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Five months as a freelancer

Well, I’ve been a full-time freelancer for the past five months, and it’s been a really good learning experience. While I am not on target to hit my $70,000 income goal for the year (I’m sitting at hitting around $55,000), I’m still making an average hourly salary of $56.58. Here’s how:

In the last five months, I’ve worked a total of 81 days – or an average of 16.2 days per month. This is due to travel, holidays, etc. Each of those 81 days I worked, I probably spent 6 hours actually working. Because we don’t have internet at home, I have to do all my personal stuff on the internet (e-mailing, reading the news, travel planning, uploading photos, etc.) during the days.

81 days x 6 hours = 486 hours worked

$27,500 / 486 = $56.58/hour

Now, that’s not to say that if I increased my hours worked, my hourly wage would stay the same. Realistically, it would go down. And I think that even if I was working a normal 35-40 hour/week, I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with my $70,000 target. Most bloggers have been hit pretty hard with advertisers disappearing this year, and I’ve felt it too. The advertising income I was earning last year has been slashed in half this year. That being said, the majority of the income I make is from writing, so I haven’t had it as bad as others.

As a freelance graphic designer, my rates would range from $45-60/hour, so with the workload and advertisers that I have right now, I’m comfortably within how I’ve previously valued my time. Yet, there are freelancers in the PF world that are making double, quadruple what I’m making per hour, and more. So even though my hourly wage is double what I used to make at my FT job, I’m just an average blogger making an average income.

But I know I could be working harder. I’m working an average of 6 hours a day? Considering I used to work 12-14 hours a day not too long ago, I feel almost ashamed. My evenings could be spent working on side projects that I’ve, well, pushed to the side. I could be pitching myself more, and I could be writing more. But it’s hard to work at a coffee shop or a library for more than 8 hours a day, and we’ve tried the mobile internet stick in our apartment (the reception is terrible). So even though I thought I’d be working 12+ hours/day like I used to, I’m somewhat content with the situation I have right now.

Heading into the fall, our travel schedule will be slowing down quite a bit, so I will most likely bump up my hours worked to a more traditional 8-10 hours/day.

Extending our European adventure

Our original plan was to live in Stuttgart for 6 months, spend all of August traveling, and head back to Vancouver for the beginning of September. But now it looks like we be staying for good, and never coming home.

Just kidding!

We will actually be extending our stay in Stuttgart an extra 3.5 months until mid December. :)

So right now, the plan for us is to still travel together for 3 weeks in August. Then, he will go back to Stuttgart. I will continue to Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland by myself. At that point, my travel plans become unclear. My original plan was to go from Iceland to Vancouver and spend 2 weeks there, before hopping over to Toronto for CPFC12. Then I’d head back to Stuttgart again. But, it’s not a very economical way of doing things. I did a bunch of research into flights, and basically I’d save about $800-900 in airfare if I just went back to Stuttgart for the 2 weeks in between Iceland and CPFC12, then fly to Toronto for a week. That makes the most sense.

However, there are things I need to take care of in Vancouver. So I’m going to figure out if I can get everything done via phone or here in Stuttgart, and if so – then I’ll skip out on Vancouver and save a huge chunk of money by just going to Toronto for a week.

While I would have liked to go home permanently in September and potentially look for more work opportunities, I’m content with staying here in Europe (after the initial shock of Nic asking if we could stay). I’m making enough money to support my lifestyle, pay the mortgage, and save some money. Granted, I’m not saving as much as I would like, but it’s less than 4 months more, so I know it’s doable.

It feels so indulgent to extend our stay, and I do feel guilty… but over my lifetime, an extra 3.5 months isn’t a lot. And I know I’d regret not staying. Plus, it’s going to benefit Nic’s career in the long run, and that’s what’s important now. I can work from anywhere. A few things have come up, and he can’t start the last semester of his masters program until January, so it doesn’t make sense for him to go back to Vancouver and try to find work for just a few months, when he has a good job at an architecture firm here.

I’m happy about this decision, and while I do miss home, I’m excited for what we have in store for the rest of the year. And we will definitely be slowing down our travel schedule through the fall, but we’ll still be doing a lot of exploring. Germany has so much to offer that we haven’t seen yet – Frankfurt, Hanover, Cologne, and probably Munich again (hopefully for Oktoberfest!!!). But, we also have two big trips planned – Turkey/Bulgaria in October for my birthday, as well as Budapest at some point. :)

How to survive unemployment

Losing your job can be a huge blow to your self-confidence. It can kill your spirit, send you spiralling into depression, and drain your bank account. Unemployment can be a devastating experience, but the key to surviving the weeks and potentially months between jobs is to remain calm, stay positive, and create a plan.

