Just about everyone fantasizes about freelancing at some point.
When the daily grind is wearing you down and the stress of office culture is driving you crazy, you start to wonder what a career with no strings actually looks like.
Here’s the honest truth: it’s great. Also, it’s terrible. Sometimes it’s just okay.
Just like anything else in life.
More than anything, freelancing is a mixed bag. The lack of structure can be freeing, frustrating, and confounding.
The sense of agency can be empowering and terrifying at the same time. You can wake up some days feeling like a giant and go to bed feeling like a mouse – and vice versa.
I’ve been a full-time freelancer for several years now. Here’s the honest truth about freelancing. The best parts and the worst parts.
Having more flexibility in my workday is the best part of freelancing. At any point in a day, my husband and I can go for a hike, drive to Costco, or catch a movie. As long as I’m caught up on work, I’ll say yes.
Working for yourself allows for more freedom than any other job. You can take off as much time as you want and work when you need to. Many freelancers choose to work while they’re traveling, so they can stay longer and travel more often.
“Last year I was able to live in Chicago and Ann Arbor for a little over a month, and I plan to be away for two months this summer,” said freelance writer Jackie Lam of Cheapsters.
A few months ago, my husband and I got a puppy. We already had a dog – a lazy Beagle mix who mostly slept all day – but our new puppy needed lots of exercise and constant attention. The other day I realized that if one of us wasn’t working at home, we wouldn’t have been able to properly care for her. I can’t imagine not having Naga in my life. Freelancing made that happen.
Freelancing also lets you choose projects based on what you care about, not what your boss wants you to do. Valerie Rind, the author of “Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads,” said freelance writing gives her the chance to stretch her limits and learn more about an issue she’s interested in.
“Instead of writing about the same topic, I try to accept assignments even if I don’t know much (or anything) about the subject matter,” she said.
Most of the time, for me at least, the truth about freelancing is that it’s awesome. But there are times it’s not super-great. And you need to know that before you ditch your job and jump into the world of freelancing.
Most employees get paid every two weeks. No matter how well their company is doing, they still see a regular paycheck.
Not so for freelancers. How much you earn is dependent on not only how hard you work, but also on factors outside of your control. A client goes on vacation for a month and doesn’t need your services? You’re the one who has to scramble for work. Need surgery and can’t work for a few weeks? You’ll have to cover your own expenses.
Plus, the work is variable. Unless you have a steady stream of clients, freelancing can swing from feast to famine very quickly. One month you’ll earn more than you ever have, the next you’ll be living off of your emergency fund.
“Freelancing can test your character for sure,” said writer Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt. “The good times can have you feeling on top of the world, and the low times can have you questioning everything in your life.”
When I receive a lot of edits from a picky client or get all my carefully crafted pitches denied, I start thinking, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” Pushing through those rough times requires more mental fortitude than I ever needed in a day job.
Here they come. The things you really need to know about freelancing before you get started.
When you work for yourself, there’s no one else there to give you encouragement, praise, or guidance. There’s no annual review where you can find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve. It’s just you.
“If you want to grow, you have to push yourself,” Lam said. “No boss is going to hand you a raise or give you a promotion.”
One of the worst aspects of freelancing is chasing down vendors who pay late. Once, I waited five months for a client to pay a $3,800 invoice.
When I reached out to my contact, he told me the company had shut down. I had to call all over the place to get someone to write me a check. Some clients also balk at my late fee, even when I’ve been waiting two months to get paid.
Another pet peeve is working by myself. I miss having co-workers to talk to when I need a break or a boss to bounce ideas off. I do work with my husband, but he prefers solitude when working. I’m an extrovert, and it took me a few months to get used to being inside my house all day.
Are you ready to freelance?
There’s no doubt I love freelancing. This has been a great lifestyle for me. And it might work for you, too. But before you dive in, it’s good to know the truth about freelancing so you aren’t taken off guard by some of the challenges.