Working for the man may be overrated, but that doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a freelancer. It’s one thing to talk a big game about not having a job and to say you’re down with living the life of a freelancer -- it’s quite another to actually do it. While it’s true that freelancers get to work in their pajamas (if they want) and they don’t have to gaze at the face of a boss day in and day out, there’s a lot more struggles than it might appear at first glance.
From the financial worries, to the fact that you have to stay on top of your own game and network like a fiend, it’s not all a walk in the park when you’re trying to be a freelancer.
Can you handle it? Can you succeed outside the world of the regularly employed? If you’re able to conquer the challenges listed below, there’s a good chance you will make an OK freelancer.
Work Eight Hours With no Direction
Freelancing gives you the awesome opportunity to live and work without the dreaded boss on your back -- but guess what? That dreaded boss actually has a solid purpose: To make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If you no longer have a boss to do that for you, you’re going to have to learn how to do it for yourself. That means finding a way -- no matter what happens to be on TV or who’s going where or how much laundry you have piling up -- to put in AT LEAST eight hours of work time every day. If you’ve ever tried it, then you know how hard it can be to ignore all those dishes that are in the sink and let them sit until your scheduled break time, or to avoid sorting your personal mail, cleaning the house or doing other stuff that you might have done while at home when you worked a regular job.
As a freelancer, you have to shore up the incredible ability to get your stuff done, every day. And when you do happen to have that odd appointment during the middle of the day, you also have to be responsible enough to make up the time later on in the day. In other words, you can kiss the tidy nine-to-five schedule you previously had, goodbye. When you don’t work, you don’t get paid -- so unlike a job in which you can mess around a bit and still bring in the bucks, as a freelancer you have to work a full eight hours a day, period.
Keep Your Friends at Bay
It turns out that you’re not the only one you have to contend with when it comes to staying on task. When your friends -- who may also be freelancers or maybe just bums -- find out that you’re now working for yourself and that your time is your own, they may get it into their heads that you’re suddenly available for daytime trips to the beach or long, booze-fueled lunches.
OK, when you first start out as a freelancer you might take them up on these invitations -- why else would you freelance if not for the freedom -- but that can’t last long or you’re simply not going to make it in this freelance world.
Network Like Nobody’s Business
You’re going along, doing the work that a client has given you, content that you’re not making as much as before but at least you have some steady business. Then bam! You’re out on your butt. Clients can come and go, and if you’re not constantly networking to bring in new business all the time, then you’re going to suffer big time. Your clients don’t know -- and don’t care -- that they were one of the only sources of income that you had. All they care about is that you did a job for them and now you’re no longer needed. So, if you’re not attending networking events, sending out prospecting emails and connecting with people on an ongoing basis, you could very well fail at this freelancing thing.
Budget Waaaaay in Advance
There may have once been a time when you only had to think about what you’re going to spend your money on about two weeks ahead of time. That constant paycheck meant that if you overspent one pay period, you’d make up for it the next. Not so with freelancing. For one, you can’t budget a mere two weeks in advance. Depending on the type of freelancing you’re doing, some clients may think it’s OK to pay you months after you’ve done the work, and they may even get edgy when you ask them when you can expect a check. Freelancing requires a careful dance of budgeting and worrying and down-on-your-knees praying that you can make it all work and that your lights will stay on long enough for you to get through this next big job. It’s stressful and not everyone can handle it.
Plan for the Sky to Fall
We’ve covered this a bit in the sections on budgeting and networking, but here’s another way to look at it: If you’re not the type who can deal with a bit of uncertainty and perhaps a knowledge that things could fall apart at any moment, you’re not going to make it as a freelancer. Something is always going to go “not quite right” as a freelancer, so you can’t plan things as tightly as you once did as an employed worker. You have to be flexible enough to do work for a client that isn’t quite in your scope, in order to keep them coming back. You have to be willing to say goodbye to a client who doesn’t treat you as you should be treated. And you have to be OK with things going awry at nearly any moment.
Work Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays
And speaking of that client who wants you to do a kind of work that you’re not exactly an expert at -- here’s another thing: They might also ask you to commit to superhuman feats like working waaaaay beyond an eight hour day, working weekends, or sacrificing that coveted vacation time you carved out for yourself in order to get a project done. If you say no, it could cost you that client and a lot of money in the future. Yes, as a freelancer you have a lot more freedom, but that doesn’t mean you are going to have ALL of your time free to yourself.
Keep Your Business in Order
Once upon a time you were a mere worker in a sea of workers, never worrying about how the business end of things was handled. You did your work, you got your paycheck and you went home. Now though, comes one of the greatest challenges to be put upon freelancers: The need to suddenly be a business person too. There are suddenly things like taxes and accounting to contend with. There’s also buying equipment for your home office, keeping a healthy supply of business cards, and other housekeeping items you never even thought of before. For some people, it takes attending a small business class to get through all of the details. If you’re a freelancer who’s currently overwhelmed by all you have on your plate, that could be the answer for you.
See Also: Top 10 Websites to Find Freelance Work
While it is true that you can spend most -- or all -- of your day in your pajamas as a freelancer, let’s hope you now have a much clearer picture of what it really takes to make it. You can do this, bro!