By Jamie McAllister
Have you ever fantasized about striking out on your own as a freelancer? If so, you’re not alone. According to the annual survey Freelancing in America: 2016, 55 million Americans are freelancers, with an estimated combined earning power of $1 trillion a year. If you’re interested in freelancing, learn from three Coastal Virginians who have made the leap from employee to freelance business owner.
Writing for a Living
Ann Pietrangelo, 57, a freelance writer in Williamsburg, landed her first paid gig in 2007. “The minute I was paid to write, I was hooked,” she says. But at that time, she wasn’t ready to make the leap to full-time freelancing. In 2011, she decided to turn her part-time hobby into a full-time business. She scanned online job boards and also cold-pitched a blog idea. Others began to take notice of her work, and she netted three major long-term clients. Her focus now is health writing.
Being a freelancer means Pietrangelo schedules her days to suit her needs, not those of an employer. She also has more control over the work she takes on. And with adult children living in different states, she enjoys the flexibility of working wherever she wants.
But life as a freelancer comes with struggles, including the lack of employer-provided health benefits. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and having battled breast cancer, health insurance is at the forefront of Pietrangelo’s mind. “I worried about health insurance when I was working part time, and I worry about it still,” she says. “I’m very concerned about getting coverage because of my preexisting conditions and being able to access the medical care I need.”
Although Pietrangelo decides which projects she accepts, she admits she is still not in full control of her workload. “That’s the duality of a freelancer’s life,” she says. “I can’t count on set hours or a definite income. Some projects fall through, and that just comes with the territory.”
Her husband, Jim, is also a freelancer, so they both deal with the unpredictability of fluctuating incomes. In order to do the work they enjoy, they made the decision to cut down on expenses by downsizing to a small condo in Williamsburg and owning only one car.
“I could never have imagined myself as a freelancer when I was younger,” Pietrangelo says. “I just didn’t have the confidence. But now I accept and embrace being a freelancer. It’s who I am.”
Freedom and Family
Adrienne Palmiere, 46, a freelance web programmer in Virginia Beach, started telecommuting after her first child was born in 2000. In 2005, she began taking on side jobs. When it became too much for her to juggle both, she turned to freelancing full time. Now she offers an array of services, including web hosting, back-end programming and custom web applications.
A mother of three children, ages 16, 14 and 10, Palmiere can’t imagine ever going back to a 9 to 5 job. “I’m not in an office, constantly getting interrupted, so I can sit and get work done,” she says. “There’s no long commute and no endless meetings. If I don’t think something’s a good fit, I can pass. In an office, whatever the boss puts on your desk, you have to do it.”
The freedom to choose her projects comes with a price, though. “When you’re a freelancer, you wear all the hats,” Palmiere says. “I’m not an accountant, but I still have to handle billing, including chasing people down who don’t pay on time. There’s bad mixed in with all the good.”
When Palmiere’s children were younger, she started work at 4 a.m. Still a morning person, she now works from 5 to 7 each morning, puts the kids on the bus, works the rest of the day, and then returns to mom mode when the kids come home.
“You have to separate your work life from your home life,” she explains. “Some people think being a freelancer means you’re available 24/7. It doesn’t. You set up that expectation, and you have to establish your boundaries.”
Over the years, Palmiere has weathered the ups and downs of freelancing and has created a career she loves. “I wouldn’t go back in time to change anything,” she says.
Living the Dream
Corey Shelton, 35, is founder and owner of Lime Life Media, a digital marketing agency. The Virginia Beach resident identifies with the freelance lifestyle, but he doesn’t prefer the term freelancer, finding that the word entrepreneur fits better.
“In my experience, people’s reactions to the word ‘freelancer’ are mixed,” he says. “Different industries use the term differently, and a lot of people are confused about what the word really means.”
Like Palmiere, Shelton took on side jobs while still working a corporate job. He credits serendipity for the layoff in August 2016 that changed his life forever. “I was right in the middle of a life-altering moment,” he says. “I had poured blood, sweat and tears into the company, and I thought I would be there a long time. But everything changed in an instant.”
Shelton received a severance package, and he used that money to buy time while he assessed his options. In January 2017 he started his company, Lime Life Media, to provide digital solutions to businesses. So far, he has landed a handful of clients through referrals and relationships with other professionals.
Shelton constantly thinks about cash flow, and he puts in long hours, working anywhere from 10–14 hours a day, seven days a week. “It’s a lot of work,” he says, “but I’ve never been as excited and passionate as I am now.”