There's no question that freelancing is growing increasingly popular, and for good reason. Not only do most freelancers get to set their own hours, but they also get to reap certain financial benefits while getting to choose the work that best suits them. But while there are numerous perks to being a freelancer, there are also certain pitfalls you might encounter should you choose to go this route -- just ask those of us who've been doing it for quite some time.
Here's what a few of our Foolish investors have to say about freelancing.
Selena Maranjian: One of my biggest challenges in being a freelancer is dealing with taxes. Many people with traditional salaried jobs don't realize how much simpler their tax situation is compared with freelancers.
For example, since I have no employer withholding taxes from my paycheck each pay period, I have to estimate what my taxes will be for the year (or my accountant has to). Then I have to send in Form 1040 ES four times per year, along with checks for a quarter of my estimated taxes. If you don't plan for such expenses, which can be for several thousand dollars, they can become a problem. Freelancers need to do a lot more planning regarding their cash flows.
And speaking of accountants, if you're a freelancer, you'd do well to employ a good one because of the relative complexity of your tax situation. An accountant can help you determine if you can take a home office deduction and how much it will be and can help with a host of business-related deductions.
Freelancers often face higher tax rates than salaried folks, too. For one thing, while typical salaried employees fork over 6.2% of their paycheck for Social Security, they may not realize that their employer is coughing up a corresponding additional 6.2%. Self-employed people, though, have to pay both those sums -- a whopping 12.4% of income.
2. Time management
Daniel B. Kline: When you have a traditional job, your work hours are generally laid out for you. You may have some flexibility, but most people work during the 9-to-5 business day or something pretty close to it.
As a full-time freelancer, I have no set hours. I work from home or from various coffee shops during whatever hours I like. Of course, I have to complete a certain amount of work each week, but when that happens is entirely up to me.
The challenge with that freedom is that it's easy to put off work. I live 2 miles from the beach and within walking distance of a movie theater, and our building has a lovely pool. The potential distractions are strong, and that requires a special effort at time management.
I handle that by having a work quota that I consider my minimum output each week. In most cases, I try to front-load my week by spending two to three hours working on each weekend day and making sure my Monday and Tuesday are productive. When I have to deviate from that schedule -- like on a week with a Monday holiday when my wife and son are off -- I force myself to make up the time and production later in the week.
If you manage your time well, the freelance lifestyle offers a lot of perks. For example, I spent a week in August at the various Disney World theme parks. To make that happen, I worked two long days on the previous weekend. On the weekdays, I got up early and worked from 6 to 10 a.m., went to the parks until the early evening, and then put in a couple of hours at night. It takes discipline, but if you can hold yourself accountable, the freelance life lets you experience things people with traditional jobs can't easily do.
3. Work-life balance
Maurie Backman: For me, one of the best things about being a freelancer is the ability to set my own hours and work when it's convenient for me. The downside, however, is that it's sometimes difficult for me to draw the line and say that enough is enough.
For example, I'm often tempted to sneak in an extra hour of work on a weekend before my family heads out for a day trip, or to put in a little extra time at the computer before heading to bed at night. As a result, my work ends up cutting into my personal time, even when it shouldn't.
Another problem I've encountered is that I often feel guilty for enjoying plain old downtime when I could be working instead. Of course, I shouldn't feel that way -- we all need and deserve regular mental breaks. But if there's work to be done and I'm sitting on my couch watching sports or reading a book for pleasure, I tend to feel bad about it.
That's why lately, I've really been working on striking a better work-life balance. That means designating specific hours when I'm not doing any writing, or even checking emails for that matter. The guilt, meanwhile, is a work in progress, but I'm slowly but surely learning to give myself a break.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.