Are you considering a freelance career but wondering if the grass is really greener? Here’s a realistic view from the other side of the fence.
If you’re thinking about making a change in your career by striking out on your own, you might be weighing the overly positive myths against the red flags you’ve heard about freelancing. Although some creative professionals have unrealistic expectations about the perks that freelancing offers, other people are afraid to make the leap because unfounded fears are holding them back.
So what is freelance life really all about? If you think you’re going to spend your days relaxing and sipping a latte with the dog at your feet, you’d be right – some of the time. As someone who wrestled long and hard with whether or not to leave a corporate job and take the freelance plunge, I have learned freelancing is a rewarding career opportunity if you approach it with a balanced perspective. Here I dispel some of the myths I had about freelance work and share my insights as a corporate employee turned freelancer.
What is freelance? Maintaining a healthy flow of work. Because I built up a strong network and have chosen to specialize in the same niche as my previous job, I’ve had a steady stream of work from Day 1. In addition to ongoing client contracts, my pipeline tends to stay full two or three months out. And if it ever dries up, I know I can reach out to industry friends and former colleagues or consider working with a staffing agency to find temporary work.
Before I went freelance, I feared I might end up living paycheck to paycheck. But that has not been my reality. I am not worrying about where the next project will come from.
What is freelance? Having a flexible schedule. When I stay on top of deadlines and schedule tasks, I still have room for vacations, appointments and personal time. While time management was tricky for me at first, I’ve gotten a feel for how many hours – and how much energy – certain types of projects take and what the right work/life balance is for me.
Again, my pre-freelance worries have not come to fruition. While I’m certainly working hard, I’m not working all hours of the day and night.
What is freelance? A chance to try out new types of work. One of the best things about freelancing is the opportunity to try out different kinds of projects and clients. I feel most comfortable having a few regular clients and recurring projects to count on, but then leaving a little room to take on new clients and challenges. While I’m committed to my ongoing assignments, freelancing allows me the freedom to phase out certain types of work when I burn out.
My reality does not involve taking – and keeping – every project from every client that comes my way. (Although you may do this at first, and that’s OK.)
What is freelance? Easier childcare – on occasion. Not having to take time off when your children are sick or have a day off from school is a big freelancing perk. I can usually put in a few hours of work or at least stay up to date on email when my elementary school-aged kids are home unexpectedly.
Don’t assume you can avoid childcare altogether if you decide to work from home – unless you plan to do most of it after your kids are in bed. I (and others) have found productive freelancing is not exactly easy when also caring for kids.
What is freelance? Staying connected. While freelancing gives you more time to focus on your work and less time navigating corporate politics, it’s important to keep networking both online and in-person. I check in with existing clients and let them know my availability when we don’t have any active projects. I also look for opportunities to connect with people I’d like to work with in the future via social media or informal coffee meetings. And I maintain relationships with other creatives so we can share ideas and support each other (they have been my best source of referrals, too).
So, you know what freelance isn’t? Becoming a recluse in sweatpants.
While freelancing does give you more freedom and control over your day, those benefits only come with hard work and self-discipline. Whether you’re thinking about going all in or slowly transitioning the bulk of your income to freelance, it’s important to be realistic about both the challenges and opportunities the change can bring.
Sarah Whitman is a freelance writer and editor specializing in graphic design, career advice and healthcare.