From Full-Time to Freelance

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash.

My first job at 14 was an at OB-GYN’s office. In retrospect, that maybe wasn’t the best first teenager job. I made minimum wage until minimum wage went up. I saved that minimum wage money until I had enough to buy a car. Even though that job ended, I went on to work steadily at other jobs for the next 15 years. I paid for my own cars, college, clothes, gas, and insurance. I did college work-study jobs. I completed a full-time stint as a VISTA volunteer. I had no idea what it was like NOT to work. I liked having my own money. I liked being independent. I liked being in charge of people. I promise I’m not money-hungry or bossy, but there were things I loved about working and things I hated. I had an idea in the back of my head that I wanted to stay home when I had kids — though at the time I wasn’t anywhere near starting a family.

I met my now-husband when he was midway through his PhD program. We decided to wait to get married until he finished his classes and dissertation. I continued to work full-time in retail management, HR, and property management until we got married. Because I was nearing thirty, we sat down and decided having kids was a priority after we got married. As a couple, we also decided we wanted one parent staying home with any kids we might have or adopt. It was a very personal decision that we didn’t make lightly. My husband-to-be made more money and it made more sense for me to stay home. The idea that had once been in the back of my head was suddenly very much front and center.

Even though I made much less money than my husband did, we still knew we needed a financial plan for living on only one income. As the transition point approached, I also examined how our life would change in non-financial ways — and I took a hard look at how I would feel about myself when I stopped working outside of the home. Since I had worked full-time since graduating from college, I discovered wasn’t quite ready to stop working entirely. I started doing freelance work that used my existing skills, hoping I could build up the beginnings of a new career before quitting my full-time job.

I gave notice to my boss shortly before the wedding. It took me longer to give notice to that part of me that had spent 40+ hours a week working for someone else. I felt like a little kid on the first day of summer, one toe in the water testing to see if it’s warm enough. It was exciting and terrifying all at once, mainly because it was all unknown. I liked parts of working: the independence, dressing up, being around other adults. I also disliked parts of working: dressing up, being around other adults, long hours. (The “not being around other adults” thing has persisted in being the best/worst part of working from home.)

As a freelancer, I created and taught online courses, worked as a virtual concierge, and got into writing and editing. I was able to use my full-time work experience to craft classes in editing, writing, event planning and retail management. Since I started my freelance hustle while I was still working my full-time job, I had a steady stream of freelance income by the time I gave my notice. As we’ve gone on to have two kids, I have been able to freelance at varying levels depending on what is happening in our family life.

The financial aspect was honestly the scariest part. We made the decision as a couple to only use my husband’s income when determining how much home we could afford to buy. Before I quit my job, we put my paychecks directly into savings, to practice living on a single income. We began budgeting and going through bills together, and started cutting back on expenses such as dining out. However, not all of the financial transitions were strictly about saving money. I began handling all the household bills from opening to mailing. For me to start freelancing, I also needed a basic office setup which included a computer, faster internet, software, and other equipment. We then wrote off those expenses on our taxes. Because I moved from full-time work outside of the home to part-time freelancing at home, we also needed to consider the tax implications. After consulting with our CPA, we decided to form an LLC to protect our assets and make it easier to file as a freelancer. While we file our taxes jointly, we also file the LLC paperwork and freelance income and expenses.

Beyond the money discussions about transitioning to freelancing from full-time work, I also found myself struggling with the emotional side and the changes I didn’t know would come along with staying home. I wasn’t dressing up every day or eating out at lunch with colleagues. I could wear my pajamas all day or eat crackers and cheese for lunch, and no one would know. Part of the transition to working from home was fun, but I also found myself feeling a little lonely and isolated. When I figured out that I was missing human contact, I joined several online writing groups and found mom groups in the area.

I also found it very helpful to treat my freelance career as something that could fit around the rest of my life. When I had a baby and a toddler, I was able to concentrate fully on them (and no sleep) and put my freelance work on hold. With both of them in school, I chose to volunteer at the school and work as a substitute teacher. My kids are older now (they really don’t want me at their schools!) and I have transitioned back into more consistent freelancing. After years of being more involved during the day with preschool and elementary-aged kids, I recently looked over my freelance output and increased my freelance workload.

For me, the transition to freelancing overall has been mainly a good one. There were initial bumps in getting set up and adjusting. I have had years where I wasn’t able to freelance at all — a terminally ill mother-in-law, dangerous pregnancies, colicky babies, major moves, times when the freelance market reflected the overall down job market. I have spent late nights writing because a sick child kept me from meeting a deadline during the day. There have also been deadlines that fell during family vacations. However, I’ve been able to contribute to the household expenses and be there with my kids in a way that I couldn’t have done with a full-time job. Even when I only make a small amount of money on an article or project, I still also feel a boost to my self-esteem.

As I transitioned from full-time employee to freelancer, I reminded myself that no change lasts forever. That turned out to extend to how I approach freelancing as well. When I started freelance writing, for example, I mailed in writing entries. There was no SEO or SMO. I have had to adjust and grow my skills just like I would need to do in a full-time out-of-the-home workplace. Because I have continued to keep up my skills as a freelancer, I also have kept the door open to the option of returning to work full-time. My resume is updated with new skills, publications, and companies. That resume not only helps me keep track of freelance work, it also helps me if I do ever want to return to full-time employment. In the last six months, I have found a new awesome group of women writers and a new freelance focus in comedy writing (who knew I was funny?). I have one kid heading into the college choice process and another one finishing up middle school. Instead of writing about baby poop and the 6 Best Kids’ Camps, I am finding a new beat writing about hormones and parenting teens.

My husband has been the main breadwinner for the 18 years we’ve been married. A recent hostile takeover and layoffs at his company means he is now out of a full-time job himself. For the first time in nearly two decades, I am starting to bring in a steady income through my freelance work. While juggling kids and a hit-or-miss freelance writing career has been a scattered effort over the years, all of that work is starting to pay off. I have a full portfolio of writing credits. While I won’t make a full-time income with my freelance work, I can contribute and literally help keep the lights on. As I step into another career change point, I am adjusting to new things in the world of freelancing like onboarding, collaboration platforms, and artificial intelligence, as well as new clients, editors, and projects. It is like I am 14 years old again, stepping into that first job all over again. (Ironically, I’m still saving up for a new car — but this time it’s for my 16-year-old.) As I write at odd hours in between carpool duty and grocery trips, I feel that same little flutter of accomplishment every time my words are published and I get a check in the mail. Forty hours a week outside the home may not be the right fit for me, right now. However, I will always appreciate the freelance opportunities that ARE the right fit. They’ve helped my family build a life that works for us.

Amy Barnes is a freelance writer who has words at sites like McSweeney’s, Apartment Therapy, Romper, We are Teachers, Crixeo, Funny or Die, Botnik Studios, The Vitamin Shoppe and many others. She lives in Tennessee with her husband, two kids and two dogs who both inspire and hinder her freelance career.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Career Change series.

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