I Used My Holiday Downtime to Test a Freelance Career

Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash.

Not everyone experiences a lull around the holidays, but I work in an industry where taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s is fairly typical. I also work in a fairly low-paid industry — so whenever I receive a non-monetary benefit, like time off, I try to figure out how I can turn it into a new means of cashflow.

This year, I had a few options available to me: secret shopping gigs, online marketing surveys, and freelance writing. One of these obviously pays a bit more than the others. I’ve also started to wonder what it would take to “go freelance” full-time, so I gave myself three days when I wouldn’t be around family to try a full, eight-hour freelance workday. I thought turning my holiday downtime into a few days of serious writing would help me make the best of the break.

One thing I found hard to shake was that this was all “for fun,” which meant that there is no way I worked as diligently as I would have if it had been a regular job rather than a way to break up the holidays with something besides cookie-eating. I tried to make it feel real, but I couldn’t shake the sensation that, ultimately, it wasn’t.

Even those of us who don’t have frequent time off have probably thought about how to leverage free time of some kind, so I tracked my earnings and expenses over those three days to see if this freelancing idea could be profitable.

Day 1

Expenses: $1.95 at a coffee shop.

Earnings: Wrote $300 worth of articles. This is much more than I make per day at my job, but it’s a fake number; I had pitched these articles in the days and weeks before my experiment, which took time, and I had to edit some of them after, so all of the work that was necessary to write these articles wasn’t completed in one day. After I added up how much work each piece actually required, I learned that freelancers have to be quite savvy to figure out how many hours are “worth it” for any given project.

Day 2

Expenses: $1.95 for coffee, $8 for a lunch meeting, and $11 for food related to an article I was working on (it paid well, but didn’t reimburse me for the meal I needed to try in order to be able to write the article). 

Earnings: Wrote $85 worth of articles. I allowed a lunch with a friend, a lengthy interview two towns over, and a phone call to cut out much of my writing time, though in the process I felt like… well, like the coolest freelancer. I feel like sauntering between awesome interviews and eating meals so I can write about them for magazines is the reason why freelance writing looks so glamorous from the outside. No one seems to talks about quarterly tax payments when they are discussing their job as a freelance food reviewer.

Day 3

Expenses: $0! I worked from home and ate the food in my refrigerator instead of going to a coffee shop. Yes, some cost was involved, since being alive (and using electricity, etc.) costs money, but I don’t count it since it wasn’t more than I’d have spent just existing on a holiday.

Earnings: Wrote $230 worth of articles. I got my mojo back for this final day, perhaps because the following day I was going back to work and needed to finish all the articles I’d promised to complete for my editors.

In the end, I was able to make some serious cash off of my holiday downtime. Including the drips and drabs of time before and after these three dedicated days, I was able to net $592.10 — which for me is awesome. It required both serious luck and work; I’ve done occasional freelance gigs before, and it took me a while to work up to the level where I had access to $600+ worth of writing jobs. This is also the first time when I actually have more possible writing opportunities than I have time to complete. 

That said, I love that I’m at the next level of monetizing my free time. Compared to writing one article at a coffee shop before taking myself out to lunch and spending my future payment on a meal, this feels much less like an inefficient hobby-hustle and more like something that can earn me a decent amount of money if I can set aside the time.

I was also able to complete all of this work because I was not so overworked at my day job that I simply needed those days off to relax and recharge — which is a luxury that not all workers get. These day-long experiments were also possible because I don’t currently have children that need my full-time attention on school holidays. However, I do feel like I glimpsed a bit of the future, since we already learned that more of us would be freelancers this year.

I feel like I respect freelancers more now, especially after realizing that to make enough to pay taxes and insurance and all the things that get quietly deducted from salary paychecks would take much more work than I can manage right now, even on my most flush writing days. Hats off to you all, and here’s hoping we have the ability to choose between salary and freelance work a year from now, rather than feeling forced to move one way or the other. Ideally, I’d like to still be doing both.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. Read more of her work at Messy Mapmaker.

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