Wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of going freelance are? Well, I've been working freelance in digital marketing for the past two years, and while this way of working has lots of great elements, there are some tough parts too.
If you're thinking about taking the plunge, here's an honest guide to some of the pros and cons of being a freelancer - from the joys of flexible working to struggles with lack of structure.
One of the great things about being freelance is that you make your own schedule. For me, this often means starting later in the day and finishing later, because I know that I’m much more productive in the late afternoon and the evening than I am in the morning.
If you want to free up some time in your week, it may just be a case of working longer hours over fewer days – get more done today and perhaps you can take some time off tomorrow. If you get it right, your work can fit around your life rather than the other way round.
Fancy going on holiday? No problem, and no need to give your boss a certain amount of warning. Shift your hours around a bit or pause your projects for a while and you can head off when you choose.
Oh and if you need to pop to the post office, go to the bank or do a supermarket shop, you can pick a time when everyone else is at work, and smugly avoid the lunch hour or post-6pm queues.
While flexibility is one of the biggest plusses of freelancing, loneliness has to be one of the most obvious downsides, and it’s something that every budding freelancer should be prepared for.
Working from home or in a series of different offices can be isolating, and you may find yourself missing your colleagues more than you expect.
You may be able to improve things by spending some days in your clients’ offices, finding a local co-working space, or banding together with other freelance friends.
If you’re used to a regular paycheck hitting your account every month, the patchier income of a freelancer may take some getting used to. Hopefully you’ll command a higher hourly rate than you would as an employee, but freelancing involves a certain amount of “feast and famine”, so it’s a good idea to save what cash you can during the good times.
Also remember that you don’t get paid for sickness or holiday, and that you need to submit invoices (and chase unpaid invoices) to get money in the bank.
The flipside of flexibility is that your days are unstructured and it’s up to you to give them some shape. If you don’t have to be in the office at 9am and your deadlines are somewhere in the distant future, you need to make your own schedule and stick to it, or you could find yourself getting lost and lacking focus.
Remember how it feels to be the new person at a company? Well you’ll be experiencing it a lot while you’re freelancing. Be prepared for some awkward moments in the lift and at the water cooler as you try to explain who you are and why you’re there.
On the plus side, you’ll become a pro at quickly figuring out how the coffee machine works, and a master of small talk. Plus, you’re unlikely to become embroiled in office politics.
It’s not so easy to have an off day when you’re a freelancer. Clients will need you for a particular project or because they lack in-house resource, so you’ll need to be ready to quickly interpret the information you’re given, get to grips with the brand, and produce results, often from a standing start.
It’s up to you to sell yourself, set your rates and pitch your skills, so it’s also up to you to upgrade your job title or increase your pay.
As a freelancer, career progression isn’t as clear as it is for employees, and there’s no boss to offer you a promotion or pay rise for doing a good job. That doesn’t mean that your career can’t progress though: if you think you’ve moved up a level in terms of skills and experience, reflect this in how you sell yourself.
Sometimes “being a freelancer” gets interpreted as “not really having a job”. You may find that if a friend has a day off, an old mate is visiting from abroad, or a family member needs help with something on a weekday, you’ll get the call.
This can be lovely, but if you have lots of work to do it can also be difficult. Set expectations at the beginning so that your loved ones don’t expect you to be ever-ready to hang out during working hours.
There's quite a lot of paperwork to face when you're a freelancer. You need to prepare quotes, issue invoices and keep track of your expenses. Oh and you'll need to complete your own tax return, or run the risk of needing to use one of these terrible tax return excuses.
You may also want to take out a freelancer insurance policy to protect you if you face a compensation claim.
These are all things you don't have to think about as an employee, so make time in your schedule to keep on top of the admin and make sure you understand the rules and remember the deadlines.
Lack of structure and stability can make freelancing emotionally exhausting, but the flexibility and variety you gain can make life richer and work more rewarding.
Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get it right – it takes time to build up a client base, a freelance reputation, and a regular flow of work. One of the most predictable things about going freelance is unpredictability, but while you’re experiencing the ups and downs of freelance life, try to enjoy the ride.
Are you a freelancer? Do these 11 experiences ring true? Let us know below.
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22 March 2017 • 3-minute read
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