My Recent Career Change

I’ve always been one of those “freelancers should think of themselves as small-business owners” people, because it’s true. The more you run your freelance career like a business — which is to say, the more time you spend thinking about how to increase your revenue and build your contacts and make six-month and one-year and five-year plans — the more successful you’re likely to be.

About two years ago, I added “take on greater responsibility at The Billfold” into my five-year plan, and now I’m a different kind of small-business owner, because I share ownership of a business that is separate from myself.

The day-to-day tasks of running The Billfold are nearly identical to the day-to-day tasks of running my freelance business: I write posts, I edit posts, I check email and do social media and conduct interviews, I deal with administrative stuff and state business requirements and taxes. I build out a schedule of work, planning posts up to a month in advance. I keep the books and balance the budget.

I also need to ensure that The Billfold stays funded into the future — which, on the surface, is almost exactly like the work I do to ensure that I stay funded. Both involve a lot of pitching, and pitching a sponsored content post is much like pitching any other kind of post: I get two paragraphs max to outline the proposed post and the takeaway for the reader, explain why this post will benefit the client, and share a few links to past sponsored posts. The biggest difference is that I also get to attach our media kit, which includes a lot of additional information about The Billfold, its goals, and its reader demographics.

No, wait.

The biggest difference is that the money The Billfold brings in has to be consistent and stable, because it’s not just about me anymore.

As a freelancer, I can absorb a low-income month. I can also adjust my workload up or down to meet an income goal or to set aside more time for another priority. I don’t have that kind of freedom with The Billfold. I need to make sure we have enough articles to run our full schedule, five days a week, 52 weeks a year — and I need to make sure we’re bringing in enough money to pay everybody. (And pay our operating costs and our taxes, and set aside money for future lean months.)

In the sole proprietorship side of my life, I’ve built up both a checking account buffer and a savings account buffer to help protect myself from any unexpected income changes. I’d love to have that kind of buffer for The Billfold, but we’re not there yet and won’t be for a while. So there’s an urgency to making sure our income stays constant. This is where, for the billionth time, I want to thank you for supporting our Patreon — you’re the foundation that allows us to keep running.

In terms of career changes, being responsible for something that is greater than myself is huge, and it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve been an employee, which means I’ve worked for a company that someone else owns, and I’ve been a freelancer, which means I’ve worked for myself. Now I’m working for all of you, in a sense; I’ve taken on this responsibility because I love The Billfold, but also because you love it. I’m also working for all of The Billfold’s contributors, because I need to make sure we’re bringing in enough money for everyone to get paid.

I’m curious whether other small-business owners had the same sort of “oh wow, this is way bigger than me” realization, once you had people depending on you for both products and paychecks. It’s an interesting transition, and I hope I’ll be good at the job.

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

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