How to respond when others think freelancing means ‘free all day’

I don’t know about you, but in my experience, it can be difficult to be taken seriously as a freelancer.

Yes, I can wear pajama pants while I work sometimes. Yes, it saves me a ton of money to work from home instead of paying for gas or having to buy lunch and coffee out. Yes, I could take a Netflix break in the middle of a workday if I wanted to (assuming I don’t have tight deadlines and can make up the time later, because who needs sleep?)

No, I can’t watch your kid all day, every day.

That sounds mean. I don’t mean it to be. I don’t mind helping friends out once in awhile, and I really do enjoy it, but have you ever had someone assume you can babysit/go shopping/watch movies/etc. all day since you “don’t work”?

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I’m really lucky. I’ve had a lot of support for my freelance career. It doesn’t mean everybody understands, but I’ve had a positive experience with most people. Still, some people still seem to miss the word “work” when I say, “I work from home.”

No, freelancing does not mean ‘free all day’

There’s a difference between friends helping friends and being taken advantage of by those who don’t take you seriously.

Most freelancers don’t jump into the business and make six figures a year right from the start. They don’t have name recognition. Like most other small businesses, it takes time to build up your income, portfolio, clientele and workflow.

Whether you’re just starting out or have been doing this for decades, if you’re building your own business, you know it involves a lot of hard work. Maybe you’ve just landed your first client or created your first profile or website. Or maybe you have more clients than you can keep up with. Maybe you’re that mythical freelancer who always has just the right, healthy balance of work and play, never experiencing the infamous feast-or-famine rollercoaster that most of us have at some point (yeah, probably not.).

You don’t owe anyone a defensive explanation of your work. If someone repeatedly doesn’t understand you can’t watch their kid or meet them for coffee last-minute, that’s on them. You’re a professional. Treat yourself like one!

But if you want to give someone a glimpse of what freelancing is like, you could point out that unless you can hire someone, you have to handle not just pitching, writing, interviewing and research, but also invoicing, website maintenance, social media management, SEO, finances, etc. Don’t even get me started on taxes. Even when you have an accountant handling them, you still have to maintain careful records and keep in contact with the accountant.

It takes a lot of time to track all of your own expenses and income, update your various writing profiles, return messages, edit photos, research and craft the perfect pitch, vet potential clients, order marketing materials, look up equipment and services before making potential purchases, and whatever else you need to do to handle your business.

Woman's hands type at a laptop. Her phone and papers are by the laptop.

Some freelancers don’t work from home. Maybe you work in a co-working space, coffee shop or another location where you have to allow for travel and set-up time. It’s so easy to lose precious productive time. When you’re in a traditional job, you’re still paid to check email and perform other tasks. Freelancers often get paid per project, per word or per hour for specific jobs, but still have to perform other necessary duties on essentially unpaid time. (That’s why it’s important to factor that time into your rates.)

You don’t have to justify your work. You do have to have respect for yourself, even if others can’t quite understand exactly what it is you do all day.

How to respond

Take a deep breath.

No one solution works for everyone, but here are a few ideas that may be helpful.

  • Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode if you need to (you may want to consider having separate work and personal phones).
  • If you’re going to browse social media, you may want to turn off the chat feature on Facebook. Ignore messages as they come in.
  • Set a work schedule with hours you are unavailable to hang out and let your friends and family know. Even if you aren’t working on a writing/editing project, you can still take this time to catch up on some of the other tasks.
  • Park your car in your garage if you have friends or family who drop in when they see that you’re home.
  • Create a home office. Ideally, it would be a quiet, private space where you can close the door, but even a small desk can help you feel productive and create an office vibe that guests can pick up on.
  • Ignore them. Seriously: if someone disrespects you so much that they won’t leave you alone to get your work done or constantly comment on how you don’t work, do you really want to talk with them? How is that any different than them saying the same things to someone in a traditional office setting?

I’m lucky– most people I know understand that I have deadlines. Occasionally people will comment on how I don’t work or how lucky I am that I don’t have to work. Some repeatedly request that I drop everything or make a snide comment, but I try not to let it get to me.

It can be discouraging.

I try to keep in mind the encouragement and respect received from those who do understand, or at least try to, even if they’re not in the same situation. I constantly evaluate my processes and try to optimize them to make sure I get the job done and have free time. I DO enjoy meeting for coffee. I DO like when I can help a friend. I DO love the flexibility that freelancing allows.

But I also have work to do.

And so do you.

Have you ever had to deal with this type of situation? How have you dealt with it?

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