For so many people, working for yourself is the dream. The ability to set your own hours, prioritise your workload and know that the only pockets you are lining are your own. After more than 20 years of working my way up the corporate ladder (and admittedly, not getting as far as I wanted to and feeling undervalued, unappreciated and/or under-utilised in too many of those jobs), I finally took the plunge into freelance work 3 1/2 years ago.
There’s nothing I would trade for this now. There are so many great things about working freelance and while I love it, nothing is ever truly perfect. I had a rough idea of what it might be like when I started but I’m not sure anything could have prepared me truly for what it was going to be like on a day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month basis. After all this time, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I can appreciate the best of it and acknowledge the worst of it and try to do something about the downsides.
So I thought today, for those of you thinking about having a go at working for yourself, here’s the 5 best and the 5 worst things about freelance life in my experience.
5 Best Things About Freelance Life
I get to make my own hours. The flexibility of being freelance is fantastic – I mean, the word ‘free’ is right there. If I want to go out in the middle of the afternoon and get my nails done, there’s no one I have to ask. Nor do I have to ask for holidays or if I can take time to travel to events. I can rearrange my schedule however I like and work to my strengths in terms of when I feel at my best.
For instance, I have learned that I am much more clear-headed earlier in the day so I tend to schedule writing for clients in the mornings, knowing that by mid-afternoon, my brain starts to slump and I feel less creative. I also quite enjoy being able to stop working around 4 pm most days, take a few hours off for dinner and catching up with Wayne and then going back to work around 7 pm for another hour or two to pick up any late emails or to finish anything off when I know my inbox quiets down.
The commute is freaking fantastic. I used to commute about 25 miles to work each way in my last job. 90% of my commute was busy motorways which early in the morning and rush hour in the evenings were almost always a total nightmare. I remember there were plenty of times it would take me anywhere between 2-4 hours to get to work or home because of a road accident. I felt frequently that I spent more time in my car than almost anywhere else.
Now? I simply saunter downstairs for my first cuppa, have a relaxed morning catching up on social media and then around 8:30am, head upstairs to my desk. I might even stay in my pyjamas until noon if I’m feeling particularly self-indulgent, simply because I can!
Everything I do, I do it for me… Yeah, I’ve mangled that Bryan Adams song but still! When I used to work for other companies, I was always well aware that doing a great job meant lining the pockets of those at the top of the pile and not really my own.
Now? If I’ve worked really hard for something and made additional money from it, that goes right back into the business or into my pockets. There’s so much more motivation when you can see a return for your efforts directly affecting your quality of life.
There’s no limit to how much I can earn. Speaking of money, when I was on a set salary, there was no question of how much my pay packet would be at the end of the month. It was set in stone and there was no changing it until I had a yearly review – and even then, there were no guarantees.
Now? If I need additional money, I simply work smarter/harder/differently to earn it. No one is capping my bank account and I can continuously do more, diversify if needed or be proactive in increasing my revenue.
I’m supporting my household doing something I love. There’s no doubt this is probably the biggest reason why people end up going freelance. There is no greater joy than being able to support yourself doing something you truly love to do. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Truth. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I get to do this as a job. It’s incredibly satisfying to turn a passion into something people will actually pay you to do and I look forward to Mondays now rather than dread them like I used to!
5 Worst Things About Freelance Life
It can get lonely. When it’s you and you alone working behind the scenes without people to chat with and break up the day, it can be hard-going. There is no one there for a quick moan in the break room when you need to get something off your chest and there’s no one to consult about your next big idea. Spending all day in my home day after day can be a blessing for an introvert like me but I know for my own sanity that I have to make an effort to get out and surround myself with others.
Having a network of support is crucial when you are working for yourself and knowing that I have good friends on Whatsapp and a fantastic private Facebook group of other bloggers that I can bounce ideas off of or chat to my Instagram mates over DM is something I’ll never take for granted. Getting out for whatever reason – whether that’s a local networking group of creative women, joining my fellow bloggers for events or simply meeting a friend mid-afternoon for a cuppa, it’s so important to get out and mingle.
Work/Life balance is a bitch. When there’s no 9-5, the lines begin to blur in terms of where your day starts and ends – or in fact, if it ever does end. It’s far too easy to let your passion project take over your life because, well, you enjoy it and want to spend every waking moment making your dreams a reality. However, this can impact your relationships and eventually, burn out will await.
It’s so important to schedule your time wisely, to make a point of switching off your phone to enjoy the moment and to give yourself a day or two off every single week. Especially for those in creative fields, time away from our computer to simply soak in inspiration around us will make us better, will strengthen our minds and bodies and make going back to work so much more pleasurable. I’ve shared more about creating a good work/life balance here.
No paid holiday / No sick pay. This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. When I take 2 weeks off work, that’s 2 weeks I’m not earning and so what happens? I rarely do it. Saving for holidays so you can enjoy a bit of much-needed freedom is so important and choosing not to feel guilty about time off is a constant struggle. I have yet to really crack this one but I’m determined to make it a reality soon.
You have only yourself to depend on. This can be a great thing or a hard thing depending on your perspective. The success or failure of your business rides on the decisions you make, the belief in your ideas and the knowledge you have around your chosen market. It takes an incredible amount of self-confidence to put yourself out there and an incredible amount of self-promotion to be seen and heard. Many times you have to quickly adapt, to educate yourself and update your knowledge and there’s no one there to pick up the slack when you need it. Everything rides on you. You can take power from that or let it overwhelm you but it’s a choice how you wish to perceive it.
Self-motivation can be a struggle. And finally, freelancing is not about sitting around waiting for clients to bust down your door. It rarely happens that way and so you have to create your own opportunities. I actually really enjoy setting long and short-term goals for myself and I find these to be plenty motivating for me to get out there and give it my best shot. I have created vision boards for myself for my long-term success and I have weekly tasks set up so that I can get there. However, with no one to be accountable to except to me, it can be easy to be complacent or to stagnate.
A final thought about freelancing…
I could have made each of these lists so much longer (chasing invoices is definitely another downside!) but I thought I’d cap it at 5 each or else we’d be here all day! I know freelance life is not for everyone but if you do decide it’s for you, I think it’s so important to understand yourself first – to know whether you have what it takes to make building your freelance career into a sustainable future as well as being fully aware of the downsides. There have been days that I’ve wondered if it’s even worthwhile to continue and other days when I am so happy and excited I took the steps to get where I am – and happily, there’s plenty more of the latter than the former. And now, I’d love to hear from you! Are you a freelancer? If so, what’s the best and worst things about it for you? If you aren’t a freelancer, would you consider taking the plunge?