I’m going to try and write a weekly post each Friday about what it’s like to be a freelancer! This is something that I find a lot of people are curious about, and there’s a lot of incorrect assumptions out there. If you have any questions for me on freelancing, leave a comment here or on Formspring.
So last week I wrote about the Good Stuff – but don’t get too excited yet, freelancing isn’t all peachy and working in pajamas.
The problem with setting your own schedule is that something tends to get a bit lost with work-life balance. Many freelancers either work ridiculous hours and never have time to enjoy their rewards, or procrastinate and don’t work enough to get by or achieve deadlines. Most other self-employed people I’ve spoken to run towards the former (or at least they say they do); I have to admit that I tend to struggle sometimes with the latter. It takes a lot of discipline to get the work done but still make sure you have time for other important things in life too. This is the reason that freelancing doesn’t suit everyone – not everyone has the discipline to ensure a good balance. I’ve found that working in a shared office is a big help with the procrastination that can happen when working at home.
Unless you have the cash to outsource the bits you don’t want to do to other people, as a freelancer you are the entire business. You aren’t just what’s on your business card – you’re also your own marketer, accounts manager, bookkeeper, customer support, project manager, and other roles that would have been taken care of by someone else as an employee. If you don’t have any training or interest in these aspects of running a business, this can be tricky. Personally I hate doing anything akin to admin, and really have to force myself to get on with it. It helps to find tools and tricks to do these less fun tasks as quickly as possible so you can get on with what you do best. If you can afford and justify it, outsource!
If you work alone, especially if you work alone at home, it gets very very lonely. It helps to be comfortable with your own company, but it’s easy to get to a point where you haven’t left the house at all in days. You really do have to force yourself to get some kind of regular human interaction (and no, Twitter and Facebook help but don’t completely count). I’ve found that doing classes that force you to leave the home/office, meeting up with friends regularly and getting involved in the web industry (or whatever your industry) community helpful.
If you’re working insane amounts or end up not leaving the house for ages, it’s likely you’re not getting enough exercise. It’s easy to forget how important health is when there’s heaps of work to do, but as a freelancer it’s more important than ever. Why? Because there is no sick leave. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid, simple as that. A long-term injury or illness can easily leave you with no income. It’s much easier to take care of your health to begin with rather than trying to fix it later.
This is something that a lot of people struggle with, particularly if they’re shy or not particularly good at marketing themselves. It’s not something that you need to learn as an employee, and as far as I’ve seen it isn’t something that’s taught in schools or universities. If you’re not a natural, you have to learn quickly – or end up with nothing to do and nothing to eat. Sometimes even if you’re doing everything right it can still be hard to find work – the economy, location and trends all play a role. Once you have a bit of momentum and few jobs under your belt, word-of-mouth is a huge help. But getting there certainly isn’t easy!
Following on from the above, until you really get going there isn’t a huge amount of job security. It can make things really hard to plan in advance – do you really know you’ll have enough money for that big holiday? – and hard to get any kind of loan. I imagine it’s particularly difficult to do if you have children or other dependents. This is why I’ve chosen to start my freelancing career fairly early, even thought it was a bit of a jump – I’m hoping that things will get more and more stable over the years and I’ll eventually be able to safely commit to buying a property and think about having kids. It does get better as you get better at running a business, but you do always have to be on your toes and have a bit of a cash safety net waiting in case the worst-case scenario happens.
But don’t fret
With some planning, discipline and a bit of luck freelancing can be doable – and worth it! I’m still at it and don’t plan on giving up any time soon.