The Freelance Parent team challenged us to a debate about the costs of freelancing. We launched into the discussion happily – who can resist a challenge, especially when you have different views?
They began their debate with the stance that less than $500 gets you started off in freelancing. In fact, Lorna and Tamara’s start-up costs rang in at much less than that amount. We responded by listing most of the start-up costs that we feel freelancers leave out of the picture.
Then something interesting happened. The Freelance Parent team posted their thoughts about our post – and revealed details that show starting up might not be that cheap after all.
Disclaimer: The following contains a little bit of my background and how I began freelancing online. It’s old, it’s been said before and most of you know it. I am totally not looking for pity, so please don’t leave comments that start with, “Aw, James…”
Besides. I have way more touching stories up my sleeve.
Lorna and Tamara come from what I consider a privileged situation. Both had partners, and both those partners provided family income while the girls started their business.
Lorna writes, “One of the reasons that we have been able to start and run our business for so little is because we both have spouses that work. Neither one of us needed to make enough income to pay the mortgage, buy the groceries, or (as several of you mentioned) pay for health insurance.”
That’s great! But a happy family with dual incomes isn’t the reality for everyone.
When I began my ventures online, I was single, facing a layoff and a long, damned cold Canadian winter. I had rent to pay, two children to feed and a nearly empty bank account. I rationed food. I didn’t know how I’d pay for heating that year. I even had a welfare application filled out and signed.
There are many other people who are in that same situation, or even worse. I had income that allowed me to sort of get by. I know many people that don’t. They have less than $500 and they can’t start a business, because they just don’t have enough money to do it.
Lorna and Tamara were privileged, too: “We were already online with the fast connections and had computers before we started this whole freelancing thing. In fact, that was part of helped us to make the decision to start our business. If we’d each needed to go out and buy a computer, desk, chair, etc, we would absolutely not be here right now.” They even already had personal cellphones.
Many comments we’ve read in the debate so far mentioned that “everyone” has a computer and that we “all” have internet connections and that the world all over is online. This is (sorry to say it) ignorance at its best. Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone has internet connections. Not everyone lives in an affluent country with technology at their fingertips.
Even when you do live in an affluent country, you may be one of the damned broke. And when you’re broke, the internet connection is one of the first luxuries to go.
I’ll admit I had an internet connection when I began online. I also had a 10-year old computer. It died – and I had to borrow money from my mother to buy another. Had I not had a lender available, I wouldn’t have had a computer at all. Even the used ones at the computer recycling shop would have been out of my financial reach.
I know many, many people who don’t have computers at home or who are still on dial-up connection (not by choice). Not everyone is in a good financial position, with support, friends, help and people who back their ventures.
Some people are desperate. Really desperate. To forget that others are not as fortunate as we are is sad indeed.
Is it possible to launch a business with next to nothing? Absolutely. RL David dropped a comment in our blog describing how she built her computer out of free parts, split on ‘net connections and phone lines, and basically showed how people with smarts, skills and connections could survive on almost nothing.
Maybe smarts, skills and support are the necessities of start-up costs, then. But that excludes people who don’t have skills, don’t have support and honestly can’t think of a way out of their bad situation. There are tons of those people, and I include myself in that group from time to time.
So let’s jump on the other side. Let’s say that, alright, we build our computer, share a ‘net connection or visit the library and launch ourselves into business. We’ve done it! It’s cheap, it’s good, and we’re making money!
From day one? Not damned likely.
That’s another point the Freelance Parent team brought up. Lorna wrote, “We definitely had time on our side, and that means that we’ve been able to grow our business over the last 14 months without having to constantly be worried about having our electricity shut off.”
That mental stress and very real worry was mine for quite some time, that first year. For weeks, all I made online was enough money to have a Happy Meal once a week. One meal. For one person. Once a week.
We were a family of three.
I didn’t know where to look for work or how to get it. I was clueless to the online business world, and didn’t know a damned thing about bidding sites, Craigslist or job feeds. Had I not had any income at all during my startup period, I would have literally starved to death with my kids in a cold apartment in January.
The good thing about my situation? I didn’t have a damned thing to lose and everything to gain.
Do I still worry about the electricity being shut off? You bet. I always will, no matter how well the business is doing, because there are never any guarantees in the freelancing world. There aren’t guarantees in traditional business either, I suppose. It’s a moot point.
The interesting thing is that I suppose my post has demonstrated that the Freelance Parent team is right. Anyone can start from nothing, because I have, and I’ve built a six-figure business that provides for many people.
Do I still stand on my side that there are no costs to starting out in freelancing? Absolutely. Having done it the hard way on my own, I know first-hand the costs involved, and I’ll be the last person in the world to tell people it’s easy or cheap.
I’ll be the last person in the world to say that everyone should take a leap of faith without a safety net to catch them. I’m glad that Lorna and Tamara had that safety net handy.
We’ve determined (all four of us) that it’s possible (but not preferable) to start a freelancing business on less than $500. (Hell, I started mine in debt.) So here’s a question I’ll toss out to the comment section and to the Freelance Parent team:
If you had less than $500 in your pocket with no partner, no financial backup and no other income in sight, what would you do? Would you hit local stores? Would you sell some gadgets? Or would you freelance?