Why freelancing is not for you (and how you can make it work)

in Starting Guides

The amount of people who choose to freelance is on the rise and how we seek employment are changing. PeoplePerHour founder Xenios Thrasyvoulou has said that "we predict by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be self-employed and contributing more than £51 billion to the UK economy" and that the current model of employment is becoming "obsolete". On the surface, the flexibility and diversity that a career in freelancing provides, appears to make it the perfect mode of acquiring income. 

However, there is another side. Alessandro Nivola, actor and producer has stated that "anybody who is in freelance work, especially artistically, knows that it comes with all the insecurity and the ups and downs". 
Not everyone has a positive experience. 
A labour source survey in 2016 discovered that the distribution of self-employed income is on average £240 per week, which is much lower than the average £400 employees receive. This is in part because many freelancers don't earn enough to make freelancing their full-time occupation. Instead, they use it as a part-time job to supplement their income. Many others abandon it altogether in favour of the security that employment brings.

So what factors contribute towards a negative experience of freelancing, and how can these problems be solved to make it work for you?

Lack of stability

Working for yourself means that you don't have the structure of a business to look after you and rely on. The volume of work can hugely fluctuate, as it depends on a variety of unstable factors such as unreliable clients, personal experience levels or the amount of work available.  

Create a retainer agreement with an agency: These are designed to provide regular monthly payments to a freelancer to secure their availability for work in that amount of time. 
You can review articles such as https://doubleyourfreelancing.com/freelancers-guide-client-retainer-agreements/ to help you in your understanding of this area.
Sign up for job notifications: If you are searching a steadier income, job advertising sites often offer long-term, remote working projects that are contracted for security.
Sign up to multiple platforms: Expanding your reach through the use of multiple different websites can provide a larger volume of work.

Limited clientele 

Building up your portfolio and reputation is one of the hardest challenges that a freelancer has to face, particularly at the beginning of their career. When applying for work, if there is someone with more experience and a more extensive portfolio, they have a much greater chance of securing the contract. Many freelancers feel as though they need to work for free or for incredibly low pay in order to make any later successes. However this does not have to be the case.

Persevere: For the first few months of any freelancing career it will take time to build up your reputation, portfolio and endorsements. Persevering through this stage is worth it, because the work is likely to pick up pace later.
Build your online portfolio: Develop a collection of your work and display it through your own website or blog, using social media to increase the traffic you receive. You can also increase your portfolio through guest posting on websites. A comprehensive list of these can be found here:

Time management

Usually, when working within an organisation, employees are given standardised working hours and a set amount of work. There are well-managed expectations and other people who can assist you, contribute to the work and pick up the slack. However,  working alone on large or multiple projects can mean long and unsociable hours of work. This can cause a great deal of stress if you are over-ambitious with the amount of time you have.

Standardise your working hours and create boundaries. If your work begins to creep beyond your designated hours, it shows that you have taken on too much.
Manage client expectations. Facilitating open communication about work progress and setting a time frame with clients can reduce the pressure.
Complete work before moving on: Having a to-do list and completing one task at a time in manageable chunks will reduce the pressure of your overall workload.

Administration tasks

As a freelancer, there is a lot more work involved than simply completing projects and liaising with clients. All the administration tasks such as taxes, invoices and finances are your responsibility and it may not be everybody's field of expertise. 

Project management tools: There are many available applications that can help you manage your finances. Websites such as GnuCash and Buddi are good beginners' tools for organising this aspect of a business.  
Keep up to date with invoices: This includes ensuring that your invoices are being paid in a timely fashion. Having a payment discussion with a client or sending a reminder email are both important means of making sure you are up to date. Also completing invoices quickly means they don't pile up. 

Procrastination and poor motivation

As a freelancer, there isn't anybody telling you how to work, when to work or how hard to work. This means that all work is dependant on good levels of motivation and willpower. If these are skills that you lack, freelancing offers very few incentives to get you working consistently. 

Choose projects of interest: When applying for pieces of work, it is not always possible to choose something that is exactly within your niche. However, choosing projects that interest and excite you can help maintain levels of motivation for a project. 
Well defined targets: Setting yourself achievable targets ensures that you have something manageable to aim for. For example, how many pieces of work you would like to complete in a week

Working alone

In comparison with the sociable atmosphere of an office, freelancing can promote unhealthy working habits, such as staying isolated for extended periods of time. The convenience of online communication means that many work-related conversations will happen over a messaging service and much of the work is completed independently. Working alone means that you must have an incredibly motivated attitude towards your work.

Look into co-working spaces: Websites such as www.coworker.com or www.wework.com can be used to find a shared office space in which to work.
Work in a public space: Moving your work out of your house into a coffee shop or a library can increase the socialisation you experience whilst you are working and also gives you the chance to work away from the house. 
Make time in your schedule for friends and family: With long and unsociable working hours, it can be easy to prioritise work over family and friends. Try to make time in the structure of your day to see other people, or phone loved ones. 

Holiday and sick pay

When employed by a company, statutory sick pay is a mandatory provision and is the minimum amount you can be paid if you're off sick. When a contract is signed at a place of employment, usually holiday pay will be a feature of the agreement.
As a self-employed worker, not receiving sick or holiday pay is a problem that has to be managed carefully. Freelancers have financial autonomy and when they cannot fulfil their work obligations, they are unable to get paid.

Retainer agreements: As mentioned previously, a retainer agreement can be incredibly productive as it guarantees a set amount of income each month. 
Upfront payment jobs: Larger projects usually require either a deposit or an upfront payment in order to complete them. If you know there is a month in which you are taking a holiday, a job in which you are given an initial payment can give you the security of some income for the month. 
Track your spending and save: Making sure you keep an excellent track of your finances is crucial to limit the damage that sickness can cause to your business.

There are aspects of every career or job that are negative, but almost always there is a solution.  Freelancing has high risks as a career choice, but the enjoyment and fulfilment that can be gained (for many) is worth the extra measures needed to make it a success.

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