While there is no doubt that being a freelancer can be freeing and rewarding, the freelance life often comes with its fair share of insecurities. When you see every advertised gig receiving hundreds of eager responses within minutes and the proposed fees being ridiculously low, if there’s even a fee at all, it can be very easy to feel like there isn’t enough well-paid work out there. Due to experiences like these, freelancers often struggle with the “scarcity mindset” — being so obsessed with the lack of things like time, money, or in this case, work opportunities, that it becomes nearly impossible to focus on anything else.
Not only can a mindset like this hinder one’s ability to work, it can also have serious effects on mental health and overall well-being. Talking about how the perceived lack of work impacted her when she first forayed into the creative industry, Karine Laudort, a freelance digital marketer, says, “It affected me to the point where I reduced my leisure activities or did not treat myself out of guilt or fear of not being able to cope if the next project did not come in.
It can be very easy to feel like there isn’t enough well-paid work out there.
These issues are common to most freelancers, and yet, freelancers of color experience scarcity differently than their white counterparts. Factors like the freelancer pay gap and lack of representation mean freelancers of color already find themselves at a disadvantage. To add to that, their cultural and ethnic backgrounds can also adversely affect their ideas of scarcity and abundance.
“From a very young age, we have watched our parents work themselves to the bone to give us a better life than they had. They instill in us that in order to sustain ourselves, we must scrutinize every dollar and make it stretch,” says Dominican freelance writer Yolanda. “When we come to the age where we can do what calls to us, it still tugs at us. I feel like I have to be better than the other freelancers without a doubt because otherwise there won’t be any food on my table."
As a result, freelancers end up settling for opportunities that pay poorly, or not at all, and also take up work that doesn’t interest them or benefit their career. They also end up feeling like they have to mine trauma related to their identity in order to find work. “We have an even harder time turning down opportunities, even when it's clear that we are being used for performative activism or to fulfill a diversity requirement,” says independent artist Sravya Attaluri, a third culture Indian.
However, regardless of how powerless the scarcity mindset might make you feel, the fact is that “there are more opportunities than you think,” writes Nia Carnelio, an Indian freelance content marketer and writer. “There are many, many clients willing to pay you fairly for your time and skills. Go and find them.”
Put a price on your work
Being paid in bylines, social media caption credits or “exposure” might sound lucrative if you’re just starting out and looking to build your portfolio, but at the end of the day, freelancers have bills to pay and deserve fair remuneration. Taking up free work, even if the subject matter is exciting, not only lowers your value in the eyes of your clients, but also your own.
Saying no to free labor is easier said than done, and isn’t a single step, but a holistic process. Start by valuing your work and recognizing that you’re good at what you do. Shaneika Johnson-Simms, a Black video producer and writer, shares how she got there, “I understood that I have to trust that I am talented, and that I’ll do the right things and that my work is good, damn good even. I spent time working on my relationship with money and started using the mantra ‘money flows to me’. Since then, I haven’t had to struggle with my mindset.”
I have to trust that I am talented.
Find a community
Freelancers can often feel like they’re operating in an isolated environment where other freelancers are competition, and not colleagues. People of color especially feel like they have to compete not just with white people, but also fellow people of color.
“In my country, we’re already over 200 million Nigerians fighting for very scarce resources that are being hoarded by a few. By choosing to work internationally, I’m now competing not just with them, but with people all over the world,” says Nelly Kalu, an independent broadcast journalist and fact-checker based in Lagos, Nigeria.
It becomes all the more important, then, to surround yourself with a network of people who will inspire you, support you, and be the voice of reason when you’re engaging in negative self-talk or having an unpleasant experience with a client.
And when you find yourself in a better position, remember to extend the same kindness and support that you have received to others in need of resources and pro tips. Carnelio goes one step ahead and “actively shares gigs with other freelancers who might be a better fit.”
When you’re working for yourself, it is difficult not to spend all your time engrossed in projects and worry about losing clients every free moment. However, setting boundaries and letting yourself take time off is the key to making your freelance lifestyle sustainable.
Being upfront about taking a break will also ensure you’re building a clientele that respects you and is understanding of your needs. “I have learned that asking for help from time to time isn't a weakness or a sign of my inability to take care of myself, but rather a strength,” says Diamond Yao, an East Asian freelance journalist.
Celebrate the joy of freelancing
Perhaps the greatest way to transition from a scarcity mindset into one of abundance is to be grateful for every project you bag, and accept the rejections that you face along the way. “Every opportunity that works out, I allow myself to revel in it and enjoy it. When something doesn’t, I move on to the next one,” says Kalu.
Whenever you’re faced with uncertainty about where the next paycheck or commission will come from, remind yourself of the time you secured that dream project despite all obstacles. Such is the freelance life that opportunities knock on your door when you’re least expecting them. So if you’re losing sight of all the work that is out there for you, your next gig is probably just around the corner!
Opportunities knock on your door when you’re least expecting them.