Being a freelancer means getting to call your own shots, set your own hours, and work on projects that are interesting and/or meaningful to you. But there are drawbacks to be aware of, too. Some of those may be pretty obvious, like the fact that your income will be variable (and perhaps nonexistent some months), and that you'll lose out on workplace benefits, like health insurance, paid vacation time, and money for retirement. But here are some pitfalls of freelancing that may not immediately come to mind.
1. Late payments
Finding clients is only half of the challenge when it comes to freelancing. Even if you're fortunate enough to secure a steady stream of work, you'll often grapple with clients who are late with their payments or, worse yet, try to get out of paying completely.
There are, however, a few ways to protect yourself in this regard. First, build a solid level of emergency savings before you move from a steady paycheck to a freelance setup. That way, you'll have money in the bank to tide yourself over if it takes a while to find work, and if it takes an even longer while to get paid for that work.
Next, be sure to vet all clients thoroughly before agreeing to work for them. When companies you're not familiar with seek out your services, review their websites to see if they're sizable and reputable.
Furthermore, ask to be compensated for your work in installments, as opposed to sinking in numerous hours and only getting paid after the fact. You might, for example, ask for 25% of your total project fee up front, another 25% when you're a third of the way done, an additional 25% at the three-quarter completion mark, and the remaining 25% once you've fulfilled your obligations in full. There are different setups you can work with, but the key is to get some money coming in so you're not completely at the mercy of the people who write your checks.
2. Daytime disruptions
Many freelancers work from home, and that's a good thing -- until construction, noisy neighbors, or service outages compromise your ability to be productive. Before you assume you'll manage to work from home, do a trial run to see if that's really possible. You may not realize that band practice happens in the apartment upstairs every afternoon, or that the broken-up sidewalk in front of your building means you'll be subject to four hours of jackhammering a day for the next month, and power outages to accompany it.
The same holds true if you're planning to work out of a nearby coffeehouse. It may seem like a viable setup, but if the place is crowded and bustling with people during the day unbeknownst to you, it may not be a suitable solution.
3. People don't always take you seriously
We're often told not to worry about what other people think. But it's hard to maintain your self-esteem when you go freelance and the folks around you cease to take your job seriously. Worse yet, you may find that once you start freelancing, you'll be asked for countless favors from friends and family members that interfere with your work time -- favors they'd never have the gall to ask for if you held down a traditional office job.
To remedy this type of scenario, set clear boundaries with the people you know from the get-go. Explain that while your schedule may be flexible, you still expect to spend your daytime hours working -- because if don't, you won't get paid.
Let's be clear: Despite the downsides, it pays to pursue a freelance career if that's what you want to do. Just be aware of the various challenges you could wind up facing, and come up with strategies to tackle them. That way, you'll avoid the stress so many freelancers face when they first start out.