After a decades-long career in tech marketing and product management, working in corporations large and small, generally interesting and wildly dysfunctional, a quick commute or a drag to get to, I hung my shingle out and decided to do freelance marketing communications work.
I was sick of managing, of politicking, of commuting. And I wanted to focus my work on the part of it I liked best: writing.
Sure, there were plenty of other things I'd rather have written about than how people use business applications or tech tools. Who wouldn't rather be Alice Munro or even Maureen Dowd? But if I were going to make a living at writing, it was certainly prudent to do what I knew I was good at, and that people would pay me to do.
So nearly twenty years ago, I decided to freelance.
While I say that I hung my shingle out, I never really did.
I never marketed myself or even had a website.
Mostly, I got the word out to a few former colleagues that I was around and about. And I had kiddingly always told the people in my group(s) that I hoped they'd all have successful careers so that they'd hire me when I wanted to get out of corporate. And that's what happened. I got hired (or introduced to their new companies) by folks who'd worked for me. And former peers, and an ex-boss or two, hired or recommended me. And, thus, I built a reasonably decent freelance writing career, doing everything from core positioning work to creating marketing plans to writing web copy, brochures, data sheets, customer stories, emails, ad copy, ebooks, white papers, contributed articles, blog posts, and tweets.
I can't say that I loved every minute, but there were certainly aspects of my work that I did love.
I loved figuring out how to talk about products, technology, and markets that were new to me. I loved that I mostly got things right, and that people really liked my work.
I loved knowing that, when it came to the sorts of marketing writing I did for tech companies, I've never come across anyone who did it any better.
I took a lot of pride in my work.
Some clients I only did one or two projects for. Others I was with for years/decades.
I didn't love all my clients, and a couple I ferociously disliked.
Firing a client can be exceedingly satisfactory, and one in particular - long story which I'll reserve for another time - I can still smile about when it comes to mind. At the time, after I'd told this ridiculous woman that I would finish up the project I was on but that was going to be it (here and no further), my husband told me, 'You know, she's going to come back and ask you to do more work for her.' And Jim was correct. A couple of months later, she had her assistant contact me and ask if I'd do another job. So I got the double satisfaction of telling her NO for a second time.
But mostly, I liked the folks I worked with, and as they changed companies, I often tagged along for the ride.
Over the course of those nearly twenty years, however, there have been only two companies that I could honestly say that I'd really have liked to work for.
And one, after more than a decade, has recently parted ways with me.
It's funny, I had regular, monthly work with them, but I'd been thinking of really winding down. But I liked the people, I liked the domain, I liked their customers. Working with them was easy.
I never raised my rates over the decade+ I worked with them, but the pay was still pretty decent. Over the years, my specialty for them had become helping to create "thought leader" blog posts published under the names of employees or their clients. And I had fun with it.
And I liked having the money.
While for many years I did actually make a living with my writing, pretty much since I hit my mid-sixties, I've been winding down.
I haven't taken on any new clients. Haven't contacted any old ones to see if they had any writing needs. I've turned down clients and projects that I wasn't all that interested in - including some that, a few years earlier, I would have jumped at.
So for the last couple of years, the money I've made with my freelance work has pretty much been "nice to have," not "have to have."
And that "nice to have's" been plenty nice. Travel, gifts, political and charitable donations, something I wanted but didn't actually need. I've been able to do whatever I've wanted - within reason, of course - without thinking twice or worrying about whether my retirement account is up or down. (Gulp!)
But for the last year or so, I've been giving more and more thought to closing up shop entirely, and taking down the shingle that never really went up.
I'm down to just a few clients. And two of them have been the only companies I ever would have considered working at.
And one of those is no more.
I hadn't done any work for them since last spring, but summertime is usually light, so I didn't really notice (or care).
Fall rolled around, and my contact person there - someone I generally enjoyed working with (smart, funny, really good at her job) - shot me an email saying that she would be setting up a meeting soon to go over some things and update me on what was going on in her shop. (From here on out, let's just call her Samantha. Which is, of course, not her name.)
I knew that Samantha had a new boss. He had emailed me over the summer, letting me know that he wanted to Zoom meet. But he never followed up on his initial outreach to me.
After over 40 years in the "space," none of this sounded all that promising. But whatever.
Then in early October, I went to login to my corporate account there - I've had one as a contractor since forever - and my credentials didn't work.
So I shot Samantha an email from my personal account and told her I was locked out, and that - although I didn't want my contracting days there to end quite yet (a white lie: I was getting to the point of not caring), I understood that they might be, and I just wanted to put a period at the end of a sentence.
Samantha got back to me right away, totally apologetic, and said that she thought my email address would be active through the remainder of the year. And that she had planned on talking with me soon. Then she said that, since I was asking so directly, the marketing department was going in a different direction. And I wouldn't be heading in that direction with them.
Well, no one likes to get fired, do they? The words "I quit" are a lot more satisfying. But having been on the giving and taking end of layoffs (and of letting contractors go), and having been involved in all sorts of reorgs and deorgs, I got it.
Earlier this week, Samantha and I met for lunch, and had a great time. She is the real deal and someone I enjoy, working with or just hanging with.
She briefed me on everything that was happening, including, sadly, the number of lay0ffs they'd had in her department. They let M go? Such a sweet person. Each year, for the department holiday party, she made boxes of cookies for everyone in the department, including the contractors. And they let K go? K is younger than I am, but not by all that much, and I'm pretty sure she wanted to hang in for a while longer. At her age, all she's going to run into is age discrimination. I thought of how talented she was at the detailed work that she did, how damned good she was at her job. There were other names on the list as well. Ugh.
The direction that the department was going with was pretty radical. In addition to laying personnel off, they had gotten rid of most of the contractors and agencies they'd been working with. They'd hung on to one freelancer, and they picked the right one to hang onto for the tasks they needed her for. (I would have made the same decision. I'm not going to say that this freelancer was a better writer than I am. I never thought she was. But she is a very good writer, and she has a particular genius for a certain type of writing that I am in absolute awe of.)
Anyway, all of a sudden, it looks like me career is almost over.
I have two clients. One is my original freelance client, and I write a blog for their company every two weeks. So, about two hours a month. (The work for the other company - the one that just gave me the boot - ranged from 10 to 30+ hours a month, probably averaging about 2o hours, so they've been my anchor tenant for a while.) I love the folks at my original freelance client company, and hope they keep using me. Until I just decide I'm ready to quit the game entirely.
The other remaining client, I haven't done any work for since the winter. They still have an open PO for more work this year, but, while I really like my contact at this company, I've never been all that interested in what the company does, and the projects have generally been boring. If they come back around, my answer is probably no thanks.
So, my brilliant career. It's almost over.
I'm still processing things, and it will take a while to really click in.
My volunteer work at present is pretty much at a fever pitch, so my being retired probably won't really seem real until January.
I guess there's no excuse now for not finishing up that novel...
But almost over. After all these years, it just seems weird to be so free of it all.
Meanwhile, do you suppose I should give myself a gold retirement watch?