Freelancing. A word that still sounds uncomfortably on the lips of a Bulgarian. It’s probably best translated to Bulgarian as “free practice work”. This phrase, however, is misleading because freelancing is not exactly work, neither is it completely free and nor does it really give you a lot of practice. Well, not on paper, that is.
The word “free-lance” is first mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe. By “free lance” the author means a knight who can be hired to perform some kind of a mission. And although I haven’t read Ivanhoe, I dare to suppose that the mercenary knights of today will soon either join the standing royal army voluntarily or simply die of starvation. In any case, no one’s going to get the princess. Here’s why I think so:
Battle One: Freelancer vs. warranty
Type the word “freelancer” in Google, choose the Images category and you’ll inevitably see a photograph or an absurd collage showing a young man or woman working on their laptops just a few metres away from the sea shore. Usually their computer is placed right on the towel. What are these photographs implying, I wonder. Perhaps that freelancers earn so much that they easefully damage a MacBook every week, filling it wih sand? Or that they can afford the latest generation of military tech with ultra protection against sand grains and salty water splashes that, apart from anything else, also looks stylish? Oh no! Of course not. The idea is that freelancing lets us work from any place and in any time – even on the beach. Only, this idea is childishly ridiculous. The combination, or the impossibility of it, of work and holiday is just one of the two sides of the problem which I’m leaving for further down. From a purely practical point of view, no warranty will remain valid just because you’re a freelancer. So be happy that at least your job is well-paid. Or is it…
Battle Two: Freelancer vs. money
Freelancers are proven to earn less than people with permanent 8-till-5 kind of jobs. “It doesn’t matter,” you’ll object, the way I have numerous times objected myself, “at least you get the satisfaction of knowing that each of your working hours is put to good use.” The “good use” in question, which I myself believed in for a long time, however bears more similarities to voluntary service than to work. Recently, I began to feel personally offended by the obvious fact, that’s been accompanying me for a fifth year already, that in freelancing you get paid for the final product and not for the time it takes you to create and then improve it. Now I write short review-type articles for 77 euro cents a piece. An article takes me 10-15 minutes to write which means that in an unreal universe I work for 4,6 euro per hour. In that same universe if I had enough work for eight hours I would earn around 37 euro a day. 890 euros monthly. Wow. (Note: it’s a great salary in Bulgaria and an okay salary in Czech Republic) Too bad that researching for content, posting the article online, adding hyperlinks and pictures and then editting make the creation of a single final product that costs 77 euro cents a lot slower. When I draw the line it looks like I work for 1,53 euros per hour. I won’t do any further calculations because it’ll make me sad.
I haven’t worked in an office for a long time but it seems to me that payment is much fairer in such kind of jobs. Not only do all the stages of product creation happen inside some fixed working time which is fully paid but this paid time also gives you extra bonuses such as an hour long lunch break, coffee or cigarette breaks, conversations on non-professional matters with colleagues, flower watering and whatnot. All these things the freelancer does completely for free. That’s their freedom – to water their petunia, completely financially independent. To smoke their cigarette without worrying they’re doing it too slowly and so they’re stealing form their boss. Without worrying they’re doing it too fast and so they’re doing injustice to themselves.
Battle Three: Freelancer vs. quality
Because of the fact that the freelancer often has to work a lot and earn little they, in my case at least, are much more inclined to hurry through their work. If they perform a long and thorough research in order to write a really informative material they’ll lose hours no one is ever going to pay. Quantity at the expense of quality. That seems to be the freelancer’s mantra. Trust me, I have tried really hard to write an informative article for 77 euro cents. I have done it but the time it’s taken me has always filled me up with indignation and feeling that I’m a complete – an abosolutely complete – idiot.
Battle Four: Freelancer vs. social contacts
You work the best when you’re at peace. I’m almost sure I believe in this. And yet, after the eighth hour I’ve spent at home my whole being craves to see another person. To express itself verbally, not in a written form. To smile and not send an emoticon. Freelancing slowly but surely turns you into a sociopath. Even when you go out after a “working day” at home and people start talking about what happened at work you can’t say anything. Because nothing can happen in a workplace without people. “Do you have any hot colleagues?”, “Did you bring anything to work for your birthday?”, “Did you and your colleagues exchange martenitsas*?” – questions no one ever asks a freelancer.
