Being a freelancer certainly has its perks. And I should know -- I've been doing the full-time freelance thing for many years now, and I can say with certainty that I love it. I get to work with great clients, set my own hours, and enjoy some of the flexibility my salaried friends don't get at their jobs.
But make no mistake about it -- being a freelancer isn't all rosy, and if you're thinking of becoming one, you'll need to understand exactly what sort of lifestyle you're signing up for. Here are a few key things I've learned about being a freelancer that will help inform your decision to go the same route.
1. You'll feel guilty for not working
Many people are quick to assume that as a freelancer, I work fewer hours than the typical full-time employee. But that's not necessarily so. There are some weeks when I clock in well above 40 hours, and part of that has to do with what I call freelancer's guilt.
The thing about being a freelancer is that if you build up a strong enough client base (which you obviously want), there may come a point when you have the ability to work as much as you choose -- meaning, the work is there for you and you just need to decide whether you're going to do it all. But saying no to extra work isn't as easy as you might think it is.
Personally, I've experienced my fair share of guilt those nights when I opted to relax or do something with friends rather than plug away at a computer. And while I know I'm entitled to down time, I often have a hard time letting myself enjoy it because, in the back of my mind, there's potentially more work to be done and money to be made.
If you're thinking of going freelance, keep in mind that you, too, might reach a point when you're turning down work and feeling bad about it. And that's something you'll need to learn to reconcile if you want to stay sane.
2. You might still struggle with work-life balance
Being a freelancer should, in theory, lend itself to a better work-life balance. Rather than be locked into a set schedule, I get to choose my own hours and arrange my days in a manner that works for me. But make no mistake about it: There are plenty of periods when I find myself working well into the night, every night, and not because I've mismanaged my time, but because I've had too many deadlines to work around.
It's true that as a freelancer, I can technically say no to projects that don't work for me. But when you have a client with whom you've established a solid relationship and who you rely upon for work, saying no isn't always so easy. This means that sometimes, I end up plugging away till all hours of the night to accommodate last-minute requests, and that can take a toll quickly.
Of course, it's always good to show your clients that you're happy to cater to their needs. Just be warned that you may have weeks when you work far more hours than your salaried counterparts.
3. You'll need to be really careful about spending and managing money
While being a full-time freelancer can be tricky from a scheduling and time management perspective, it's even more daunting from a money-related one. Like most freelancers I know, my income is variable, which means I need to be really cautious about how I spend it.
Remember, even if your workflow is relatively steady, freelancers don't get paid vacation or sick days. Therefore, if you have travel plans or come down with the flu, you're likely to see a drop in earnings. And the best way to cope with that, as well as the general fluctuations in income you might face, is to be extremely conservative with your budget.
What I do is take my lowest months of income and work my expenses around them. Then, on the months when I earn more, I aim to bank the difference unless there's a compelling reason not to (say, I need to make a home improvement or repair).
Another thing I do, no matter how much I earn, is pay myself first. Whenever I'm compensated for a project, I make sure to stick at least 10% of that payment into the bank. This essentially removes the temptation for me to spend it.
If you're smart about managing your money as a freelancer, you can cope with the variable income most of us are subject to. But you'll need to really stay on top of your finances to avoid falling behind on your bills.
And there you have it. It's great being a freelancer, but there are certain pitfalls you're apt to encounter. Know what these are, and figure out how you'll cope with them before embracing the freelance lifestyle head-on. That way, you're less likely to wind up regretting it.
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