Being my own boss was something I always dreamed of, but never thought would actually happen. Flexible working hours, determining my own worth, and not being forced to conform on a daily basis certainly seemed appealing, so when I reached the point of wanting to change my career path I figured freelancing could be a good option. What no one told me, was that there are downsides to the freelance lifestyle, and although for me the positives have far outweighed the negatives, that may not be the case for everyone so I thought I’d share a bit of my experience and highlight a few of the things I wish I had known sooner.
FREELANCE LIFE: THE GOOD BITS
You get to dictate how you spend your time.
Bar a few exceptions, I haven’t had to set an alarm in nearly four years – a luxury I appreciate every single day! Not being woken up by a screeching clock and instead allowing myself to fall into my own natural routine really is a massive perk. And no, this doesn’t mean I sleep in ’til noon every day, I just know that I’m more productive in the afternoon so I mostly use my mornings for exercise and tidying up the house. Being an annoyingly organised / clean person means I find it incredibly difficult to focus if I’m surrounded by mess of any kind, so mornings are a good opportunity to sort that out.
Dictating your own time also means that, unless something is particularly pressing, you can decide to give yourself a day off if you’re just not feeling it – which definitely happens! These days I’ve learned to just go with it and not feel guilty about taking time out for myself.
You determine your worth.
Well, within reason of course. Understanding your industry and where your skill level fits can be tricky at first, but a bit of trial and error should see you arrive at an hourly / daily / whatever rate that works for both you and your clients. If you’re a newbie, you can probably expect to work for low rates or even for free as you build up a portfolio of work, then once you’ve gained experience and increased your skills, you can start to gradually increase your rates.
Your work will always be varied.
Personally, I can think of nothing worse than having to perform the same tasks over and over, day in, day out. I get bored easily, so working as a freelancer suits me perfectly. Working with a range of different clients in different industries allows me to learn and grow in my field, keeps my brain challenged, and my sanity in tact – for the most part.
You meet lots of interesting people.
Even if you suck at networking and avoid situations like meet-ups and communal work spaces, (which, by the way, I totally do), you will still be regularly exposed to people who would never have crossed your path otherwise. I tend to work with a combination of individuals and companies, and have met some wonderful people who have ended up becoming my most valued clients and even friends.
The days seem much longer and more productive.
When I first started working from home I was completely amazed at the amount of time there seemed to be in a day. Cutting out the morning and afternoon commute really does give back precious time, and as a bonus you save money on transport. Now I actually use that extra time in the morning to go to the gym – which is something I never ever did whilst working 9-5.
Another bonus (at least in my mind) is being able to get on top of household chores that would otherwise be left for the weekend – washing being a great example. Throw on a load, do some work, hang it out, back to work. Done.
You can work wherever you want.
Something I really should take advantage of more often is the ability to work from wherever you like. A change of scenery can be a great way to boost your creativity and motivation, plus you can grab a coffee and some fresh air at the same time.
FREELANCE LIFE: THE TOUGH STUFF
Ok, so by now you’re probably thinking freelance life is sounding pretty good. And it is! But there are downsides, just like with any other job. Read on…
Business development is super hard.
One thing – one major thing – that I failed to consider when I first started my business, was the evil-but-necessary sales component. And let me just say, I am really not good at sales. For one, I absolutely hate talking on the phone, as anyone who knows me personally will confirm. And two, because I am selling myself and not a physical product, I have in the past found it very difficult to talk up my services and sell them effectively. Thankfully, throughout my pre-freelance career I developed a network of lovely supportive people who have helped me through some difficult periods, and I’ve learned that a good network really is the key to success! I’ve also accepted that I’m never going to love sales, but at least I can get it done and the process doesn’t totally stress me out anymore.
You will definitely get lonely.
Ah yes, this one is my personal favourite. Basically, if I didn’t have a cat to keep me company I would have tossed myself off a bridge years ago. Yes, working by yourself is pretty awesome most of the time, but it would be nice on occasion to have someone to go to lunch with, or to bounce ideas off. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve written something and thought, “Is this a pile of complete and utter shit?”, and then had to send it to client anyway because I didn’t have anyone around to ask except the damn cat. So unless you have an abundance of friends with flexible schedules, you can expect to feel pretty lonely at times – particularly when you’re not very busy.
You will always be working.
Yes, it’s true, freelance life is definitely much more flexible that working a 9-5 job, but what this really means is that you will always be working, in some capacity or another. For example, whenever I meet someone new I automatically consider them as a potential client, and without even meaning to I try to find a way to steer the conversation in a direction that could benefit me, all without sounding like a salesperson. So before you know it all your social interactions have turned into business meetings. Yuck.
Even on days when you are not technically ‘working’ on a project, there is always something to be done: sending out invoices and following up outstanding payments, updating your website / social media / portfolio, looking for new clients to approach, checking job boards – the list goes on. If you’re working by yourself like me, you’ll have to wear many hats in order to get the job done, and that means spending several hours every week on unpaid tasks.
You need to be disciplined and very very organised.
Thankfully, these are areas in which I am quite naturally adept, so being organised and setting a routine for myself comes fairly easily. I have met, however, many people who tell me they simply couldn’t do it, that they would be too distracted and never get anything done. The only thing I can say to that is, if you’re really going to make a go of it, you need to pretend it’s just like any other job. Get up in the morning, get dressed and do what you gotta do, then make a list of everything you want to achieve that day and just make it happen. Having a dedicated workspace for when you’re at home will help as well, preferably away from the TV!
Your income is never consistent.
Unlike a nice, comfortable full time job, freelancing can be incredibly stressful when it comes to the topic of money. I used to completely freak out, cry and wonder what the hell I was doing wrong when the work / money dropped off, but these days I know that it’s all just part of the joys of working for yourself. There will always be ups and downs – over Christmas, for example – when your clients are away or quiet themselves, or sometimes regular clients just drop off once you’ve fulfilled their requirements. Sure, they might come back to you in the future, but if you’ve come to rely on one particular income stream, losing it suddenly can come as a nasty shock.
The real problem is, is that it’s nearly impossible to sell and deliver at the same time – you’re only one person after all – so there will always be times when you’ve been consumed by a large project, only to come up for air and realise that you’ve haven’t done any business development because you were busy and now you haven’t got any new work lined up.
And did I mention the lack of ‘benefits’? That’s right, no holiday pay, no sick leave, no long service leave, no nothing. You’re on your own kid.
The competition is rife.
Particularly in creative fields such as writing and design, there are literally hundreds of uni graduates out there willing to work for peanuts, people with years more experience than you, people who are specialists in their field, etc. etc. What you must always remember is, you are replaceable! You are not an employee, and your clients have little to no obligation to keep giving you work. So, what’s the best way to avoid being given the flick? Be honest and upfront about your rates and availability, do your best to deliver the highest quality work, and of course, be a nice human. No one wants to deal with a jerk.
So there you have it, some of the key pros and cons of freelance work. Of course, this is purely subjective and based on my own thoughts and experiences, but I hope I have provided some insight into a work structure that I am quite passionate about, and given you some food for thought if you are considering taking the plunge into the world of freelancing.