Like many professionals, you might be wondering if you can make a living as a freelancer. After all, lots of people are trying it. A FlexJobs survey found that 36% of U.S. workers freelanced during the pandemic. That’s an increase of 2 million since 2019. According to a Fiverr study, 68% of remote workers are interested in freelancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That isn’t to say that people are only freelancing because of the pandemic. Countless professionals are tired of traditional employment. They want work that’s satisfying, fulfilling, and adaptive to their life goals. It’s no surprise that the freelance/gig economy is more attractive than ever.
For some people, the switch to freelancing is forced. They lose their job (often due to the pandemic) and have to make ends meet by finding new ways to earn income. Others do it by choice. They choose to abandon a life of traditional work in search of something more fulfilling. You’ve probably witnessed friends and family attempt freelancing.
In this article, we help you decide if freelancing is right for you. We’ll cover the benefits and drawbacks of the freelance lifestyle. Then we offer some questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you’re ready to make the switch.
Countless professionals are tired of traditional employment. They want work that's satisfying, fulfilling, and adaptive to their life goals. It's no surprise that the freelance/gig economy is more attractive than ever. Click To Tweet
The Benefits of Freelancing
What makes freelancing attractive? Let’s go through the benefits.
Strong Earning Potential
Freelancing means you can pick your rates. You can take home every penny that you charge your clients. There’s no business owner above you taking his cut because you are the business owner. In the 2020 Freelancer Income Report, 80% of global freelancers say they feel more satisfied with their way of living as full-time freelancers.
Work on Projects You Love
Since you work for yourself, you don’t have to take on projects or gigs that you dread. You can focus on the projects you enjoy, the ones where you can have the biggest impact, and those that pay the best.
Work From Wherever You Want
Many freelancers love that they aren’t forced to commute to an office to work alongside people they don’t like. Instead, they can work from any location using modern communication methods to stay in touch with their clients. In fact, 83% of freelancers do most of their work from home.
You Own Your Brand and Reputation
When you’re employed by a company, all of your hard work strengthens the company’s brand. Their reputation grows because of your contributions. However, as a freelancer, you reap the rewards of all of that effort. You own the brand. No one can take it away from you. Your reputation will stick with you throughout your freelancing career and even help you land a job in the future if that’s the path you choose.
Your Skills Will Grow at a Rapid Pace
Freelancing is a sink or swim environment. You either find ways to please your clients or they move on to someone who can get the results they need. When you’re accountable for your results, your skills tend to develop very quickly.
Demand for Freelancers is Growing
The pandemic created a surge of interest in freelancing, but the trend was always going to grow. More companies are turning to freelancers to meet their needs rather than hiring full-time employees. There are plenty of opportunities available today and more to come in the future.
The Drawbacks of Freelancing
To be fair, freelancing isn’t a perfect work model. It comes with some drawbacks that you should consider when deciding whether a freelance career is right for you.
It Takes Time to Ramp Up
You can’t decide to freelance one day and then earn a full-time wage the next. It takes time to build your skills, clientele, and reputation. You can use a freelancing platform to get started with some jobs, but even those systems take time to build reviews and feedback.
You Must Be Disciplined
This drawback is the biggest challenge for many would-be freelancers. It’s also a common reason that freelancers fail. When you work for yourself, you must have the discipline to keep working even when you don’t feel motivated. You have to approach each day with a sense of positivity and drive. No one will pick up the slack for you.
You Must Balance Several Skills
Running your own business means you have to wear multiple hats. It’s your job to manage sales and marketing, accounting, human resources, legal, and all of the other roles you would find in a typical company. On top of that, you also have to be an expert in whatever service you sell. If you don’t know all of that, you’ll need to learn quickly.
You Always Have to Think About the Next Gig
There is no place for complacency in freelancing. By their nature, freelance jobs are temporary. So you always have to consider what you’ll work on once your current job is complete. Marketing yourself is important even when you’re busy; otherwise, you could find yourself in a slump without any work.
