On paper, the freelance lifestyle is perfect. You have the ultimate freedom – from office location and working hours, to clients and projects. There are no bosses or holiday restrictions, and childcare is no longer a problem.
However, the reality of freelancing can be quite different. For some people, too much freedom can turn into a curse – freelancing requires a deceptive amount of discipline and regimen. There are a number of factors to consider before ditching the 9 to 5, from financial security to evaluating your skill set.
Many regular employees bemoan their work-life balance. However, for freelancers, the office door never truly closes. The lines between work and play can easily become blurred, particularly if you choose to work from home. Workaholics may find it difficult to switch off from their projects, and fully enjoy the evenings and weekends. On the other hand, a lack of motivation can soon lead to disaster – freelancers simply can’t afford to miss a deadline.
If you have to work from home, converting a shed or garage into a separate office space can help you to achieve some distance. If this is impractical, try to keep your work space in a spare room. Avoid working in your bedroom or living room at all costs – this set-up completely removes the work-life barrier, ultimately leading to anxiety and stress.
Learning New Skills
Freelancers typically have one or two areas of major expertise – such as graphic design or writing – which they use for client work. However, freelancing also involves a whole host of ‘hidden’ skills, many of which are likely to be unfamiliar.
Accounting is perhaps the most important of these skills. No longer guided by an expert HR department, freelancers must learn how to run an effective budget, invoice clients, and file tax returns. However, freelancers must also master other areas such as marketing, advertising, project management, and client negotiation.
Loss of Protection
Although restrictive in terms of hours and holiday, a salaried position provides a certain level of financial security. Without a regular payslip, freelancers are often forced to deal with stressful cash and workflow issues alone. Organisations like the Freelancer’s Union can provide some support and advice, but on the whole you will be handling difficult situations by yourself.
New and experienced freelancers alike are occasionally overambitious, taking on too many projects at once. In this case, it is possible – although frustrating – to pass work on to another freelancer. However, other situations can prove more difficult to resolve. For example, if a client refuses to pay, the ensuing costly legal battle could take months to reach a conclusion.
Consider your Cash Flow
Cash flow is often a significant problem for freelancers, particularly in the early days. Regular work can never be guaranteed, so you’ll need to build a financial safety net for slow periods. Ideally, you should be able to cover your rent payments for six months – although this is impossible for many people. Before handing in your notice at the office, you must decide on your rates, and calculate how much work you’ll actually need to do in order to pay the bills.
You may need to purchase new equipment before setting out on your freelance journey. Be honest when assessing the suitability of your current resources – working with unreliable tools can rapidly destroy productivity. It’s also worth bearing your health and travel habits in mind before taking the plunge – as a freelancer, you will no longer have access to sick pay or holiday allowances.
Office politics can be exhausting, and many people find themselves longing for a quiet space to work in. However, all but the most introverted of people can find the freelance lifestyle a little too quiet. Unless other family members also work from home, you could soon find yourself alone for ten hours a day. If you find yourself struggling to work without company, help is at hand. Take action, and join a local co-working organisation.
Freelancing is often seen as the perfect career choice for parents of young children. In theory, the freelance lifestyle combines unlimited free childcare with a steady income. However, this is a rose-tinted view of the profession. Many people find it impossible to concentrate on work when their children are around, and freelancing parents often resort to paid childcare for a few days a week.
Working as a freelancer can be both challenging and demanding. An irregular income, teamed with difficult clients, can lead to extreme levels of stress. However, the potential rewards are great – freelancers are blessed with ultimate flexibility. As with all career decisions, it’s important to thoroughly research and plan before taking the plunge.
Author: This post was written by Simon Markland. Simon is the director of VOOVit, providers of international shipping and excess baggage services.