Freelancing has to be the best job in the world – at least in the eyes of cubicle workers. There’s no commute, no single boss, no enforced schedule and no office gossip. You can wear what you want, work when you want and bring in the projects you want. You’re in total control of your career and your life. There’s no better way to work.
If only. Freelancing has its moments but it also has plenty of bad times, enough in fact to rival the worst aspects of a regular job.
There are the holidays and vacation times for one. Or rather, there aren’t any holidays or vacation times. While it’s true that freelancers are able – in theory – to take time off whenever they want and without asking for permission (or a doctor’s note) in the way that an office worker does, they do face a couple of restraints. Deadlines in particular tend to dictate work schedules tighter than even the most tight-fisted boss. Start missing milestones and those Easter breaks, planned days off, and even weekends and evenings start to look like useful hours to catch up and get the project back on track. While friends and family are tossing cans around the barbeque, freelancers are often sitting at the desk, slaving over a keyboard and wishing they had the kind of office that locks out workers during the breaks.
Freelancers Pay $150 for a Picnic in the Park
And if they do manage to pull time off – perhaps as a reward at the end of a big project – there’s no one to pay for it. Freelancers don’t have holiday pay and they certainly don’t have time-off pay. Choose to spend the afternoon in the park, and you can count the amount of revenue that time off has cost you. Charge $50 an hour, for example, and three hours on the grass, eating sandwiches and tossing a Frisbee in the middle of the week will have cost $150. So much for the freedom to set your own hours as a freelancer. With that sort of bill, there’d better be caviar in that picnic.
So other people’s holidays are one bad time to be a freelancer. Your own holidays are another. And the end of every month is a third. Freelance income is unreliable. A good freelance business should have a solid base of regular work large enough to cover the expenses, but when no two month’s work are ever the same, no two months’ income are the same either. Life as a freelancer means binge-paying. While salaried workers know exactly how much they’re going to receive each month, freelancers can find that one month they’re barely making ends meet, and the next they’re flush with cash. It requires a whole different way of planning a budget and balancing the bank account – one that makes many freelancers, especially the breadwinners, look with nostalgia at payslips with permanent figures to match the stability of their expenses.
And those permanent figures can always go up in return for years served, good behavior and solid effort. The same isn’t necessarily true for freelancers. The flipside of being in control of your own career means that development doesn’t happen unless you make it happen.
That’s harder than it sounds. It doesn’t just mean pitching for bigger projects, taking on staff to outsource the lower-paid work or expanding to supply supplementary services. It means being ready to ditch older clients who aren’t growing with you and being brave enough to invest in marketing, equipment and products. As an employee, the only danger of asking for a pay raise is that you might not receive it – and become aware of exactly how much the company thinks you’re worth. For a freelancer who tries to advance by spending more time pitching for bigger projects, building a new website or learning new skills, the risk is direct and financial.
The result is that it’s often easier to stick with what you’ve got, cling to your old clients, continue doing work that doesn’t make the most of your abilities and be grateful that you’re making a living out of freelancing. Careers – unless you’re prepared to take risks, or get lucky — are for people in the corporate world.
Swapping One Boss for Lots of Bosses
And of course, there’s the time to pay for the benefits. When it comes to pensions, healthcare, insurance and even travel expenses, the self-employed have no one to chip in except themselves. Salaried employees tend only to look at the bottom line of their payslips, forgetting about the additional contributions paid by their employers; freelancers have to cough those fees up themselves, sending their bottom line even closer to the bottom.
If all that wasn’t enough, cubicle types might complain about their boss, but at least they only have one of them. Freelancers have as many bosses as they’re lucky to have clients. And each of these bosses is pulling in different directions, demanding extra time, wondering why they aren’t getting it — and looking for their dream freelancer who will work only for them, for a pittance and full-time, no benefits included.
So freelancing sucks. It sucks because there’s no free time – only time that brings in money and time that doesn’t bring in money. It sucks because there’s no regular pay – only the billable hours you’re able to invoice at the end of each month. It sucks because there are no benefits – only the benefits you’re prepared to pay for. And it sucks because there’s no boss – instead, there are lots of bosses, each with their own deadlines, demands and sources of further instability.
In fact, freelancing is so bad there’s only one thing worse than working for yourself, without a contract and on your own time, and that’s working for the man. Because if freelancing was really that bad, we’d head back to the cubicle and make our complaints there.