Nicholas Kristof

Why There's No Better Time to Start Freelance Writing than Right Now

Over 25 million Americans are out of work, almost four years after the initial recession hit in 2008. Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times about unemployment, questioning if the federal government still considers jobs a priority. Certainly, the American people still consider it a priority. I agree with Kristof that the Washington ought to be doing more to address unemployment. But, I think that we also need to ask, what are WE doing about unemployment?

These same millions of Americans, many fired and laid off from companies they worked at for 10, 20, even 30 years, are fighting in that rat race for a new job. Somewhere. Anywhere. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average job seeker gives up after five months of job hunting. Giving up? Job hunting? I have to wonder why are so many people are spending so much time fighting and waiting for someone to hire them when they can just hire themselves.

I'm not necessarily talking about starting your own enterprise or brick-and-mortar store, but self-employment as a freelancer or independent contractor. Especially those who have decades of work experience in a specific industry, that's valuable information and specialization that a professional can offer, and charge for. Americans are good, hardworking people, right? Why do we need someone else to give us a job when we could just give ourselves a job, become our own boss, and reclaim our work and our lives?

After all, what kind of thanks and rewards are corporations given us? The August cover issue of Mother Jones shows that corporate profits are up 22 percent, but that money is not going towards hiring people or increasing salaries. It's staying in the pockets of the executives. Yet, the non-executives who still have jobs are working harder than ever. Working the equivalent of two full-time jobs, leaving no time for our spouses, our families, or anything else for that matter. When we agree to take a position, we shouldn't agree to give up the rest of our lives too.

Well, sure, many of these positions come with benefits that are hard to come by as a freelancer or independent contractor. But, how long does that last? Take the case of Aloha Airlines. The airline filed for bankruptcy on March 20, 2008. Ten days later, the airline ceased passenger flight operations. And, just like that 1,900 employees were laid off. Benefits: gone. Salary: gone. Pensions: gone. All that hard work and dedication to Aloha Airlines evaporated in a matter of seconds, as anything to show for that hard work and dedication no longer existed. Aloha and Mahalo!

Consider independent contracting as a completely viable way to earn a living. Sure, you might not make money right away, but how much money are you making in those five months of job hunting? You have a better chance of earning something as an independent contractor than as a full-time job scout. It's also cheaper for the company. As an independent contractor, you're not asking for a full-time, 40-hour job complete with salary and benefits. You're asking if you can fill a niche in the company for a short time. It's a great position for a company who may need the work done, but maybe doesn't have enough work to justify a full-time employee. Or isn't willing to provide the full package of a full-time employee. That's where you come in. The best part? If a company doesn't have a need for you, or a need for you any longer, you're not up the creek without a paddle. Hopefully, you have other clients to help pay your bills, and can easily find more clients to fill that gap. Now that's job security, when losing a client or losing a check doesn't mean you have nowhere else to go.

Take Mr. Haggard, Kristof's neighbor from the op-ed I previously mentioned. Haggard used to work on a crew detecting underground gas, electrical, or cable lines. He was earning $20 an hour before he was fired in 2008 at the beginning of the recession. Haggard has since been job hunting, on the prowl for two year. In that time, he's only gotten one call back for job as French chef, a job that didn't pan out. Now, Mr. Haggard would be great as an independent contractor or consultant in that industry he spent 15 year with. That's a ton of industry expertise that he can offer, and Haggard could charge well more than $20 an hour for his time and expertise. Haggard even admitted in the op-ed that company's are interested in hiring someone in his 50s. Well, I'm sure Mr. Haggard doesn't have that same bias toward himself, right?

 Now, if anything, is the best time to make a change and to strike it on your own. If you were a victim of the economy, laid off or fired after years and years of service, why would you want to go back to another company and corporation, and put yourself at risk of that happening again? When you're self-employed, you never go out of business, and you would never have the audacity to lay yourself off or to discipline yourself because you chose not to work those extra hours of overtime after already putting in 10, 12 hours.

I grant that I'm not (yet) making a six-figure salary doing this, but I am only 23-years old and I've been freelancing for nine months. I'm making enough to make ends meet, and it's not at the expense of leisure or family. If I can make it as an independent contractor, I believe that others can do it, especially if you have years, even decades of industry experience.