It’s no secret that I’ve been fired not once, but twice before. The first time, I was let go the day my 3-month probationary period was supposed to end. My position was being eliminated, and since the company was restructuring, my skillset didn’t fit what they needed. Plus, they hated my writing style. It took me 11 weeks to find a new job. The second time I was fired, I was completely caught off guard. You all know the story by now, so I won’t say anything else. I spent 6 weeks unemployed before I found a new job.

Both times, I went through a whirlwind of emotion: shock, anger, frustration, and finally – acceptance. Once I had accepted the reality of what had happened, I worked hard every day to prove to myself, my former employer, and my future employer that I was a skilled and valuable asset to any team.

Here are 8 things I learned that have helped me get through unemployment and onto my  next job:

Understand why you lost your job

If you were fired, make sure all of your questions are answered by your boss. This can be a really hard time, but try to keep your emotions in check while you are still at the office. Understanding the reasoning behind what happened will help you move forward and become a better employee. At first, I was so embarrassed that I had lost a job because of my writing skills. But after I stepped away from the situation and spoke to a former co-worker, she made me realize that I had come from a background of technical writing and government work, and that’s just not what they were looking for.

If you feel your termination was unjust, document the reasons why, and contact a wrongful dismissal lawyer for a consultation. I’ve had to do this before, and while a consultation might be expensive (I got quotes anywhere from $200-350), it’s important if you don’t think you were treated fairly.

Apply for unemployment benefits

If you qualify for Employment Insurance (EI), for gosh sakes take advantage of it! Don’t let a sense of pride get in the way of receiving financial assistance when you need it the most. Even if you think you have the financial resources to get you through until your next job (savings in the bank, a spouse with a steady job, or parents who are willing to help you out), you  never know when your next job might be. Applying for unemployment benefits assures you will have at least some income assistance while you search for a new job. Plus, you will likely contribute to EI for your entire career – it’s there for you when you need it because you’ve paid for it.

Keep your spirits up

The worst part about losing your job – besides the lack of income – is the constant questioning from friends and family about what happened and how the job search is going. It’s the absolute worst, and was a major frustration point for me. Your loved ones don’t mean anything by it, they just want to be there for you and try to help you. Even though it might be hard, try to think positively. Think about all the great opportunities just waiting for you out there, and make sure to focus on the future, not the past.

Create a schedule

It will help you get through each day by creating schedule blocks fo time for job searching, otherwise you might feel overwhelmed. For example, you could decide to spend from 9am to 10am each day searching the internet for jobs, from 1pm to 2pm brain storming new ideas and contacting potential leads, and then from 2pm until 4pm writing resumes and applying for those jobs. Having a set schedule keeps you moving forward and looking towards the next thing you need to do.

Keeping to a schedule will also give you the feeling of purpose you lose when you don’t have a job to go to. So feel free to take the first few days to sleep in, get angry, eat ice cream, and maybe drink a beer (or two, or three), but after that? Get back to normal. You will feel more professional, confident, and willing to apply for jobs you deserve if you’re in the mindset to work.

Be selective with your resume

It may seem counterintuitive, but don’t spend your valuable time randomly applying for every job posting you see. I made that mistake once after finishing up a job contract. I was freaking out about not having a job, and I was so focused on finding employment as quickly as possible that I basically applied for every single job posting I found that was remotely related to my skill set. I ended up interviewing for positions well below my qualification level, in cities I would never dream of moving to, and for companies and industries I wasn’t even interested in.

Think of it as a way to reinvent yourself. Now’s your chance to try to break into a new industry, utilize those skills you weren’t able to use at your old job, or find an employer who has the work culture you’ve been craving.

Conserve your money

This is a no-brainer, but now is the time to be as frugal as possible and watch every penny. Making extra payments towards your debt is usually a good idea, but when you’re unemployed, you should only be paying the minimum on your debts in order to free up cash for other essentials. Do your research to see if you qualify for deferments on any loans, and contact your credit card companies to negotiate a lower interest rate if possible.

Start networking

Contact old colleagues by e-mail or through professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Try to get recommendation letters as soon as possible before you lose touch. Make a list of all your personal contacts, let friends and family know that you’re looking for a new career opportunity, and start making your rounds. Even if no potential job leads come from it, strengthening your connections with people in your industry is always a good thing, and might come in handy later in life.

Looking back, I can see now that being let go from my job was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. I know it’s easy to say that now, but make sure to keep that in mind when you’re looking for work. There’s a great job out there just waiting for you. Sure, you’ll lose some income and a bit of self-confidence, but what you will gain is the ability to refocus your career. You now have the time to decide what is most important to you in a job, what you liked and disliked in an employer, and the knowledge that eventually you will find a job that is more in tune with your lifestyle and your goals.

 What tips do you have for getting through unemployment?

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