Legends of the Freelance Life: We Can Learn A Lot From The Movies

Jul 31, 2013

It’s true: life is not like the movies. On the big screen, freelancers go through all the ups and downs of the freelance life, become extremely successful, and find true love in just 90 minutes. Wouldn’t that be nice! But even Hollywood can inspire us by illustrating the qualities every freelancer and small business owner needs to overcome obstacles and mitigate risk.

Read on as we explore the challenges freelancers face and give you strategies for looking calm under pressure – even if you don’t have a make-up artist.

1.** Balance passion and risk: Twister**

When you’re not afraid of danger, you can create new technology, transform the lives of the people around you, and even ignore the haters in your path.

In Twister, Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) leads a team of fearless storm chasers and researchers who get paid for information about and pictures of tornados – sort of like freelance photographers, just crazier. Because sometimes if you want to create something utterly new, you have to be just a little bit crazy.

Challenge: Learn to manage risk. Unexpected events may not be an immediate risk to your life, but it can be a risk to your business. Many young companies fail because they don’t prepare for bad events, relying on a good idea to carry them through.

**You might want to try: ** Making a “What If” List. After you finish reading this, sit down for just 10 minutes and write down the biggest risks to your company cash-flow and the ways you should or already deal with risks short- and long-term. If you’ve already thought about it, just write it down. Looking at your business plan’s risk factors (like dry seasons), developing strategies to mitigate risk (like other side businesses during dry seasons), and learning how to take advantage of unexpected positive events means your business can ride out any storm.

2. The Power of Perseverance: Jerry Maguire

In the beginning, freelancing is not all sugar plums and gumdrops. You have to figure out how to operate without a giant budget. You have one good client and a few people who believe in you, but it seems that everybody else is waiting for you to crawl back to the corporate world, miserable and defeated. Maybe you’re even angry and doubting yourself if leaving your previous job wasn’t your choice.

Jerry Maguire does a great job showing the real risks and rewards of the freelance life. Jerry (Tom Cruise) is a successful but unfulfilled sports agent. Turns out that when he gets fired from his life-crushing job and becomes his own boss, his life begins. But not without ridicule from previous coworkers and a lot of mistakes.

**Challenge: Banking your company’s success on one client is generally a terrible idea. **Unless your one client is Cuba Gooding Jr., never say “I have a long-term project/client now, I’m just going to see how this works out before I market myself again.” No. If you do this, pick up a copy of Freelancer’s Bible ASAP and start developing your Freelance Portfolio (read on).

You might want to try: building a Freelance Portfolio. Building a balanced Freelance Portfolio is like building a great financial portfolio: you have to diversify your time and effort “investments” to protect yourself from ups and downs. The Freelance Portfolio has four levels: your income anchors (major clients), new clients (implementing strategies to expand your base), one-time “income-filler” jobs if times get rough, and new ventures, like new service and product goals. If you don’t split your time between doing current work and the other three Portfolio levels, you’re going to be stuck when your current project ends.

3. Explore your hidden talents (…after you find the time): Baby Boom

Sometimes the thing you do for fun, not for work, becomes your next great business idea. We all have more than one interest in life, so don’t forget to pay attention to side interests and goals, like your cherished family recipe for NumNum Sauce or your love of drop capitals. Your side interest can become your side business can become you living on a country estate without clients or commutes.

Actually, the country estate part is probably only true in the movies. In Baby Boom, J.C. (Diane Keaton) is a successful business woman who inherits a baby from a relative. Finding New York and new baby just don’t play well together, she moves to Vermont, where her cooking abilities are finally recognized and she starts her own apple sauce business.

Challenge: Kids. Balancing family and work life is arguably one of the biggest challenges freelancers face. You may have to work late hours after bedtime, hire a babysitter, or only take on flexible work. There’s no easy solution to this one and we’d be happy to hear how you balance.

**You might want to try: Building in time for side projects. **When you’re overwhelmed, side projects can actually energize you. Paul Jarvis in his most recent article on 99u said it best: “[I]t’s also important to be our own client sometimes, and have side projects that push new skills, flex our creative muscles, and give us testing grounds for new and innovative ideas.”

Just like Google’s famous 20 percent program, carve out time to do personal projects or learn new things, even if it’s only 5 percent of your time. Try learning stained glass or making a silly game app. It can seem like a time-waster now, but it won’t when your stained glass Etsy store keeps you going in lean times or your app is the sleeper hit of 2014.

**How do you balance risk, work flow, and family life? Do you have a side project? **