Freelancing: The golden career.
You get to work from home, work whenever you want, and still bring in the bucketloads, amirite?
Something like that.
In reality, as the gig economy grows, so do all the misconceptions about what it’s actually like to be a freelancer. So today I want to bust a few of them. Here are some reasons why everyone wants to start freelancing—and why they’re terrible ideas:
1) You want to do more of the work and less of the politics
Maybe you’re tired of having to prove yourself to your coworkers. Maybe you’re sick of the meetings and just want to get on with the project. As a freelancer, I could get rid of tough coworkers and dull meetings forever, you think.
I don’t blame you. Dealing with the interpersonal nonsense at the office can be downright nauseating.
But unfortunately, it won’t end when you start freelancing. Instead of coworkers, you have to prove yourself to clients—which is far more stressful. And those meetings? You’ll still have plenty of them if you want to deliver a successful service.
As a freelancer, you’re not just doing the work. You’re also doing the work that would normally be handled by your coworkers. You’re the salesperson, the admin, HR, and the accountant. In other words, you’ve got a lot of work on your plate beyond your specialty itself.
The exception: If you offer a service that’s fairly repeatable (such as blog articles or simple, templated websites), you’ll be able to streamline admin work over time. You might also be able to find another freelancer who will subcontract you. They deal with the clients, you focus on the product. You’ll make less money than you would working on your own, but you’ll have to deal with less client communication.
2) You hear it’s a great way to make more $$$ per hour
So you heard that your old friend Tim quit his job and is now making $30 more per hour as a freelancer. That’s amazing! What could you DO with that kind of extra capital?
Well… it’s not that much more, really. As a freelancer, you have to cover more taxes and more expenses than a normal employee. You also have to cover all the time not spent doing client work. That extra $30/hour is making up for the 5 hours of sales calls, proposals, and emails it took to get that new client in the first place.
Your first year will be hard. Harder if you don’t have any sales experience, since that’s the first step to building a business. Expect a huge learning curve, and a big pay cut in at least the first year.
The exception: It’s true that freelancing has no ceiling on how much you can earn. If you can get good at selling and delivering, you can get more clients. As you get more positive testimonials, you can raise your prices. Freelancing can definitely be a path toward massive income in the future—but accept that you’ll likely be stumbling around in the dirt for a while. Sometimes a long while.
3) You feel limited and want to do a lot of different things in your work
Your current position is so limiting. You want to create things! You want to do more interesting projects! You have a lot of skills, and all you need are some folks who could use them!
The reality is that in order to grow a long-term freelance career (or even just cover the bills), you need to specialize. This is because your freelance business will be dependent on your referral network—the clients and contacts who respect your work and will refer more clients to you. And if you do 5 different things, they won’t know what to refer you for.
If their friend is asking for a good writer for their blog, would they refer them to the jack-of-all-trades… or the dedicated blog writer they know? You know the answer.
If you’re not specialized, it’s also hard to build expertise and do a good enough job every time to build that referral network. You don’t want every project to be your first time doing that kind of project. That’s exhausting.
The exception: At the beginning, a lot of people start out offering a few different things in one area. If you’re a designer, maybe you advertise yourself as simply “a designer” and end up with jobs on logo design, website design, social media images, and brochures. If you’re dealing with lower-level clients, this can bring in some decent income. But if you want to work with clients who pay more for less work, you need to choose one or two areas of focus.
4) You want to be your own boss
Oh boy, the biggest lie of all.
Striking out on your own. Being your own boss. It’s everyone’s dream, right?
Unfortunately, freelancing won’t give that to you. While right now you answer to a boss, as a freelancer you’ll answer to 10 different bosses who all want different things than you.
Yes, you can get good at client management and setting proper expectations so you don’t get bowled over. But the fact remains: Instead of one person, you’re accountable to a whole lot more people.
The exception: Consider freelancing as a “stepping stone career.” If you specialize in a certain industry, you’ll learn what your clients’ most pressing needs are, and you can see first hand what works and what doesn’t. This can be a good foundation for a business later on as you graduate to more scalable offerings, such as productized services, info products, or even software.
Don’t get me wrong
There are a lot of benefits to taking your career freelance. But these aren’t them.
Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing some reasons to freelance that are actually good. Stay tuned!