The Upside of Freelancing



Following on from the Downside of Freelancing post, for every downside there is an upside, the flipside of the coin  As you would expect the upside of freelancing out weighs the negative aspects, or you would hope so.

That said sometimes the benefits that I’ve outlining below will appear to be mostly on the positive side, but not to put a negative spin on them, some can have a few little traps if you don’t watch out for them.

This can put a dampener on your  freelancing lifestyle.  But as with anything this does depend on your personality and expectations.

  • Flexible Hours

    Say you want to go catch up with some colleagues for coffee tomorrow morning but your boss is riding you to finish that urgent job.  So you end up with no chance to sneak out for that quick cuppa, even at lunch time.  As a freelancer, you could have taken that break.

    As a Freelancer you are in control of the project schedule. You decide when and where the work gets done.  The only bottom line is the delivery to the client concerned.

    If you are not a morning person and prefer to work afternoons and into the evening; no problem you can. Or for example, you determine that you only need to work 3 hours a day to cover all your costs (including salary), then fine you can do that.

    That said there is a trap here. As a freelancer you can get tied up with  production schedules, delivery timetables and the like.  This results in  you working just like you would have under some tyrannical boss.

  • No Boss

    Like with the flexible hours, you are in control.

    There is no one riding you to do a project their way (well besides the client),  no one questioning your decisions.  There is no one there you have to explain to why you are doing things the way you are.  You have the total control of the project.

    You also get to all make the financial decisions too, you choose what you are going to spend your money on.

    Is there a trap here. Yeap sure is.  You really don’t have anyone to mentor with or to pull you up for any number of reasons (instinct, experience to lack of understanding). Someone to make you question, is this the best way of doing things.

    Sure you maybe able to find a business mentor, and maybe a career mentor for some aspect of your skill set.  But you’re going to find it hard pressed to find someone that is completely across all your skill sets.

  • Office Politics, What Politics

    You don’t have to put up with the whining 40ish loser in accounts, or the know-it-all receptionist who is determined to single-handed remap the companies strategic direction. No need to worry about offending that tech in IT who is dating the CEO‘s daughter.  Remember all those annoying things that you just can’t be bothered with around the office, well being a freelancer you don’t get any of that.

    You work usually alone.  And even when you are on-site, you are usually left alone like most contractors.   The flipside to this benefit is you can get isolated. So if you are an extremely people oriented  person, maybe freelancing is not for you.  Then again you can build relationships with the people around you while avoiding the politics.

  • Choice of Work

    When you are working for someone else you don’t really have much choice on the projects or the work you will be doing week in week out.  You may have to work, for example, with an out-dated CMS re-skinning old templates.

    As a freelancer you can avoid all that, you get to pick the variety of the work and the intensity.   If you want to work on wireframing and greyline prototypes one week and the graphic design the next, you can. That’s assuming you have the work coming in.

    This has the added advantages of the work not becoming boring and allowing you to enforce or expand your skill set as you require.

    However as you build your portfolio of clients and feeder agencies you will find it hard and harder to say no to some.  You may from time to time have to take stock and be honest with yourself and fire a few clients that are not in your best interests.  Remember as a freelancer you are only as good as your last project.   But also remember you are in control of your own fate not the client.  It’s important to stay focused on why you took up freelancing in the first place.

  • Small is the New Big

    Being a small (well micro in some people’s view) business you can be more agile in terms of business direction than the larger firms. You can change your focus or skill set as required.  Want to focus on a php framework  development one week and SEO the next, you can (assuming you have the skills).

    Okay you don’t have twenty designers and coders like the big guys.  But you can give a personalised approach to the client.  The person the client is taking to is not just another project manger, it’s you, the person at the heart of the development of the project as well.  This allows you to deliver a very much no nonsense approach to the whole project.

    Then there is the marketing angle.  On the web, you can represent yourself, warning on misrepresentation aside, as being as big or small that you want, the web is the ultimate leveler with respect to this.

    Also being small means many firms are willing to work with you as they don’t see you an a competitive threat, but rather  as a resource.

  • Repeat Business

    I have found that over the years as you polish your skills you will find that people wanting to keep you as a part of their pool of business support professionals.  This is good at first, as you want the repeat business.  But after a while you will get other businesses wanting you to join forces with them.  This would put you back almost in a pseudo salaried styled employment position again.

    From time to time clients will even suggest you join them or they’ll move on.  It’s a hard call, but at this point I always recall why I’m freelancing in the first place.

