Being a freelancer is kind of like being the hero of an old western: you ride into town, wrangle a hog or two, and then leave as suddenly as you'd arrived. It's not for everyone, but freelancing can be a rewarding path for those with a bit of elbow grease and a whole lot of personal drive. After all, you get to choose your schedule. You select the projects you want to take on. You spend two straight months eating Easy Mac and playing Call of Duty when the job market is slow.
But along with increased personal agency, there are a number of situations unique to the freelancing life that other workers don't have to deal with, especially on the social front. But fear not: with a bit of tact and good sense, most of them can be easily overcome. No hog-wranglin' required.
1. Birthday parties
Why you dread them: The smell of pizza and the sound of voices singing is enough to send some freelancers into fits of paralyzing terror. Do you awkwardly mingle with an entire office's worth of strangers, risking judgmental glances as you partake in the free grub, or do you simply remain at your desk, head down, and wait for it all to end? Social events can be intimidating if you've only been working somewhere for a few days, and repeated episodes of self-exclusion can cause your soul to shrink and your heart to turn to stone.
What you can do about it: Stop worrying so much. Most people aren't so precious about who's eating their pizza. And beyond that, birthday parties and other social events are a great opportunity for you to introduce yourself--especially if you've only been working somewhere a few days. Baby showers, on the other hand...
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2. Payment issues
Why you dread them: Most freelancers have been through this one. You're nearing the end of your gig, and you still haven't received a single paycheck. The accounting people are ducking your emails, and the office manager has started averting her eyes every time you pass her desk. This can be incredibly frustrating, and it's not that uncommon. A recent study of self-employed New Yorkers placed total lost wages over a 12-month span at more than $3 billion. That's a scary number, but don't start an Occupy-type movement in the lobby just yet.
What you can do about it: Be civil, but firm. Most of the time, companies aren't intentionally shirking you; the payroll system might just be backlogged. Nevertheless, you should be persistent about getting paid: keep sending emails, invoices, or anything else it takes to keep you from getting lost in the shuffle. This is your livelihood, after all. And if you think someone really is trying to cheat you, pursue the matter with an unemotional, professional tone before turning to more serious avenues.
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3. Poor communication
Why you dread it: On a similar note to the above, freelancers tend to be the last people on administrators' priority list. Think about the difference between renting an apartment and owning it--who's the super more likely to respond to first? This can get tricky when you're working under a deadline, and no one's responding to your emails about that one thing you desperately need to get the job done.
What you can do about it: Meet your administrators. Don't just be a disembodied voice in an email chain. Remember that you're working with real people--busy, office-essential people with a lot on their plates--and don't take it personally if they occasionally forget who you are.
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4. Lunch culture
Why you dread it: Every office has its own set of firm, but unspoken rules regarding lunch. Do you taken an hour for yourself? Do you work through it at your desk? If so, is it acceptable to order Thai food you can smell from the other side of the building? It might not seem like a serious matter, but lunch in the workplace, much like lunch in a high school cafeteria, can be a bottomless source of stress and anxiety.
What you can do about it: Just be observant. Are a lot of people noshing at their computers, or does the whole office empty out around 1:00 every day? As for the Thai food, try to keep it to a once-a-week thing.
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Why you dread it: Laid-off staffers might complain about how hard it is to find a new job these days, but freelancers need to do this several times a year--sometimes more. In a perfect world, each of your jobs would line up perfectly with the one before it, with no downtime in between. But things rarely work out this way. Freelancers, like anything else, are subject to market forces, which means you could be in the black one week and living on SpaghettiOs the next.
What you can do about it: Open a savings account. It might sound obvious (and it is), but it's easy to put off, and even easier to regret doing so when it's the middle of February and you don't have a functioning radiator. Also: network, and stay in touch with those old job contacts--yes, even that office manager who kept putting you off.
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