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The Life of an Independent Professional or Freelancer

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Is the life of an independent professional or freelancer as great as it is cracked up to be? Yes. Even greater. Once a basic living is obtained in anyone's career, it is really the lifestyle or quality of life, not the money that produces the best rewards. Here is a general description of what my life has been like in the last twenty years.

In spite of the accommodating arrangement with my friend, I left his office after four months and found one of my own. Sharing an office was too distracting for me. I discovered that office space in any city is a faddish thing. There is always one section of downtown that is very in and stylish. It is the area that affords the most "image." It is, naturally, the highest rent area. It has the most expensive restaurants, shops, and clubs. On the opposite end of the scale is the slum area of town. In between is the somewhat transient area from which most people are moving - either "up" or "down." This middle area has not yet acquired a bad reputation, because some very notable people and firms are still there. The buildings are well maintained. The neighborhood restaurants have good and moderately priced food. But, amazingly, the rents are not midway between the chic and the downtrodden areas. To be more specific, at that time, office space in a brand new building in the fashionable end of town cost $10 per square foot. The slum area cost $2 per square foot. I found an office in a very old, but very gracious building for $3 per square foot. For one hundred dollars a month I had a spacious, sunny, airy room measuring twenty feet by twenty feet. I had a real working wood-burning fireplace, free utilities, and free nightly char service. This was an elevator building in the heart of town. Because I was willing to sign a lease for more than a year, the landlord restored the woodwork, painted completely, and tore down a wall that had halved the space. He even allowed my dog to keep me company in the office.

I brought an old but serviceable typewriter from home, as well as a desk, a sofa, and two chairs. The library table, typewriter table, and desk chair I purchased from Goodwill Industries. I had the floor carpeted wall to wall, bought a new air conditioner, and installed a small refrigerator. My entire cash outlay was $659.1 had and used all of the same equipment for ten years.



I splurged in only one area. I retained the best and most expensive answering service in the city. I knew that I would be keeping irregular office hours. Each and every phone call could have been of vital importance to me at that time, having made so many contacts and dropped so many calling cards. It was imperative that each call be answered promptly, efficiently, knowledgeably, and accurately.

A word here about answering services. They can be as good or as bad as you make them. In short order, the man or woman on your switchboard will know enough to answer as though he or she is indeed your personal secretary. But, just as in a regular office set-up, she will react according to how you, her boss, treat her. I have always made it a point to personally visit the service every six months so that the man or woman sees a face to go with the voice. He or she identifies more readily with my situation that way. If she errs or is neglectful, I always report this to the supervisor. This way she stays on her toes with the full realization that I don't accept laxity on my phone, especially at the premium prices they are charging. When she leaves that employ or is promoted, I repeat the process with the new person assigned to me. Of course, when your answerer goes to the wash room, is out sick, goes to lunch or on vacation, the situation is usually hopeless with the temporary replacement, and there is nothing you can do about it. By and large, I have found the telephone answering service to be of enormous assistance at a minimal cost. The next important thing I did was to have the sign painter write on the door below my name "By Appointment Only." This was of tremendous importance to me. First, it kept away most solicitors. Second, it informed anyone who might be upset by the office being closed and dark in the middle of the day, that this was the normal way of my doing business and that there was no cause for concern. Third, I was now free to come and go as I pleased without fear or worry that I might miss an important visit or phone call.

This freedom I keep talking about was (and is) extremely vital to me. It was the keystone of my new existence. It marked the difference between my old life and my new one. It is also something that most people don't handle too well after half a lifetime of structure and stricture. I took to it like a duck to water, as I always knew I would.

Not sharing the office with anyone gave me the freedom to act any way I pleased. It also gave me the luxury of solitude when I required it. Not having a secretary or paying a high rent gave me the financial freedom of turning away a few clients who were obnoxious. I never once felt that I was sacrificing "image" for this freedom. No one ever asked "What kind of a two-bit operation are you running there without a secretary?" Organizational clients always have me come to them; the meetings are always on their premises. Individual clients have always found my office peaceful, relaxing, charming, and conducive to good discussion. But most important, I like to work there.

The average consultant could accomplish many times the work in a fraction of the time, and do it better. The primary reason and condition for this is an atmosphere that allows for absolutely no interruptions. Total clarity of thought is a consultant's major asset. No one can think clearly if constantly interrupted. The average working person is besieged all day long with unexpected visitors, unexpected meetings, requests for immediate reports or action, salespeople, etc. Then there are the endless obtrusive phone calls. Imagine, if you can, shutting all of this off. Just like that! I did. In any two-hour uninterrupted period, I accomplish as much as I did formerly in an eight-hour day. And so can you. We all can. When I don't want phone calls, I simply don't pick up. The answering service has no way of knowing whether I'm in or not. A secretary in the office does know, and the caller can tell by her uneasiness when she has to lie about it.

For other reasons, at that time, I didn't need a secretary. I can hunt and peck accurately on a typewriter at thirty-five words per minute. As for bookkeeping, that required about fifteen minutes a week, once my accountant set it up. Certainly the sending of three invoices a month, the recording of those payments and the accurate detailing of my expenses didn't need another person. I was still in the initial stages. Later, I hired assistance, but that's further on in the story.

It is important that I work in an atmosphere that is most comfortable for me at the time. So, if I don't feel like being in the office, I work at home, and vice versa. All of my contacts are contained in a Wheeldex file; I keep a duplicate of this file at home. I have a telephone at home as well as a typewriter. Since my primary piece of equipment is my brain, I will, on beautiful sunny days, haul the equipment out to the park and work there. I work on planes, on trains, and in vacation resorts. I work in airports, the doctor's waiting room, and in reception areas of prospective clients. I have done some of the most creative thinking for my clients on long walks or behind the wheel on long, boring turnpikes.

I always work at my own pace, that is, when I please and as I please. When I embarked on a consulting career I was excitedly aware that my whole life would change. I knew that this life would be unorthodox, and I welcomed it. Like the song says, "Been down so long, it looked like up to me." Well, why do things by half measures? If I was no longer a rat in the rat race, why behave like I was still in the maze with the rest of the rats? Why work five days a week and take weekends off? Why work nine to five? Why go to the stores on Thursday nights and Saturdays with the crowds? Why take off on holidays? Why hit the road when everyone else does? Why get all my sleep at night? I certainly wouldn't be hurting anyone by answering the needs of my circadian rhythms. And I could accomplish much more, for myself and for my clients. That is what I did. My new set-up accommodated it very well.

If I can't sleep some nights because my brain won't turn off, I work then and there at home. I have a need to "get away" at least once a month for a few days. Usually this is taken care of by business trips. I have no need for complete leisure since the joy of my vocation has made it my avocation. If business doesn't take me away, I'll take off for a few days anyhow anywhere. I avoid the waste of rush hours by keeping non-rush-hour schedules. I never have appointment conflicts; I don't have that many appointments.

Up to twenty years ago, I was an untraveled person. I simply couldn't afford it. Since then, my work has taken me to large cities and small towns from coast to coast as well as to Europe - all paid for by my clients.

This whole new life seemed idyllic to me at the beginning. Although I don't take it for granted now and still appreciate and enjoy every moment of it, it seems quite normal to me today. It appears very abnormal to those acquaintances in my town who see me come and go and who wonder what on earth I do for a living.
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