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Why and how I started freelancing by Tim McPeters (US)

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Why Did I Start Freelancing?

When I think of freelancing, I think of freedom. But, for me, even the idea of freedom ought to be distinguished. Really, freedoms can be separated into freedoms "to" and freedoms "from." My decision to become a freelancer, to have true freedom, transpired gradually from my life experiences and, ultimately, from my desire for more freedoms.

As a child, I was raised by my mother who worked extremely hard just to provide the basic needs for my sister and I. We always had enough but never too much. And so for me, I found it easier than most, perhaps, to be contempt with living a minimalist lifestyle. By the age of 25, I had eliminated all unnecessary possessions, except enough to fill a few bags for traveling and a storage bin that I use to keep a few sentimental things safe at my parents' home. This elimination of excess belongings has been essential in allowing me to live a life as a freelancer for two reasons. The first is that the less physical possessions I own, the easier it is for me to move around as a freelancer—the freedom from clutter and physical distractions. The second is that the less dependent I am on physical possessions, the less I spend on them and the more I have to spend on experiences like traveling—the freedom to travel and roam.

Growing up, my mother also moved my sister and I around quite a lot. We changed homes so often that I ended up going to five elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. It would be downright wrong to say that constantly moving as a child and young adult didn't, in some way, foster my love for change and being in new environments. After graduating high school, I moved away for college, studied abroad during my junior year, studied law in a different part of the country and then backpacked a bit through Europe right out of law school. Then after a major career change, I moved to Thailand and spent the next four years teaching English and traveling around South East Asia. It’s important to note that not every freelancer wants to travel the way I do, but I think many do. For me personally, the need to explore the world—the freedom to be anywhere, at any time—is what fueled my decision to begin freelancing.

When I began working to earn a living, I was never afraid to try new jobs. I started out working for my uncle as a plumber's helper at the age of 13. Actually, I still help him from time to time whenever I visit home. Learning a trade is extremely useful nowadays and is a safe contingency plan, given how difficult it is to automate the jobs away. I've also held a bunch of other jobs, including ones in retail, sales, public health, social services, law and education. Luckily, I found most of the job openings by simply being in the right place at the right time. And when the job opportunities presented themselves, I wasn't afraid to take them. But even more than providing me with a lot diverse work experience, these jobs also prepared me to forgo the traditional career path and pursue freelancing instead. That is, I was able to acquire a lot of different skills that are useful for freelance work. This allowed me to move past the 9-5 work life that, frankly, didn't fit the lifestyle that I wanted for myself. Ultimately, freelancing gave me an outlet to live life on my own terms—the freedom to work how I want, when I want. It also allowed me to become my own boss—the freedom from authority inherent in being someone else's employee.

The main skills I bring as an online freelancer include research, writing (both creative and academic) and editing/proofreading documents. Though, I also offer teaching and tutoring services, both in-person and online. My areas of expertise include English as a Second Language (ESL), Business English, U.S. law and the other social sciences more generally. Presently, about half of my work takes place online, while the other half is in-person. My online customers typically come after meeting each other through online platforms like Upwork and Indeed. Most of the students I tutor in-person come through word of mouth and from the schools and universities where I’ve previously taught.

As a freelancer, overhead is generally minimal, but finding quality, yet affordable, health insurance is probably one of the most vital expenses I have. My previous employers in Thailand all provided free health insurance, so this is something I need to become more independent with now that I’m transitioning to more online freelance work. My goal is to find a global health insurance plan that works well for my lifestyle and also fits my budget. I plan to pay annually to keep costs as low as possible. For me, free health care would be a great asset as would a universal basic income. Both would help reduce a lot of the anxiety that comes from being a freelancer. Generally, I agree with other UBI proponents who suggest that it would allow for more creativity and opportunities for entrepreneurs to emerge with new business ideas. I can think of lots of ways UBI would help get one of my small business ideas going.

The most challenging part of freelancing is finding steady work. Ideally, I would like to find myself in a situation where I could be a bit more selective with the jobs I take. Though, it’s still exciting to work for yourself and set your own hours and work schedule. My ultimate goal is to develop enough sources of passive income that I can reduce my work hours and start volunteering more of my time around the world. To achieve this, I have a few business ideas that I want to start pursuing. Some of them include a website for dropshipping useful travel products, a jobs blog for digital nomads and a “brick and mortar” business for Thai high school students. Ideally, I would like to start these over the next 2-5 years. I think every successful business should have a mobile app, and so I definitely foresee apps playing an important role in the success of my businesses, too—all in good time.

Freelancing can be scary when you’re first starting out because there are so many unknowns that you might stress and feel anxious about. However, I feel there are plenty of more upsides to freelancing that outweigh its few downsides. If you have the drive to pursue this type of lifestyle and understand the risks associated with it, I think it’s certainly worth pursuing for yourself. Personally, I’m happy to be a part of the global community of freelancers and online entrepreneurs and excited to see what opportunities are in store for me in the future.

I'm a freelancer today because I've always sort of lived a freelancer's life in some form or another. I learned early to live modestly, to travel light and often, to not be afraid to try new things, to fail if need be, to find work that brings me joy and, most importantly, to let my own consciousness guide my life decisions, not someone else. In the end, I will have my own successes and failures, but at least I will be able to say I lived life on my own terms—free. My life as a freelancer is only possible because, when opportunities present themselves, I take them and run with them.
Author: Tim McPeters