When people ask how I started freelancing, it always comes out in half-truths. No one likes to share intimate details of ‘perceived failure.’ For me to share my entire journey is to admit that I could not have it all. I had failed at being a “superwoman.” That failure ultimately led to where I was meant to be.
Guess what, life happens to us all. We get overwhelmed and make mistakes. Growing from those mistakes is what helps makes us successful entrepreneurs.
Six years ago I became a mom and was ill-prepared for having a newborn. People had warned me that it was going to be hard, but I was a wreck! I’m a light sleeper and am a naturally anxious person. The anxiety keeps me ambitious and motivated but can make me an insomniac. When I brought her home, I slept 2-3 hours a day – total – for weeks. Not the recommended “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
Four weeks after having my child, my employer asked me to come back to work. I naively thought I was ready and I could handle working full-time, nursing, leaving my newborn, and the rest of life. I like to describe this part of my life as “driving a car out of control.” You try to course correct, but over-correct and slide out of control, plowing into a ditch. Yes, that happened. Seven months later I was fired for mouthing off to a client. I was devastated. I loved the company and people and wasn’t ready to move on.
I spent the next few weeks bouncing between anger and depression. My friend and virtual co-worker as I call her (we always Skype) encouraged me to try freelancing. I was frightened and doubted my skills and worth. At that time, she was the only person I knew that freelanced and was making it work with three kids at home.
A huge Thank you to Heather Loveridge who is Chief Storyteller/Founder of Magnolia Media Group and mother to five! She is so inspiring to me. I feel if she can accomplish a career and family with FIVE children, then I certainly I can, with two.
I told my husband that I didn’t want to go back to work full-time. I carefully explained that I wanted a better home and work/life balance. I wanted to be able to see my kids during the day, take care of our home, and still have a career. He was incredibly supportive. My hubby is old-fashioned in that he didn’t think moms should have to work outside the home. The problem was, we had just bought a new house, and we had a $1,000 per month deficit without my income. He encouraged me to try, knowing that we may lose our house.
We had a small emergency fund saved, thanks to Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.” So I went for it. My goal was to make enough money not to lose the house while working no more than 15 hours per week. I opened a business bank account, created a logo and business cards and began looking for work in my skill sets.
I began freelance web development by answering Craigslist ads for web jobs. I had no idea how to sell, negotiate, find jobs or close deals. It took a while to perfect that part of my freelance business. It’s like job interviewing. The more you pitch, the better you get. Yes, I took jobs I shouldn’t have, but also landed a client I still have today. That one client gave me enough ongoing work to stretch my freelancing business. I’m grateful for their guidance and support over the years.
One year into my business, I no longer had to look for work. All of my work came in through referrals. I felt incredibly blessed to make $13,000 net that year. Ha! I know you are thinking “that is low,” but remember my $1,000 per-month deficit goal, that income covered our expenses and left us $1,000! I also met my goal to work only 10 hours per week, and take care of the kids and house.
As the years went on, I learned things that clients expected from a professional freelancer. When I was starting out, there were no forums, groups, or resources for freelancers. I was thankful for friends who would give me advice and allow me to call on them for favors, like accounting questions or business questions. Every year I would double my goal in net income from the year before.
Six years later (after having a second child), I persuaded Marcia King into partnering with me. Marcia is a social media expert who decided to leave corporate life behind, after 24 years, for the “freelance life.” Her courage astonishes me. I proposed creating a network of freelancers that would bring structure and resources to the freelance world. Essentially, building the structure I wished I had when starting freelancing – a place that freelancers could learn those problematic lessons that I learned by trial and error. I didn’t want others to feel isolated in their path to work/life flexibility. Marcia had walked a very similar journey in freelancing. She spent thousands of dollars in education and consulting to get our freelance business off the ground, and still learned many lessons by trial and error.
Life is very different now. I have a balanced work and home life. That doesn’t mean that every day is half and half. It’s more of 3.5 work days and 3.5 days dedicated to my family. It’s not all ‘rainbows and daisies.’ There are days I struggle to balance getting the kids to and from school and getting to all my meetings. I am blessed to have supportive family members to help. My new business endeavor, Savvy Outsourcing, is growing fast. I have to take measures to keep things balanced, but the beauty lies in being able to make those decisions. To be able to take off on Monday just to take the kids to the beach or have lunch with my mom. That’s the beauty of freelance life.
My amazing family
It’s normal to try to keep all the plates spinning and failing; it’s human. It’s okay to be a mom that needs or wants to work and be able to take the kids to the park on a beautiful afternoon or make a doctor appointment for yourself.
It’s your life and your terms!
Erin Gordon is Co-Founder of Savvy Outsourcing (Digital Marketing Freelance Firm) and leader of the Jacksonville Freelancers Union SPARK. Erin has over 11 years of Web Design & Development experience, and 8+ years of Internet Marketing experience. She is a natural “techy” with expertise in all digital marketing avenues including SEO, PPC, Social Media, Content Management Systems, Inbound Marketing and more.
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