There are two schools of thought when it comes to freelancing. People think that it is about having complete freedom, enabling freelancers to work when they will, for whom they will and enjoy a life that is quintessentially charmed. Then there is the opinion that freelancing is incredibly precarious, on a financial level, that clients do not pay their bills, that life is hard and when there are hungry mouths needing to be fed, you really don’t want to be a freelancer, you want to be a paid employee, particularly in these times of recession.
But what is the reality in the UK in 2009? First of all, one of the major disadvantages of freelancing is the perennial problem of clients refusing to pay for services rendered, or just taking their time in paying. But no business is unaffected by this. All over the country there are businesses folding, simply because they were unable to get money owed to them. So instead of freelancers feeling like it was ‘just them’, now everyone is experiencing the same kinds of problems. Things may be difficult for freelancers, but on the other hand, things are pretty bad all round, so they are not alone.
Banks and other lenders may be more circumspect about lending to freelancers, but if you have 3 years of accounts to demonstrate that you can make your way and pay your bills, then you will not experience significantly more problems than anyone else. Again, there is much more of a level playing field now. Prior to the banking collapse, freelancers were seen as risky, those in paid employment a safe bet: now no one has a job for life, so why not take a punt on a freelancer?
Another major disadvantage to being a freelancer is being isolated. Often people complain that they don’t have colleagues to bounce things off and feel they don’t want to talk to others in the field because they are worried about competitors trying to poach clients etc. But there is an easy way round that, which is simply to have a pool of friends/former colleagues, even family members, whose opinion you trust. Then if you feel isolated or have a work problem that you cannot solve on your own, either email them or better still, pick up the phone and have a chat! Often just talking through the problem will help!
Now the final major disadvantage of being a freelancer has to be being self disciplined. That can often be a big problem: when the weather is hot and sunny and you just want to laze around in the sun, can you really be bothered to chase new work coming in? Conversely, some freelancers may find that they take on too much work and end up exhausted and unable to maintain the relentless pace of work, resenting what they first saw as their dream coming true.
So that’s the bad. What about the good?
Well, there is too much good to write about in one article. But if you have determination, passion and love what you do, then freelancing is for you. You can be master of your own destiny (so long as clients pay) you can choose when you work, when you don’t want to work. If you work at home you can work in your pyjamas and then get dressed when you feel like it. If you are not a morning person, then you can simply arrange for all your meetings or commissions to start at a time to suit you (within reason). You can even turn down commissions/work if you don’t like the client or have a feeling that you will not get on (or they won’t pay). OK this is really bad business sense, but it really does give you a feeling of self worth and control over your own destiny.
One thing that all freelancers should try to do is to get some money behind them before embarking on freelance work. This can help to tide you over when times are tough or the Inland Revenue are demanding more money than you thought they would ask for (this happens). You may also have to accept that no matter how qualified and skilled you are, there are times when you may have to accept low paying jobs/commissions, simply to keep things ticking over. So be proud, but not too proud that you suffer financially if things are tight. You should also remember that it is a case of being known and recommended, so doing a good job on a low paying job, may catch you some better paid work in the future.
Freelancers should also remember that what they are doing is fulfilling a dream, taking control over their work life and believing in themselves enough to make that dream come true. That is priceless, beyond measure and cannot be over emphasised as the major advantage to freelance work. Or you can simply remain a wage slave…