Confession: I’ve never had a “real” job—unless, of course, you count my part-time job at the local florist shop during high school.
Don’t get me wrong; I do work. Quite a bit, in fact. But I fell into freelancing during my junior year of college, and I’ve never looked back.
At first, didn’t get a “real job” because I was still finishing my degree. Freelance writing gave me the flexibility to work around classes, and I made way more per hour than I would have working at Starbucks. I thought briefly, during the beginning of my senior year, about getting a regular 40-hour-a-week office job upon graduation. Or maybe going to graduate school with the aim of eventually becoming a college professor. Then, during my last semester, my husband and I found out we were expecting.
No way was I going to go to grad school during our first year of parenthood, and what regular job could I find right out of college that would cover sky-high daycare costs?
So, we decided the best thing for our family would be for me to continue working from home as a freelancer. I was making decent money, and getting more clients all the time. I enjoyed the work, and I could do the work-at-home-mom thing.
Truly, it’s been great. I love working from home and spending lots of time with my daughter (though my nearly-two-year-old does go to daycare a couple of days each week, just so I don’t lose my mind). With that said, freelancing, like any other career option, has its pros and cons.
The Best Parts of Freelancing
When you think about working from home as a freelancer, what comes to mind? Waking up late, working in your pajamas and never dealing with an actual boss again?
In spite of what other go-get-‘em, dress-for-success, early-rising freelancers will tell you, this pretty much does describe my work day. I get up fairly late (at least for the mom of a toddler), and I rarely wear anything but yoga pants to work. And, yes, I am technically my own boss (though clients can be worse than bosses in some ways).
These, for me, are some of the best parts of freelancing. But there are other great things about not having a regular job, too. In Ed Gandia’s 2012 Freelance Industry Report, freelancers named the top benefits of freelancing. Six of the top seven benefits were:
- Flexible schedule (25%)
- Variety of projects (14.5%)
- Being my own boss (14%)
- Working from anywhere (13.9%)
- Making my own decisions (8.9%)
- Higher income potential (6.5%)
Let’s break these down so you can see how these benefits have worked out in a real-life freelancer’s experience (mine).
1. Flexible Schedule
Interestingly, the report broke down these benefits by the age of freelancers. While schedule flexibility was a huge benefit to all age groups, it was the most beneficial for 30-somethings. Gandia surmises this is because this group is most likely to have young children to care for.
That’s certainly true in my case. Though I’m not 30-something yet, having a flexible schedule with my daughter here is wonderful. Working to a deadline means that if she’s sick, I just keep her home with me. I can always catch up during naptime or even the next day.
2. Variety of Projects
As a freelancer, I’ve written on everything from infertility to life insurance. I will say that since I’ve started tackling more specialized work (personal finance writing, in my case), my income has gone up–but still, it’s not like I’m only ever writing copy for one particular company, which is refreshing.
3. Being My Own Boss / 4. Making My Own Decisions
These are both big benefits of freelancing for me, and for most people who are self-directed enough to make it as freelancers. I hate being micromanaged and love getting to make my own work decisions. Still, working for clients can, at times, be worse than working for a regular boss, so keep that in mind if you’re interested in freelancing.
5. Working from Anywhere
One of my favorite perks of “working from home” is that I don’t actually have to work at home. Though most days you’ll find me with my laptop at the kitchen table, I also work at Starbucks often. Plus, if we’re traveling, I can just take my laptop and work wherever.
6. Higher Income Potential
The Freelance Industry Report noted that higher income potential is the biggest benefit of freelancing among 20-somethings. I’ve definitely found this to be true. If you’re just beginning your career, you may be staring down some pretty low-paying entry-level jobs at the moment.
Freelancing—in the right field and with the proper hourly rate—can almost certainly make you more money, at least per hour, than entry-level jobs. And if you start freelancing early, like I have, your income potential has a very, very high ceiling.
For those coming out of a high-paying regular career and looking into freelancing, this may not be the case. But I can tell you that I’m certainly making more than I would at most entry-level writer positions in my area at the moment.
Worst Parts of Freelancing
Before you decide you’re going to hand in your notice and start freelancing today, it’s important to grasp that freelancing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are days when it’s actually really freaking stressful and I’d much rather be steadily employed–even if that means dressing like a grownup every day!
Going back to the Freelance Industry Report for the top complaints of freelancers, five of the top seven freelancing issues named were:
- Finding clients (20.8%)
- Feast-or-famine work cycle (16.3%)
- Maintaining work-life balance (10.1%)
- Managing time (6.8%)
- Having to wear all the hats (3.9%)
Again, I’m plagued by most of these issues, just like your average freelancer. Here’s how these common problems have affected my life as a freelancer:
1. Finding Clients
At first, I had an easy time finding clients. That’s because I was working for a penny a word on jobs from Elance. It’s not that hard to find clients willing to pay a penny a word. But please promise me, all you potential freelance writers, that you’ll never, ever work for rates that crappy. You’re worth more than that! (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Now that I’m breaking out of bottom-of-the-barrel jobs, finding clients is harder. I have to actively market, which I’m still figuring out. It’s not easy, but I’ll be talking in future posts about how to find better clients as a freelancer, so stay tuned.
2. Feast-or-Famine Work Cycle
I’ve lucked into many regular clients over the years, so I don’t have this issue quite as much as some other freelancers. Still, those regulars generally make up the absolute bare minimum income I need to per month to help pay the bills. (My husband works with kids for a living, so we’re not exactly rolling in dough over here.)
This goes hand in hand with the number one freelancing problem (finding clients). If you have trouble finding clients, you’ll have trouble making a steady income. And that’s frustrating–and also sort of scary, especially when you’ve got a kid to support.
3. Work-Life Balance
I’m not one of those freelancers who has trouble walking away from the laptop at the end of the day. I’m kind of the opposite; I swing towards the “life” end of the work-life spectrum. When I’m working from home, there’s always laundry to do and dishes to wash and beds to make and all those other things I really shouldn’t be doing during my precious few work hours.
4. Time Management
If I’m not getting distracted by the pile of laundry in my bedroom, I’m getting distracted by Facebook and Pinterest. Time management is hard, no matter what your job. But if there’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you aren’t on Facebook, it’s up to you to stay in control of your time. Which leads to the next issue…
5. Wearing All the Hats
As a mom, I’m used to wearing lots of hats. It’s not so bad at home when the roles are things I enjoy–cook, playmate and even maid. But there are some things I just hate doing as a freelancer.
I hate keeping track of my income and expenses. But I still have to do it. I hate marketing. But I still have to do it. I also hate managing the backend of my website. But, again, it has to be done. Until I can afford to outsource some (or all) of this stuff, I have to wear those hats. That’s just the nature of running a micro business.
What’s It Mean for You?
If you’re good with a Google search, you could probably turn up a hundred articles about why you should or shouldn’t freelance, or why you are or are not suited to work at home. And the fact is that not everyone is cut out to work from home full-time.
But I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should work from home. I just want to be sure you have a realistic picture of what freelancing looks like–at least for one experienced writer who has never had a real job–so that you can make that decision for yourself.