The Good, the Bad and the Ugly About Freelance Work

2017 October 13
5 min read

Freelance Work: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So, you want to be a freelancer? You want to work when and where you want and make a fortune doing so. Not so fast. The world of freelancing is like the Wild West, where striking gold isn’t a sure bet.

Maybe you are considering quitting your desk job to go out on your own. Perhaps you’re a student looking to add income to part-time freelance work. Whatever your reason, take a hard look at what you’re getting yourself in to. 

Take it from someone who has explored both sides of the corporate and self-employment spectrum; there are advantages and disadvantages of freelancing.

Anybody can become a freelancer, but it isn’t for everyone. This post is intended to help you decide whether it’s a good fit for you. So, here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of freelance work.

The Good of Freelance Working

Personal Freedom

The most obvious difference between working for yourself versus working for someone else is the flexibility that comes with it. As a freelancer, you set your hours, giving you the opportunity to achieve greater work-life balance.

Many people speak of the “daily grind” and how it drains their energy and leaves little time for personal pursuits. After a long day at the office, combined with a sometimes-lengthy commute, they are less likely to take the time to cook for themselves or exercise.

Freelancing can help you live a healthier lifestyle because it allows you to structure your day as you wish. If you want to take a two-hour break at 10 a.m. so that you can go for a run, you can. Your work environment is also flexible, which means that your office can be mobile, allowing you to travel and work remotely from anywhere in the world.

Skills Development

A prerequisite of freelancing is that you have a specific skill that is in high enough demand that somebody will pay you for it. Your skill level will directly influence your ability to attract clients and make a living. This is a strong motivator to hone your craft further every single day, and even add complementary skills that might appeal to clients.

Working with clients across different industries or sectors is also a tremendous learning opportunity. And, as an entrepreneur, you will develop various other skills associated with running your own business, such as networking to find new clients. 

Financial Benefit

It’s true. Successful freelancers earn top-dollar for their services. In fact, it’s common for freelancers to charge hourly rates that are double or triple what they would make as a full-time employee. 

Freelancers can command higher rates because of the flexible nature of the relationship and the fact that many projects are short-term – though not always. Clients are also willing to pay more when they need a specific skill set or expertise that they don’t have in-house.

There are also several potential tax advantages that come with freelancing. These benefits vary by country, but, in general, freelancers can use business expenses – software purchases, travel to client meetings, etc. – to reduce their overall tax burden on income.

The Bad of Freelancing Work

Fierce Competition

You aren’t the only one who wants a lucrative and flexible career. There are millions of freelancers out there that you need to compete against. And your competition is global: the emergence of online freelancing sites that connect organizations to independent designers, writers, computer programmers, etc., means companies can look beyond their localities for the help they need. 

The intense competition places a premium on specialization. If you want to attract new clients and demand high rates, you need to prove that you offer something others can’t. Industry-specific knowledge or niche competencies might be the only way to do that. In either case, competition amongst freelancers can undermine your ability to diversify your offering.

Goodbye Benefits Package

Holiday pay, nope. Sick pay, nope. Dental coverage, nope. You get the idea. These benefits are for formal employees, not freelancers. Of course, as a self-employed person you can apply for additional insurance that helps reduce the cost of these benefits, but, in one way or another, you’ll need to pay for them.

Of course, there are other benefits that you pass up when you choose the freelancer’s lifestyle. The office is as much a place for social encounters as it is a place of work. Chatting around the proverbial water cooler isn’t a part of the freelancer’s workday. Nor is being able to turn to the person working next to you to ask for advice.

The Ugly of Freelancing Work

Administrative Headache

Practicing your craft is only a portion of the freelancer’s workload. No business can run without administration. Mundane tasks like invoicing, tracking down payments and legal matters (e.g., registering your business) all come with the territory, eating up time that could be spent doing billable work for clients. 

Then there’s tax season, which can be particularly worrisome if you haven’t been keeping track of your revenues and expenses throughout the year. (Important tip: there are lots of special tax conditions that apply to self-employed people, so seek the advice of an accountant if you are unsure about how they might apply to you).  

Emotional Rollercoaster

A lot of people want peace of mind from their job: getting a steady paycheck for a predictable series of tasks. The road the freelancer follows is rockier. The freelancer is his/her lifeline. Finding clients, enough to offer a consistent stream of work that pays the bills is all up to you. 

Even the most seasoned freelancers, ones whose reputations precede them, sometimes struggle to keep a full slate of work. Volatility comes with the territory, and it is emotionally draining.

As a freelancer, you also need to get used to rejection. Yes, a client will probably fire you at some point. Or maybe a concept you spent hours working on late into the night won’t resonate with your client. 

“I can’t explain why, but it’s not what I was imagining. Take another stab at it,” you’ll hear. It’s tough to stay motivated in such cases, but resilience is an essential quality of any freelancer.

These “ugly” elements are based on my sentiments. If you think that they are outweighed by the “good,” then venturing to the freelancing frontier might be for you. Just remember that having a successful and fulfilling career is not only about work structure.

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