I just read a guest post on Creative Freelancing touting the benefits of becoming a freelancer. Although much of what is said in the post is true, there’s a flip side to most of those things. To save aspiring new freelancers from disappointment, I thought a reality check might be in order.
1. Freelance freedom– The writer gives independence as one of the biggest benefits of freelancing. True, you do get rid of office politics, unnecessary meetings and so on, but the point about setting your schedules yourself simply isn’t true. Although you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, you have your clients breathing down your neck. Unlike your boss, the clients have the decisive vote on whether they will give you money or not. So, once you’ve agreed on what to deliver by when, you’d better stick to it. Failure to do so will have a lot graver consequences than your boss telling you off.
2. Liberty of choice and timings– Yes, you can decide which projects to accept and devote as much time to them as you like. Providing you have enough projects to do any choosing and clients who are willing to accept your schedules. The writer’s point about “enabling a professional to work anytime, anywhere” can easily turn into “forcing a professional to work anytime, anywhere”. Also, “full” control over projects, timelines and price is only a dream, in practice you play by your clients’ rules.
3. Cost effectiveness– It is absolutely true that because freelancers usually work from home, their daily expenses are lower. No commuting, no gas, no suits, no restaurant lunches. But, and it is a big but, working solo entails a number of costs a salaried employee has never had to worry about. Unless you want to learn accounting yourself, you need to hire an accountant. You need to get the necessary equipment to do your job (space, furniture, computer, software, office supplies). You need to build an online presence (website, at the very minimum), which takes either money or time. Before taking the jump, do some hard math.
4. Opportunities to make more money– The writer’s vision of putting your skills to worldwide use is, well, wishful thinking. Of course, you might hit pay dirt, but I would caution an aspiring freelancer against setting his or her hopes too high. Cultural differences are an efficient hindrance, unless you’re quick to grasp what moves your foreign audience—who probably doesn’t speak English. Social networking, given as a way of helping to earn “great profits”, take months, if not years, to cultivate before any financial benefit transpires. The online project forums he mentions are notorious for their rock-bottom fees.
5. Less pressure and work stress –The level of frustration and resultant stress is relatively very low in freelancing? Come on. If you don’t get assignments, you don’t get money. Let me assure you, an annoying boss is a minuscule problem in comparison with $200 on your bank account, your personal and business bills to pay, a family to feed and not a single job in sight for weeks.
6. No job risks –While the economic slowdown has indeed provided opportunities for freelancers, you’d be naïve to think there’s no job risk. Being employed, you may be fired, but you’ll probably have a safety net of unemployment benefits. Being independent, the moment you don’t earn, you don’t eat. Calculate the risk.
At the end of the post, the writer lists things a freelancer must pay attention to in order to succeed: stay up to date with latest technologies, trends, demands and the market, and invest in continuous learning. True. And you guessed it, all this takes more time and money.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a freelancer. There are many great aspects in being your own boss and carving out your own niche in business—but you need to consider whether you have the personal qualities to do it and how much uncertainty you’re prepared to handle. And you have your family to think of.