Career advice

Is freelancing the right career option for you?

Tired of having a boss? An increasingly popular alternative to holding down a nine-to-five job with one employer is striking it out on your own as a freelance worker. There is a lot to like about the freelance lifestyle. You get to be your own boss and set your own hours, and there are no performance evaluations to sit through.

There are challenges associated with stepping away from full-time employment and into the gig economy, too. Here is a look at what it's like to be a freelance contributor and some of its advantages and disadvantages, so you can better understand whether this is a viable option for you.

What is a freelancer?

A freelance worker provides services as an independent contractor for an organization and is usually paid per job for the work they deliver, rather than for a set number of hours worked. In the latter arrangement, where a worker is on contract for a certain number of hours, they would be a contract employee rather than a permanent staff member.

By contrast, freelancers are usually paid for their contributions. Sometimes this amount can be calculated as an estimation of the hours a project will take and an hourly rate for the freelancer's time, but ultimately the pay is still based on a per-project basis.

While contract and permanent employees enjoy regular hours and predictable paychecks, freelance workers are not considered employees of their clients. Therefore, freelance workers' earnings can vary widely from month to month, depending on how much work their clients need.

Personality traits of a successful freelancer

Whatever field you are freelancing in, you must be a skilled practitioner. Freelancers survive and thrive based on positive word of mouth and recommendations. This means consistently delivering top-quality work to their clients.

Because they do not have a boss looking over their shoulder or regular hours working in a designated space, freelancers have to be conscientious and able to manage their own time effectively. Failing to produce work on time will result in unhappy clients and less work.

Freelancing is often a solitary lifestyle, as these professionals work independently to produce their deliverables (outside of client meetings to determine the scope and details of a project). In some ways, this makes freelancing a working arrangement well suited for introverts who prefer to work alone with minimal interactions with coworkers and clients.

On the flip side, however, freelancers have to be self-promoters and seek out clients, opportunities, and projects to make a living. So, whether you are a freelance designer, bookkeeper, or writer, you also have to serve as your own salesperson. This part of the job can be a challenge for people who are the most introverted.

Being at least a little bit outgoing helps with the sales aspect of reaching out to potential clients and pitching your services, and it also makes networking easier. Because people prefer to put their confidence – and their money – behind service providers they can rely on, having a professional network of connections who will engage your services and recommend your work to others is essential for a successful freelance career.

Still, full-on extroverts who thrive on banter and brainstorming with teams of coworkers will find the freelance lifestyle lonely and under-stimulating.

Advantages of a freelance career

As I mentioned right off the top, one of the foremost advantages of being a freelance worker is that you are your own boss. You can decide how much work you want to take on and how many hours you want to work – and when you want to do that work. As long as you meet your deadlines or delivery dates agreed upon with clients, where and when you do the work is up to you. This can be very liberating.

Having multiple clients can also protect your income from sudden setbacks befalling any one individual client. If you are a worker for a company experiencing hard times that has to reduce staff -or worse, shut down altogether – you could suddenly find yourself out of work. A freelancer with multiple revenue sources enjoys some protection from this situation. The loss of work from any one client may be a setback, but it wouldn't leave them entirely without income.

Speaking of income, freelancers have a great deal of influence over how much money they will make. Freelance workers can decide how much work to pursue and how many hours they want to spend working based on what income and lifestyle they want to have.

Some drawbacks to the freelance lifestyle

The caveat to that last point is that freelancers can determine how much work they want to take on – when that work is available. Most independent workers go through periods of feast and famine based on market conditions and client needs rather than their own choice.

This means freelancers must be at least a bit frugal with their money. You need to save up when your income is high for when there might be a gap between contracts. Freelancers also need to save for tax time. Regular employees of a company have income tax contributions deducted from their paychecks automatically. Freelancers, on the other hand, have to hand over the income tax for their yearly earnings in a lump sum when they file their taxes.

Freelance workers – as they are not employees of a company – also do not enjoy the benefits of full-time workers. This means they do not receive company-sponsored healthcare or dental insurance, paid vacations, or retirement savings plans.

So, with the freedom from having a boss and regular working hours comes the responsibility of looking after your own medical and dental expenses and retirement planning.

That's part of the lifestyle. Being a freelancer means being independent, disciplined, and proactive. Not having a boss looking over your shoulder means you have to look out for yourself.

Full-time work certainly offers more stability and steady income. For many workers, this provides a level of security and comfort that they would not consider giving up to be self-employed. For a growing number of professionals, however, the allure of being their own boss, choosing their own clients and projects, and setting their own hours makes freelancing an appealing option.

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