There are lots of challenges you never realize you’ll need to deal with when you first dream of becoming a freelance blogger.
Some of them you can brace yourself for if you read blogs like this one — things like how to ask for the rate you want, how to avoid problem clients, or how to occasionally shower before dinnertime so your partner doesn’t come home and wonder, for the 40th day in a row, if you are or are not in the exact same position you were when they left for work that morning.
Other challenges don’t get as much airplay on blogging blogs, but when you find yourself commiserating with fellow freelancers, you realize they’re just as prevalent — and just as much a cause of EOFHL (Early Onset Freelancer Hair Loss).
Which is why I think it’s time we talk about something that has nothing to do with productivity or process or profit. That thing?
The incredibly dumb, ridiculous, silly and annoying questions you will find yourself fielding from friends, loved ones and random strangers when they find out what you do for a living.
See if any of these sound familiar to you…
1. “You Can Actually Make Money Doing That?”
Most people not involved in the blogosphere-as-business have trouble grasping the profitability of being a blogger at all, and when you add the extra level of being a freelance blogger? Holy glazed expressions, Batman. Like YouTube artists, we do a job that never appeared on those aptitude tests administered by high school guidance counselors, so naturally the public at large is confused by it.
But while it can be annoying to regularly have the validity of your profession doubted, I’ve come to take people’s disbelief as a kind of compliment. I love what I do for a living, I love the clients I do it for, and I love the lifestyle it enables me to have. No wonder people wonder if it’s too good to be true; in a way, it sort of is.
2. “So, When Are You Getting a Real Job?”
One day, just for laughs, I’d like to ask this question of a doctor, teacher or run-of-the-mill cube dweller and watch the mixture of confusion and offense cross their face as they try to work out what I’m asking — then realize what I’m implying.
Any work you do for money, using your own talent, time and energy, is by definition a “real” job. But that’s not really the question here, is it? Cashiering at a fast food joint is a “real” job, but that doesn’t mean your in-laws or patronizing high school frenemy will nod with approval when they ask you what you’re doing these days and that’s what you tell them.
The question behind this question is whether getting paid for your words, on your own schedule and your own terms, qualifies as a respectable, worthwhile or legitimate job. And the answer is: Yes, yes it does.
So when asked when you’re getting that “real” job, the only response you need give is: “I have a real job.” (Best delivered with a mix of naive confusion that infers, Miss Manners-style, “Clearly you mixed up your words and couldn’t possibly have meant to ask me that incredibly rude question.”)
3. “You Get Paid HOW Much?”
Or, as Elisa Doucette put it when asked what FAQs irk her most: “Seriously? You charge that much for an article?! Well, I suppose you have to eat…”
Different freelance bloggers charge different rates for their work based on their experience level, but industry standards for a mid-range freelancer can look a bit daunting to someone who doesn’t understand how this gig works.
Once, to silence a belligerent acquaintance who insisted on giving me “real” job leads every time we saw each other, I gave in to my baser instincts and told him what I charge for one average-length blog post. To this day I think he thinks I was lying. Or that I’m secretly a millionaire because he multiplied that number by 8 and then 40 as if it were a traditional hourly employee rate and I churn out one post per hour from 9-to-5 on weekdays like a word machine.
In reality, I make enough to get the bills paid. Some months I feel like a lush when I look at my net income, and some months I feel like a pauper, but on average how much I bring home is, to put it mathematically, None of Anyone’s Damn Business. Any person with an ounce of decorum should know better than to ask any employed professional how much they make — or, if for some reason they find out that amount, to then question them about it.
4. “I Read Blogs! Have You Written Anything I Might Have Seen?”
While I appreciate anyone who’s genuinely interested in knowing more about my work, and I know that’s where this question is typically coming from, hearing it rarely gives me the warm fuzzies.
Nine times out of 10, it just reminds me the asker is clueless about what I do — like meeting someone from the UK and asking them if they’ve ever met Benedict Cumberbatch because you know nothing about the UK, but you’ve heard of Benedict Cumberbatch and you know he has something or other to do with the UK.
The tenth time, I’ve had the distinctly unpleasant sense the asker is just trying to gauge how “successful” a blogger I am, like hearing someone’s an actor and asking if they’ve been in any movies you might have seen. I’ve been published on Business Insider, the Huffington Post, AOL Jobs and other sites with largely recognizable names, but I also write for plenty of other sites most people probably haven’t heard of, and I’m just as proud of that work and those clients as I am of the occasional viral blips.
Questions I’d much rather hear if someone wants to know more about what I do? “What topics do you write about?” or “What made you decide to be a freelance blogger?” would be a good start.
