What is it like to be a Professional Freelancer?

July 30, 2015 - Success Stories
What is it like to be a Professional Freelancer?

Three years ago I made the challenging choice of getting out of a large company and becoming an independent professional freelancer. What’s being a freelancer like?? It is actually very similar to a conventional full time job in many ways. But there are still some differences that I should mention.

George Cook - 123DESIGNS

George Cook – Engineer / Owner – 123DESIGNS


Working in a fortune 1000 company and depending on them was a stressful experience. We went through 3 layoffs and 5 re-organizations during my 9 years there. It was a stress rollercoaster. If you lose your employer, what are you gonna do with your life? Now, I have more than one employer, generally 5 and sometimes 15 active clients.  Each one expects to pay 123DESIGNS, for a major milestone within the next month. And if we lose one of them, it is not such a giant tragedy. This job security is very important. I would say that this is a primary reason my wife and I wanted to be and will remain independent.


One of the original reasons I wanted to become independent was being able to control my schedule and spend more time with my family. I still tend to put in a 40 hour work week, but I don’t do the 60-70 hour week I used to while at a large company.  The pressure is there, yet different. It is nice if my kids wanna play for 1 hour, I can stop and go do that. If I wanna go on a vacation to Mexico for 2 months, I can do that while working and not really have to explain it to anybody. That freedom is a huge benefit for my lifestyle. I see that a lot of modern companies have started to see such freedom as something they can offer their employees. Remote work is a trend I implore employers to continue. But for me, having worked in a large company, which did have a great culture, the scheduling freedom is still not comparable.  Total control is the only way to taste real freedom.

The numbers

Another thing that my former colleges would likely be interested in is: do I make enough money? Absolutely not…yet. It is way harder to make the amount of money I was as a career engineer by freelancing…way way harder. But, I will get back to the point I had at the top of my corporate ladder. Actually, if you compare the progression to the typical career path, they seem to be matching up. I went from making $ 35.000 as a entry level engineer to over a $ 100.000 as a professional. Think of the time line that it takes, which in my case was about 5 years, it’s going to take a similar amount of time for 123DESINGS to mature.  Seems right on track.  Should have started this sooner.

However, I don’t really think my own business will have that same glass ceiling of 150.000 US dollars most engineers face. So far I am not close enough to really know, but when I redo this article in a few years from now… we will see.

Non-financial rewards.

Hands down, the best rewards and satisfaction are seeing that my clients have launched their projects, and seeing it sell. I have way more satisfaction with that, than the biggest things that I have ever done in corporate america.  I have worked in huge events with thousands of people in attendence, millions even. Those events in Las Vegas and Orlando were awesome, but I get more when I see one of my clients launch their first website. Seeing people interact with their product for the first time excites me because we made it together from nothing. So as a freelancer the rewards are more direct and for me they are more powerful.

The best thing about being a professional freelancer

I can say that the best thing about being a professional freelancer is the variety of opportunities you get to consider. When you are working in a large company, you are limited to the “target markets.” But now, as I get to work with a much more varied kind of clientele, I could be developing almost anything. And I can choose from all of them. Just looking at their ideas, and just seeing the variety of it, already brings a certain “amusement” to the day.

The worst part of being a professional freelancer

The worst part is the competition from other professional freelancers. There is this huge range in service quality you can find out there. And I have tried some of them myself. And there is also a huge range of cost, as the world is moving off of direct employment models, into more of a limbo of employment that you may encounter freelancing. It is making a global niche talent market. So as a world citizen that needs to support an income floor of an American, it is difficult to compete with someone in Serbia or India, that can work for way less, solely because of their cost of leaving.  Because make no mistake, they do good work. It seems just as hard to find a good one of them, as a good one of me. So it is the low price guys…that also do good work who are really challenging when freelancing.

My wife and I have worked hard to reduce our family’s cost of living, so that I can be one of those people…but we still live close to the ocean.

Finally, I can say that freelancing as a professional is challenging yet definitely liberating, rewarding, diverse…and now I gotta get back to work!


Edited by Cibele Boaventura on 26/07/2015.

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