(note: martenitsa is a red and white string adornment almost all Bulgarians exhange on 1st March)
Battle Five: Freelancer vs. acceptance
“You do nothing all day. You just sit and skype with people.” Even though I know my boyfriend is just joking when he often tells me this, every display of scepticism – be it serious or not – with respect to my work drives me mad. People not only don’t accept working on the computer at home as real work (stubbornly resisting the obvious fact that, after all, it does earn you (some amount of) money) but they interrupt you any time they want at an amazing ease and make you do them a simple favour which they can equally well do themselves. Of course, you get to be interrupted in the office, too. But not because they want you to make them a salad, to bring them something down from the second floor where you even aren’t or to go out and give an object forgotten by someone who’s not your boss to its careless owner. Freelancing is the easiest path to marginalising yourself. If you don’t believe me ask someone who’s at their office right now to make you a coffee and bring it to you and don’t forget to get mad at them should they refuse. Under no circumstances do you accept an argument such as “But I’m at work!” They’re obviously lying.
Battle Six: Freelancer vs. administrative acceptance
Freelancers never get sick and stay forever young. This is the pink-coloured version of the fact that they don’t get any health insurance or pension plan. Length of service? Come on. Altogether, the freelancer is an astonishing phenomenon – a person who seems to work nowhere (according to their record of service [note: in Bulgaria, we all have a blue booklet which states all our official jobs we’ve ever had]) but still somehow always manages to find 9 euros to pay for their health insurance (note: yes, you pay 9 euros monthly to be part of the Bulgarian healthcare system if you’re unemployed… or a freelancer :)). And to grab a bite or buy a pair of clothes as well. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe in the system at all – I’m from Bulgaria after all – and I even feel comfortably outside of it but if one day someone asks me, “And what did you do in the period between 2011 and 2015?” I will have to pray for them to be someone with a flair for people who doesn’t need a written proof of my professional experience. Do you happen to know such people?
Battle Seven: Freelancer vs. holiday
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest advantages of freelancing is the fact you can prolong your weekend or take a short holiday whenever you please. The bad thing is that this holiday is not paid either. In fact, your diligent freelancer’s consciousness starts pricking you so much after the seventh consecutive day of non-working that you begin to think solely about either how your money is running out or how when you go back you’re going to get buried under everything you left aside in order to get your deserved break. To be honest, I can’t imagine what it would be like for me to have only twenty days of holiday annually, and divided in two at that, but it’s also been a long time since I last spent a whole week without working on something on the computer. I’m just not financially motivated enough to take longer breaks.
(I interrupt this post with a short message of gratitude to the higher force who gave me a house near the sea. The message: “Thanks!”)
Battle Eight: Freelancer vs. home sweet home
Home! Sweet home! This phrase acquires physicality only in those blessed hours when there’s no internet or, even better, electricity. Actually, the diligent freelancer can’t feel the sweetness of their home even then because, under Murphy’s Laws (do you also always imagine Eddie Murphy?), power or internet service outages occur only when you have a lot of work. The truth is the work from home turns the home into a lonely office. The lack of fixed working time stretches our tasks along all the hours of the day or even the night and we just can’t put ourseleves in the shoes of all those normal workers when they say, “I just want to go home and take some rest.” Working from home saves us money for transport but increases our heating, electricity… even toilet paper, if you will, expenses. Incidentally, the toilet becomes not only your favourite place… to rest… at home but also the only one where the time spent in reading books is not stolen.
And a bit about the defeated
My name is Antonia. I’ve been working as a freelancer for about five years. I write technology articles and translate books. I chose this myself. I earn between 100 and 250 euros monthly. I survive by teaching English or painting schools. I’m growing up and beginning to seriously get sick of it.
If you can add more arguments against or why not for freelancing, you are welcome to share them with me so that we can make fun of ourselves together or maybe encourage one another and proove that this is the better way.