5. “THAT Must Be Nice…”
Or any variation thereof, including:
“So you just sit in a coffee shop for hours on your laptop? I mean, that’s cool.”” – Douchette
“You’re so lucky!” – Dana Sitar, who added (to me, not to the asker): “No, this is really hard and I work my ass off, and luck has had nothing to do with it.”
I make no apologies for the fact that doing work I love is nice. Setting my own hours is nice. Choosing clients I respect and projects I’m proud of is nice. But a job is still a job, and just because I can do mine in my PJs if I choose doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult, stressful, and a whole lot of other things people deal with in traditional jobs.
I also has plenty of aspects traditional jobs don’t, like an unpredictable income, the ability to burn out super easy, and new tax rules to navigate. Not to mention it took me three years of hard side hustling around my main day job to get my biz to the point where I could become a freelance blogger full-time.
So is it “nice”? Hell yes. But “”nice” doesn’t equal “cakewalk.”
6. “Since You’re Not Doing Anything, Could You Walk My Dog / Feed My Cat / Bake 6 Dozen Cupcakes for the PTA Bake Sale?”
Contrary to popular belief (both of 9-to-5ers and wannabe freelancers), the work-from-home lifestyle is hardly all lazy coffee shop afternoons and sitting on a beach chair with your laptop on your legs and the blue waves of some Caribbean locale as your backdrop.
Do you know what kind of luxuries I most love about setting my own hours? Being able to make doctor’s appointments in broad daylight. Resting when I’m sick without having to give my boss a formal note like I’m an elementary school student attempting hooky. And whenever I do things like this, I need to adjust my calendar accordingly because my workload still needs to get done.
Just because our hours aren’t traditional, that doesn’t mean we don’t have schedules and responsibilities. A family member once surprised me by dropping by unannounced at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, when I was in my pajamas making coffee to get through a particularly tough stretch of work, and actually said, “I would have called to let you know I was coming, but I figured you were always home.”
I still struggle, on days when my better self is feeling grumpy, with the urge to show up at his place of employment in the middle of the workday and tell him I felt like shooting the shit for a couple hours if he wouldn’t mind making me a cup of coffee, but I suspect the message would be lost on him.
7. “Have You Ever Thought of Applying to the Newspaper?”
This one comes courtesy of several of my (older) relatives, who seem to think this is a helpful suggestion which could solve my (non-existent) problem of not having one of those “real” jobs that are all the rage.
I’ve tried explaining I have zero interest in a traditional desk job. I’ve tried explaining I’m quite happy with what I currently do and would be quite unhappy working for the local paper. I’ve tried explaining I have zero print journalism experience and, if a paper actually wanted to hire me in spite of this fact, I’d be the recipient of an entry-level salary that’s a tiny percentage of what I can make as a freelance blogger.
I’ve yet to find a response that actually hits home, likely because nothing will really hit home with someone who asks this question. See: Ashley Gainer, who shares: “People ask me if I write on a typewriter. Seriously. They also tend to assume that I write for the newspaper and they ask if I can quote them in my story.”
8. “Hey, I Write, Too!”
What this usually means is:
- The person has a WordPress blog with more than two followers.
- They’ve thought about starting a blog.
- They have the idea for the next Great American Novel but haven’t actually written any of it yet.
- They’re “working on” a book/screenplay/movie script/etc.
- They’re one of the top publishers on a Game of Thrones fanfic forum.
- Whatever it is they do write, they want you to take a look at it and give them your “honest opinion” as a fellow writer.
Not to say I don’t give props to anyone who spends their time wordsmithing, in whatever form. Writing is a noble endeavor, and whether you create refrigerator magnet poetry or are penning the next Hamilton, I respect that. But unless I’ve asked you to share your work with me, please pretty please don’t assume I want to review it.
9. “What’s a Blog, and How Do You Work for One?”
As with no. 7, no one who asks you this question will ever really “get” any response you give them, but the best metaphor I’ve developed for the people who ask me this is:
A blog is kind of like a newspaper or magazine, but online. Blogs publish posts on a regular basis, which are kind of like articles in a newspaper or magazine. And just like newspapers or magazines, they have lots of different writers who write these pieces for them. That’s basically what I do — I write online articles about different topics that get published on sites where people who are interested in those topics go for information and entertainment.
Of course, this response inevitably winds up leading to the “Have you ever thought of just writing for a newspaper or magazine?” follow-up, so use it at your peril.
10. Your Turn!
I know this list is hardly comprehensive, so I’m eager to hear: What are YOUR least-favorite Frequently Asked Questions when someone finds out you’re a freelance blogger?
Let’s laugh (and sigh) together in the comments!