A lot of people think freelancing is this holy grail of work. But as someone who’s freelanced for almost two years now, I can tell you that… surprise! It won’t actually solve all of your problems.
That’s what I wrote about yesterday in 4 Terrible Reasons to Start Freelancing.
However, there are perfectly legitimate reasons to want to freelance, which is why I’m writing today. If you’re thinking about freelancing, here are some really good reasons to do it:
1) You want more flexibility in your schedule
Freelancing can accommodate any schedule, provided you’re actually putting in enough focused time to grow your client base and get your work done. Want to be able to pick your kid up from school at 3:15? Do you do your best work late at night? Go ahead. Your work isn’t going anywhere.
Full disclosure: With much flexibility comes much responsibility. It takes willpower to keep on track when there’s no one else to keep you accountable. Whatever schedule you choose, stick to it as much as possible. Personally, I keep normal business hours—but I also enjoy leisurely lunches and the occasional late start when I know I have a lighter workload.
2) You’re sick of working in an office
Some people want the freedom to travel the world, funded by their freelance work. Some people are simply homebodies. Either way, we can all agree that fluorescent lights suck.
I’m in the homebody camp right now. My favorite part of being self-employed is that I don’t have to dress for an office every day. I roll out of bed, put on some comfy clothes, make my breakfast, and get to work.
Full disclosure: It should go without saying, but you still need to dress appropriately for client calls. And frankly, every person I’ve heard of who has used freelancing to fund their travels has said it’s very difficult to do both at once. Just be prepared.
Full disclosure #2: Also, don’t underestimate the impact of losing coworkers. Freelancing can get very lonely, even if you’re an introvert, and especially if you live alone. Plan to work some regular socialization into your life, whether it’s utilizing a coworking space a few days a week or meeting up with friends for happy hour.
3) You want to feel the impact of your work more directly
As a freelancer, you can work to support whatever kinds of clients you choose (in theory). A lot of freelancers find it satisfying to directly help small business owners, to write articles on topics they find personally important, or use their skills to support worthy organizations pro-bono part of the time.
Full disclosure: Oftentimes, the demographics that need your expertise the most are not the same ones that can pay a premium for your service. You may make less money serving new business owners, for example, than you would taking on well-established businesses.
Some people are okay with taking that financial hit. If not, though, there are two solutions here: One, you can simply recognize that working for larger companies can still be hugely beneficial to society if they are serving their customers well in turn. Or two, you can focus on serving high-paying customers at a premium, and offer low-cost options to businesses with smaller budgets. This might be a sliding scale payment system, or offering different services for different groups.
4) You want full control over how much you work—and how much you make
As a freelancer, you are completely responsible for how much work you have. It’s true what they say—with freelancing, there’s no cap on your earning potential.
Want a part-time remote career? You can create it. Want to make multiple six figures? The only person stopping you is yourself.
Full disclosure: Of course, the part that’s often left out is the time it takes to work up to your previous income, let alone surpass it. Getting clients and delivering a great service has a learning curve. Getting to the point where you have full control over your income will take time—usually a year or more. You can keep the learning curve to a minimum by learning directly from the freelancers who are living the life you want. Find role models who are doing what you want to do, then buy some consulting time from them (if they offer it) and find out how they got to where they are now.
5) You want real job security
This one sounds weird, right?
But think about it. In a typical 9-5, your livelihood can be cut off out of the blue. One day you have a job, the next day you’re downsized. Or fired. And then you scramble to get an interview. If you don’t have savings, you could easily end up in a crappy job simply because it’s the first one that said yes.
A freelancer (ideally) has their income in multiple baskets. Their success is dependent on their ability to get new clients. So if you can learn how to do that, you’ll know you can generate income in any economic climate.
Full disclosure: Of course, freelancing income is a lot more up-and-down than an office job. Instead of treating all freelance income as regular income, I recommend giving yourself an actual salary. Put your freelancing income into its own business account, and use that account to pay a normal salary just like any other job. Also use that separate account to save for taxes (which WILL be higher than you’re used to). For a more in-depth system for managing your business money, I highly suggest the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.
Freelancing is its own beast
Some people will thrive as a freelancer. Others will flop around for a few months until they realize that an office job really suits them better. And both results are perfectly fine.
I believe that everyone can benefit from a freelancing experience, whether they choose it as their lifelong career or simply as an experiment. You’ll learn a lot about running a business, and likely even more about your craft if you take the time to develop your skills.
And the worst that can happen? You have a few small successes, then walk back into the 9-5 world with a stronger competitive edge and some oomph behind that “I’m a proactive self-starter” claim.