  • Client Relations

    It’s interesting as a freelancer you tend to work closer with your clients.  Either building up a relationship over an extended period or from a shorter intensive period while your are virtually living in their pockets for a project.

    In general this has lots of benefits, the client usually goes from seeing you as just the web contractor to their own web professional or even a trusted friend. Why does this tend to happen. Mainly it’s because of your focus. You are not representing anyone but yourself, so you tend to be just yourself, and not less removed, or a little standoffish as if it’s just another client the company has sent you to. Well when it’s just you involved in a project you tend to take it all personally. Yeah I know in business your aren’t meant to take it personally, but when you are intensely involved on the usual tight freelance schedule, it just can’t be helped. Mind you that can be a good thing.

  • Money

    Okay it maybe a given, but it has to be stated, as the freelancer once you are established and have a steady stream of clients and agency work then you should be making more money that someone with a stable 9-5 job.  The sticking point here is that you still have to allow for income tax, superannuation, sick and holiday leave and insurances.  So remember that when you are setting your rates.  The money is nice, but then are you really doing this for the money.

This wraps up this two part article, so what do you see as the benefits of freelancing. Given that benefits are a very subjective thing, there are bound to be few that I have missed.

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  1. Very well thought out post as usual, Gary! Thought-provoking, as was the first part.

    One major thing I found as a freelancer is that it’s hard to deal with sub-contractors, and any delays from them will put me in an awkward position with the client. “My best friend’s daughter died and I had to go [to another state] to be with my friend.” Then following closely on the heels of that, “My son was performing in a concert in another state and I have to take him there, we’ll be gone a week.” Then, “Sorry, I was sick.” Etc etc. So in some ways you’re in control and in others you’re very much less in control than if you had employees. The trial and error involved in finding good sub-contractors can cost you clients.

    All the negatives aside, it’s my goal to work for myself again sooner rather than later. The upsides definitely outweigh the downsides for me.

  2. I think another point on the disadvantage side that your post made me think of is that there is no one to proof your work before it goes live. You’re the last line and you have to maintain your own standards. If you let these fall you’ll lose business.

    ((Brought to mind because of the massive collection of errors in this blog post. Sorry, professional editor in me was going crazy wishing I could fix them all. lol))

  3. @Rebecca Laffar-Smith If you sanitise a post too much I find you loose your voice and the personality of the post entirely. It just becomes another mindless over worked article. In many instances I strongly believe that a post should be a conversation with the reader.

  4. Yes, but conversations are more fruitful when all parties are speaking the same language. It’s one thing to make major edits that alter the tone of a peice and quite another to simply make sure it is free of spelling/typing errors.

  5. @Rebecca Laffar-Smith – Okay there where some spelling and typing errors in the post, these occurred mainly due to a browser crash and cache pickup of the wrong version on that version, these sadly got carried forward. Anyway this is diverting from the main topic at hand.

  6. A thought-provoking post Gary – thanks!

    The politics is definitely a good upside. Having worked in large Government organisations, the politics was one of the most exhausting things to manage (and involves so much time).

  7. I have such a love-hate relationship with Freelancing that it’s great you are writing about both sides. It’s funny, actually, because even though the pros and cons are there, the weighting is just so different. The pros of freelancing are just so good that we often put up with some serious downsides!

    The biggest problem for me is having to be everything to everyone. I have gotten better at outsourcing the accounts, SEO and programming and some other aspects that I am not terribly fond of, but I still work ridiculous hours for not a lot of return. I don’t have anywhere near the amount of choice and flexibility I would like, but whatever pays the bills I guess 🙂

    I think one of the biggest differences between Freelancing and an Agency is that clients have to have different expectations of us.

    When its one or two people working as Freelancers on a project, we simply don’t have the resources to do the same job as an agency might (although some agency work can be very lazy too!). Because most of us don’t attract the big bucks, we can’t test or research as much as we would like to, and a lot of it is on the fly, or I might rush a solution or choose a wrong solution because of time constraints etc. And, when you fuck up, you fuck up directly in front of the client, and you have to do some serious grovelling sometimes that you wouldn’t have to with the help of a sales rep 😉

    Anyway, sorry for the novel, great post 🙂

  8. @tuna: reading this and the downsides as a soon-to-be freelancer you’ve reminded me of plenty of things I need to take into consideration. Ah, who am I kidding? I’m not considering anything. I’m decided and will be a freelancer soon. Can’t wait! But these are good signposts to watch out for, so I can make the right turns at the right time.

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