What it’s like to be a freelancer

What a freelance worker can expect

Thirty years ago, most people would have scoffed at the idea of freelance work as a full-time career. Today, it’s well on its way to becoming the new normal.

Freelancing has soared in popularity in recent years. When you consider it means avoiding a daily commute through rush hour, no more claustrophobic cubicles, and not having Carol from accounting steal your yogurt from the lunchroom fridge, is it really any surprise?

According to the latest Freelancing in America report from Upwork and the Freelancers Union, the freelance workforce in the US is currently estimated to be 57 million, representing 35% of the American workforce.

Freelancing’s popularity isn’t just some fad, either. The report found that the overwhelming majority (91%) of respondents think that the best days of freelancing are still ahead. Not to mention that more people than ever before are pursuing freelance work by choice rather than out of necessity.

So, what’s drawing people to the world of freelancing? According to the “Freelancing in America” report, having a flexible lifestyle is the main reason people freelance full-time. Plus, 71% of respondents said perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive.

The flexibility that comes with freelancing is understandably appealing, but there’s a lot more that comes with leaving the corporate world behind. And those who are considering a freelance career should carefully weigh the challenges against the benefits.

Because freelancing is about more than working from your couch in your PJs.

Here’s a look at what you need to consider before becoming a freelancer.

Freelancing means wearing many different hats

A lot of people think that freelancing isn’t like starting a business. But that’s completely inaccurate.

Freelancing is a business and comes with all the business-related tasks. That means making sure taxes are paid, figuring out health care and planning for retirement, finding work, and, of course, tracking payments (a little more on that important last one later on). Those are a lot of different hats to wear.

This all may sound overwhelming at first. But take a deep breath, and put on one of those many different hats to start planning.

Begin by preparing a freelance business plan – think of it as a vision board for how you want your freelancing career to progress over the coming year. You’ll want that plan to include the clients you want to target, your core objectives, marketing strategy (aka how you’ll get clients), and financial goals. Don’t forget to consider all of those business-related tasks we noted just above that you’ll need to take care of.

You should also create a way to keep track of your freelance projects, including each client you’re working with, deadlines, contact information, pay, project status, and so on.

Be realistic with your plan, but also embrace it as a way to chart out your freelance career and position yourself for success. More and more people are pursuing freelancing as a long-term career option, and having a well-rounded business plan can help ensure you’re one of them.

A tip: Taxes for freelance income are entirely different from taxes for traditional employment. It requires some budgetary planning to make sure you aren’t left with a hefty payment at tax time. If the very idea of taxes makes you want to curl into a ball in the corner, hire an accountant who can keep things on track and make sure everything is in order come tax season.

Flexible schedule, with a catch

The ability to set your own schedule is a definite perk of being an independent contractor. But there are some catches.

Many freelancers are drawn to the notion of being able to choose the projects and clients they want to work with, while creating their own schedule to complete the work.

However, being too selective about clients and projects has repercussions. Because every time a freelancer turns down work, they don’t get paid. You also don’t want to create a reputation of being too selective with gigs that prospective clients don’t even reach out to you.

Plus, sick days and vacation time don’t exist for independent contractors. And trust us, with all that goes into being a freelancer, you’ll want some vacation. But turning down work can put you in a financial bind for when you need time off, so keep that in mind before saying no to a project.

If you’re planning to go away, communicate your availability to clients well in advance. That will allow them to plan accordingly, and ensure you don’t lose a valued partner.

Keep in mind that while you’re able to create your own hours as an independent contractor, your schedule will likely need to be tied to that of your clients’. You’ll have deadlines to meet and meetings to attend that will be established by your clients’ needs. That means keeping somewhat “normal” hours during the typical workday to communicate with clients.

About being your own “boss”

Most freelancers have, at some point, heard some variation of: “It must be so nice to not have a boss and work for yourself.” But we’re going to call this the biggest misnomer about freelancing.

No matter the type of work you do, as a freelancer you work for clients. You’re completing work for them. Each client has their own requirements and expectations for the work you do for them. And keeping those clients happy is essential to maintaining a steady flow of work and income.

That means that many freelancers will have multiple bosses at any given time. Four clients = four “bosses.”

Juggling each client’s needs can be challenging, perhaps even more challenging than having one supervisor to report to, but it’s doable with a bit of organization and open communication.

Combating loneliness

If you’re an independent contractor, or considering becoming one, no doubt you’ve been warned about it being a lonely existence.

Many people are drawn to freelancing by the idea of working from home. However, after a while, working from home can start to feel isolating. Because while your cat might be a great companion, it’s not a great conversationalist. And if your cat is replying to you, well, that’s a whole other issue.

Sure, freelancing can be lonely, but that doesn’t mean it has to be.

Successful freelancers know that it’s important not to stay isolated. Getting out of the house isn’t just beneficial for your physical and mental well-being, it can also help you make connections and land new work. Plus, making a distinction between your personal life and work will help ensure you have a healthy work/life balance.

Joining a coworking space or attending networking events will help you stay social with the added benefit of enabling you to connect with other freelancers who have similar experiences.

Getting paid

We saved the biggest issue for last.

Let’s start with the good news. According to the Freelancing in America report, 60% of respondents said they earn more as a freelancer compared to when they had an employer. What’s more, according to the report, the median skilled freelancer earns more per hour than 70% of workers in the overall US economy. Those are stats every freelancer can get excited about.

But before you start shouting “making it rain” from the rooftop, there’s a downside. Being a successful freelancer isn’t easy money. Being paid fairly is one of the top concerns among independent contractors. And for a good reason. Freelancing requires you to set and negotiate rates with clients. Even if you deliver amazing work, you’ll likely find yourself having to justify rates on at least one occasion.

Freelancing can also mean an unpredictable income. There will be times when there’s lots of work, and there will be times when there isn’t any work. That’s just the nature of freelancing. The ‘not-so-secret’ secret to avoiding long lulls in getting paid is to diversify your client portfolio. The more clients you acquire, the less downtime you’ll have.

Freelancers also need to be diligent about invoicing. Tracking down payments is never enjoyable, and sending out passive reminders can get tedious quickly. Save yourself a lot of frustration, time, and headaches by using a payments service to automate the process.

With Veem, not only can you send invoices and receive payments in your local currency, it also takes care of sending out those payment reminders, so you don’t have to.

Freelancing isn’t for everyone. But the same can be said for sitting in an office from 9 to 5.

Making the plunge from gainful employment to freelancing is a huge change. And it’s not a decision that should be rushed. But, if you carefully weigh all the considerations to make sure it’s the right fit for you, freelancing can be a profitable and rewarding experience that gives you more control over your career path and a better work/life balance.

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