Down Sides of Freelancing

Full-time jobs usually have a primary virtue not found in the freelance world: consistency of working hours and pay. In a word, security. Freelancing? Not so much. Is freelancing for you? Here are some thoughts for you as you weigh the possibilities in an expanding “gig economy.”

Quick Reminder: The Advantages

I’ve said this before, but I also don’t want this post to be a complete “downer” because I happen to like my career. Freelancing’s biggest advantage is freedom. Specifically, you have the freedom (within some market-based limits) to:

  • Set your own prices.
  • Set your own hours.
  • Set your own dress code (as long as you’re working from home and not participating in a video teleconference).
  • Set up your work environment/tools as you prefer them.
  • Do your grocery shopping or run other errands while most full-time people are in the office and off the streets.

However…

This post is about the down sides, so let’s get down to them.

  1. Depending on the nature of your work and your customers, you could spend a lot of time hustling to find the next customers/source of income.
  2. You have little to no control over your workload–the work comes when it comes. This doesn’t become an issue until you decide you want to have a life outside of work, and then conflicts can and do occur.
  3. If you have a conflict between clients, that’s your problem to resolve, not theirs.
  4. Not everyone will accept your rate, so you’ll have to negotiate.
  5. You can’t always pick your clients. The good news is, sometimes people will find you based on a referral from another customer, which is a great problem to have. However, that referred customer might not be in the same industry or environment that you’re used to. That means you’ll face random steep learning curves and occasional boredom if the work is not particularly interesting to you.
  6. There is little to no support system on your own. You are your own Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Finance, and Human Resources Departments. You have to set aside money to pay your bills and taxes quarterly. You might be able to farm out some of your accounting. I farm out my taxes and investment/financial planning, for example, but that was only once I could afford to do so. If you have an issue involving contracts, you might need to hire a lawyer.
  7. There is no Worker’s Compensation. I pay for business insurance in case someone gets injured visiting Casa de Bart, but that’s about it. My injuries are covered out of my own pocket.
  8. You’re on your own for health insurance, too, which means going onto the market and seeking whatever you need. The “good” news is that you can itemize your medical insurance and other expenses on your taxes.
  9. In the U.S., you have to pay your own Social Security and Medicare (FICA) contributions. Generally, these amount to 6-7% of your income, and if you’re a full-time employee, your employer pays half of that.
  10. Items 6-9 mean that you’ll spend more time than you’d probably like handling paperwork, i.e., running the business of You, Incorporated. But hey, you wanted to be on your own, remember?

Science fiction author Larry Niven has a set of “laws” about life, one of which is particularly relevant to the freelancing life:

F x S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.

I would also add that part of that “F” factor is that the more freedom you gain, the more responsibility you have to accept regarding your business dealings. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re able to pay the bills on a regular basis, it’s a life that’s hard to give up.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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