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From time to time, I’ll be talking to someone in the startup industry and I’ll mention I’m a freelancer. “Oh, are you working on a startup?" they’ll often ask. “No, though I have a couple side projects and experiments," I’ll say.
Then, it happens. A pause, a stammer, and “well…uh…are you looking for anything full time or just…" and they trail off hoping—it seems—that I cut in with an exuberant yes, of course!
It doesn’t happen. I politely tell them, no, I am only looking for contract or consulting work right now. Sometimes, this turns into a new lead; startups often need extra hands when it comes to design or front-end development. Other times, though, it results in a strange mix of disappointment and confusion, as though I’ve made some sort of incomprehensibly poor life choice by not entertaining their exciting offer of full time employment.
There’s this stigma in the startup universe around being a contractor, consultant, or freelancer. A sort of confusion as to why we aren’t chasing the big dreams, big wins, and big money.
When it comes down to it, I do what I do because it’s not always about going “big" and betting it all on a startup. It’s not that I’m dreaming small or using ‘freelance’ as a euphemism for ‘unemployed’ (far from that).
I enjoy the freedom. I get to work with tens of companies, work on a huge variety of different tasks, and exercise (and grow) my skills in every possible way. In fact, I do much of what I’d be doing at a (very small) startup—marketing, biz dev and sales, design, development, accounting—and perhaps considerably more. I get to have a broad, varied impact on many different people and businesses in a very direct way.
It’s true that there may be more stress and more worry—what if business slows down? Why is my client calling me in a panic at 1 am? Some people seem to think I haven’t yet realized the pitfalls and so-called “horrors" of my chosen career path. However, at the end of the day, I’m not looking for the stress free, worry free, perk-heavy job. I know it has it’s ups and downs. Just like most early-stage startups.
At the end of the day, the work I do touches many people, I love maintaining a close relationship with my awesome clients, and I love being able to help companies stretch themselves in ways they would otherwise struggle to do.
Honestly, work has been so busy these days that I’ve even been working on expanding, bringing in a partner and adding new resources to take on bigger and even more impactful work.
What I do doesn’t fit neatly into the definition of a ‘startup’ and that’s okay. Perhaps it’s a small business—that’s fine too. But don’t be surprised or puzzled when someone says that they’re a freelancer, contractor, or consultant and not looking to transition into a full-time job. Most of us are pretty damn happy doing it—there are plenty of other options if we didn’t. We might even be able to help you…without coming on full time.