The best and worst things about life as a freelancer

There are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to the life of a freelancer. Here are the realities of the best and worst things about the freelance life.

When you work for yourself, your salaried friends may assume that you’re leading a charmed life. They may envisage you enjoying a lazy morning with a leisurely breakfast while commuters scramble to work.

They may assume that because you don’t have to content with the rigours of rush hour traffic or the demands of a passive aggressive boss and the tedium of workplace politics that your life is without stress.

But while freelancers do, in many ways, lead a charmed life with the kind of freedom that most salaried employees can only dream of, their working lives are far from charmed. Indeed, freelancers experience a unique set of stressors from which their office-bound counterparts are completely insulated. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the best and worst things about life as a freelancer. Perhaps you’re thinking of pursuing this wonderful career and want to start out with your eyes wide open. Or maybe you’re a nascent freelancer who just wants some reassurance that their current state of affairs is normal.

Hopefully this post will be both illuminating in its insights and uncompromising in its truths… 

Best: You can start freelancing before you quit your dayjob

One of the best things about freelancing (especially if you’re still on the fence about whether or not it’s for you) is that you can start doing it straight away. You don’t even have to quit your day job. Or, if you’re a student, you can start freelancing while you’re still at university.

You can invest some of your free time into familiarising yourself with the online platforms where freelance work is found. These include PeoplePerHour, Upwork, Fiverr, FlexJobs and many, many more. Freelancers can use these platforms to meet prospective clients and bid on work from around the world.

These platforms also allow freelancers autonomy over how much they can charge for their services. Remember not to fall into the trap of under-charging for your services or trying to undercut competing freelancers on price.

This can get your freelancing career on the permanent back foot. You won’t want to risk alienating your clients by increasing your clients, but your effort to income ratios will always be off kilter. Click here to see how much you should be charging as a freelancer. 

You can also start to build your presence on social platforms. LinkedIn is the big one, of course, but you may be surprised by how many opportunities there on Twitter.

Worst: You’ll never enjoy true job security

Freelancing affords you amazing freedom and autonomy. And once you establish a strong network of clients, you’ll find that you have enough work to keep you ticking over.

That said, you’ll never enjoy true job security. Even loyal clients may abandon ship when their circumstances and income change and they can no longer afford you.

Many freelancers in the current climate, for instance, have lost clients who have gone under, or at the very least have had to accept a significant reduction in the amount of work they can take on. What’s more, you’re responsible for sorting out your own tax and pension.

Before you start life as a freelancer, you may want to think about some of the things that you could have been taking for granted as a salaried worker. 

Best: Tea breaks whenever you want them

In all fairness, this has the potential to be one of the worst, too. Especially when your brain refuses to engage with your work until its cogs and gears are properly lubricated by a steaming hot cuppa and a biscuit.

Sure, we have no shortage of trendy coffee bars in the UK as well as the usual gamut of American franchised coffee shops, but the tea break is one of those quintessentially British things that should be cherished and protected.

There was a time when all industries ground to a halt so that workers could enjoy their tea break. But as we move further and further towards the American model of the working day, time is money and we’ve stopped taking these meaningful breaks.

However, studies show that meaningful breaks are not only good for our wellbeing, they can actually improve productivity.  

As freelancers, we have to go through some trial and error as we master the balance between taking a break to put our minds on ice and sheer procrastination.

Nonetheless, the institution of the British tea break is a proud part of our woking tradition, and in a world where employers count every second when we’re off the clock, freelancers could be one of the last bastions of the tea break. 

Worst: You’re completely responsible for your own productivity

Lots of freelancers pursue this career path because they hate the notion of a boss constantly checking up on them and monitoring their productivity. Nonetheless, when you start out as a freelancer, you may be surprised by just how much you miss your boss. 

When you’re responsible for your own productivity it can be harder to stay calm when the hours seem to trickle away like minutes and your deadlines get closer and scarier. Panic, however, will only slow you down, leading to incredibly long and stressful working days. 

It’s important to end every day by planning the next in advance. By all means change your schedule if events or client needs dictate it, but you need to have a carefully planned schedule broken into increments to which discrete tasks are dedicated.

Keep in mind that planning your day also means scheduling the kind of meaningful breaks that will allow you to recharge your mind and prevent exhaustion from sapping your productivity. 

If you simply sit at your laptop in the morning and plough on through until the late afternoon, you’re probably not going to be able to sustain peak productivity. It will only be a matter of time before distraction and frustration set in. Again, this can lead to long and highly stressful working days.  

Best: You can plan your working life around the things that matter to you

One of the most frustrating things about working for an employer is that you have to plan your life around their needs. Freelancers, on the other hand, can plan their working schedules around what matters the most to them.

Decide you need a holiday? You can take one whenever you want without having to clear it with your boss or make sure that nobody else in your department will be off on the same day. Just make sure you compensate for the lost income while you’re unable to work. 

But while you may need to box clever about when you take time off, and how much you need never miss your daughter’s football game or your son’s school play. You’ll be able to look after your spouse of they fall ill and manage your work and your family commitments much more dexterously than most. 

Worst: You have to develop a certain mindset to work effectively from home

Finally, many freelancers work from a shared business facility on a “hot desking” basis, while others work from rented offices.

However, those who want to keep a close eye on their overhead costs will at least start out working from home. And the home environment is littered with all kinds of distractions.

From the household chores that become surprisingly compelling when boredom and creative block set in, to the ever-present allure of the sofa and TV. It may take you some time to develop the mindset and discipline that allow you to work effectively from home. 

Of course, the good news is that you can always take your laptop with you to your local library, or even your favourite coffee shop if you feel like a change of scenery!

Photo by Drew Taylor