Getting Paid Can Be Hard
In traditional employment, your pay is deposited directly into your account. But as a freelancer, it’s your job to track what your clients owe, bill them for your work, and collect payment. Inevitably, you will run into a client who can’t – or won’t – pay your invoice. In these cases, you will either have to find a way to collect or chalk up the loss to the cost of doing business.
Your Income Might Be Irregular
Working on a job-by-job basis leads to inconsistent income. In one month, you might make more money than you have ever earned, and the next month, nothing. Those up-and-downs are common for freelancers (often called the “feast-or-famine” cycle).
Is Freelancing Right for You?
While freelancing is a viable career for many people, it might not be right for your unique situation. Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide if you’re ready to switch to freelancing now, if it is something you can move toward in the future, or if you just aren’t suited to the freelance lifestyle.
Can You Be Accountable to Yourself?
In traditional employment, a manager oversees your work. They tell you how to spend your time, whether your work meets their standards, and how you need to improve. If there’s a problem, the manager tells you what steps to take to resolve it.
As a freelancer, you are responsible for all of that. No one sitting at a desk nearby will hold you accountable for producing good work, managing your time, and serving your clients well. Of course, your clients will offer some feedback, but they won’t manage your day-to-day.
Effective freelancers know how to be accountable to themselves. They are pragmatic and disciplined. They use tools to keep themselves organized, like project management software, booking software, and time tracking software. This type of self-management is hard for many people, but it’s absolutely critical for freelancers.
What Skills Do You Have to Sell?
To be an effective freelancer, you need a skill (or set of skills) that clients want to buy. The demand for certain skills and your proficiency will affect how much work you get and how much you can charge for your labor.
For example, driving for Uber is technically freelancing, but since several people can do it and it involves skills nearly everyone learns early in life (driving, following directions, using an app, etc.), it doesn’t pay well. But software development pays significantly more because it requires years of study and experience.
Before you can dive into freelancing, consider whether your skills are marketable. Are you good enough that people are willing to pay you for your work? Is there an audience of buyers who need those services now? Is it possible to support yourself on the income from those skills?
It’s also smart to consider how you can package multiple skills together to create a more comprehensive service. For instance, a website builder might couple their design and development skills with their writing skills to offer complete website development and copywriting service. Customers who need help with both are plentiful.
What’s Your Financial Situation Right Now?
While freelancing is economically viable, you can’t build a freelance career overnight. It takes time to find and service clients, collect payments and grow your reputation. Many freelancers work for years, building their skills and clientele before they can do it full-time.
The simplest and smoothest way to move into freelancing is to start your journey while you have a full-time job that pays your living expenses. On the evenings and weekends, freelance on the side – until you start bringing in real money. Then slowly cut back on work while filling the gaps with freelance work. Eventually, you should quit your job (which should be more of a part-time affair at that point) and slide smoothly into full-time freelancing.
That’s the ideal route, but it’s challenging for some people. You may not have a job at the moment. Or you may have a job, but it won’t let you scale back over time, so you can gradually move into freelancing. If this is your situation, your only option is to freelance as much as you can on the side (yes, you’ll be working your tail off!) until you can take the plunge into full-time freelancing.
In either case, you’ll need careful control over your finances. Track everything you earn and everything you spend until you identify the minimum you need to make each month to reasonably provide for yourself and your dependents. Can you reliably find enough work to hit that target? If you can, it might be time to switch to freelancing. You’ll probably want to hold off until you bridge that gap if you can’t.
Do You Have Dependents Who Rely on Your Income?
Most new freelancers experience a period of low income when they first transition to freelancing. This fact makes it difficult to support yourself but even harder to support other people. If you have a spouse, children, or dependent adults in your family, there’s a lot more riding on your income. You may find it hard to make the switch.
