife, need feeding so you become the household chef and kitchen procurement officer. And whereas such things can be prioritized within the schedule of a normal working day, they too add to the shit downtime. Kids get sick and need to stay at home, interfering with work schedules. Dogs too get sick and need veterinary attention. Around the house, plumbing and electrics break down unexpectedly and your day becomes tinctured with self-repairs in the hope of saving money and this invariably turns into you having to call a professional who, while he or she may be self-employed like you, has little understanding of how their work interferes with yours. It’s difficult to conduct phone interviews when there is a jack hammer going off in the room next door.
Now while downtime is more often a planned stoppage, for example a planned software or hardware upgrade, cleaning or backing up your computer system, preparing, cooking and eating dinner, or attending a school performance by your kids, it is the unplanned stoppages that can be devastating.
For me, this last lot of unplanned stoppages began mid-February when in the small, dark hours of the morning my car’s temperature gauge began acting erratically. I was in the back blocks of rural South Korea on my way to an interview some 245 kilometers from home.
Long story short, unbeknown to me, the water pump in my car had begun to seize. By the time I had nursed it to the interview site, one of South Korea’s largest quarries, and then nursed it home, the repair bill was almost as much as I was being paid for the story. Add to that the cost of not having a vehicle for another three days, limiting my ability to travel for another story, the final cost exceeded the assignment fees.
True, the engine trouble could have happened at anytime, not just while traveling on a paid assignment. But that it happened during an assignment means an automatic equation of the costs involved being entered into the profit/loss result for that particular job. Viewed differently, had the car broken down the previous day I could have planned for and hired a vehicle and legitimately charged the cost to my client. I could not have charged for mileage because the client only paid for such when a private vehicle is used, but the hire charge would have been legitimate. Nonetheless, the fuel costs would have entered the business accounts as a legitimate expense for that particular assignment.
The car being out of action also involved added costs, such as taxis for both work and private needs.
Now while Sod’s Law intervened during that particular assignment, it also niggled its way into other areas. Because their school year had not yet begun, the kids at home, meaning they had to be ‘entertained’ indoors because of the wintry conditions outside. This was not helped by a leaking pipe in our ondol heating system necessitating the jack-hammering away of concrete in the kid’s bedroom to repair the leak.
As a freelancer, you learn to become adept at problem-solving. You learn to ‘fix’ problems as they arise. But sometimes no matter how adept you become, solving unplanned problems can be a time suck when the root cause is unknown.
For reasons I am still not aware of, my system began a go-slow campaign whereby opening and closing programs became nightmarish. This evolved into a figurative game of chess where it seemed only the computer knew the moves. Each move I took was countered with ‘checkmate’. The frustrations of these continued responses from the computer saw countless hours of systems checks and scans, booting and rebooting, none of which were planned. Indeed, it was only yesterday (Sunday) that after some seven more hours of shitdowntime that I have been able to work quite seamlessly and write, without fear of my system going into cardiac arrest.
So, to those of you considering the freelance path, remember there will be instances when someone or something will come along and simply screw your productivity plans. No matter how much you plan there will times when your downtime turns to shitdowntime.