If you want to switch to freelancing, the only solution here is to find other ways to provide for those dependents. Maybe your spouse could contribute more money. Maybe some of those dependents could start providing for themselves. Or – and this is the path most people take in this situation – you could continue working full-time for an employer while you grow your freelance business on the side.
Do You Have Access to Severance or Unemployment?
Ironically, one of the best times to transition into freelancing is when you are laid off from your job. This gives you access to severance payments or unemployment compensation that can cover your income (at least partially) for some time. In fact, some people seek out opportunities to lose their jobs (by volunteering for layoffs) to get these benefits.
Many people use this time to aggressively pursue freelancing while they don’t have to worry about their income. They work small jobs to get in the door with potential clients. In some cases, they work for free to build a portfolio or relationships within their industry.
Can You Distinguish Yourself from Other Freelancers?
As we mentioned earlier, the freelance industry is growing rapidly. There are a lot of freelancers in the market now, many of them just like you. So you’ll need to find a way to differentiate yourself from other freelancers who provide a similar service.
A simple way to distinguish yourself is to focus on a particular niche. For instance, instead of being a general freelance writer, you might focus on a subject you know a lot about, such as personal finance, pet care, or insurance. This way, you’re only competing with other specialists rather than every writer in the market. You can niche down as far as you like, but keep in mind that specificity will limit the number of potential clients.
Results are another powerful way to distinguish yourself. There are a lot of social media managers out there, but you’ll stand apart from the crowd if you can show a history of getting results for your clients, especially if you can draw a clear line from those results to client revenue.
Are You Willing to Accept Risks and Rejection?
Freelancing is inherently risky, especially in the beginning. Whereas a traditional employer will pay you even when work is slow, freelancers only get paid when they produce work for clients. As a freelancer, you take all of the risks, but that also means you get all of the rewards when your hard work finally pays off.
Fortunately, this risk diminishes over time as you become better at your job, grow a robust network and clientele, and develop a reputation as a service provider who produces quality work. Eventually, you will have a full schedule of high-paying work with little risk of losing income, but it takes time to get to that point, so you will need to be comfortable taking risks.
Rejection is another common occurrence for freelancers. Clients will reject your proposals, refuse to pay your rate, and criticize your work. Inevitably, some clients will fire you, decide to “go a different direction,” or disappear entirely without a word. These things happen all the time, so you’ll need to be able to accept them and move on without letting them affect you too dramatically.
Can You Promote Yourself?
Like any business, it’s essential to promote yourself. It’s not like clients will find you if you simply sit back and wait. Even a website is not enough. You have to actively promote yourself to build a clientele, especially at the beginning of your career.
Marketing your freelance business is not like finding a full-time job. When you’re seeking employment, you only need to promote yourself to a small group of people. Once you land the job, the promotion period ends. As a freelancer, you’ll need to engage in routine marketing even when you have a full load of clients. You have to be vigilant about this so the income keeps flowing in; otherwise, you’ll suffer from periods of revenue drought.
There are a million ways to promote yourself. You might start a blog or be active on social media. You might send cold pitches to the types of clients you hope to serve. Or you might partner with other freelancers to refer work to one another. No matter which methods you choose, they all require work, commitment, and the ability to talk about yourself.
Are You Willing to Be Flexible?
Many professionals prefer the freelance lifestyle because of the flexibility it offers. As your own boss, you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for a day off. You don’t have to notify someone when you visit the doctor or take your child to the park. You can work and live your life on any schedule you like.
This flexibility seems like a benefit, but it can also be a drawback. Sometimes you have to respond to a client when you would rather not work. Sometimes you have to solve a client’s emergency problem because there’s just no one else to do it. And if you are struggling to earn income, you may have to take any job you can find, regardless of your schedule. And while it’s technically possible to take off any day you like, you still have to get your work done.
Being a freelancer means being flexible all the time. You need to be able to change gears at a moment’s notice, work on various projects (even if you specialize), and work late nights or weekends every once in a while. You have to do whatever it takes to meet a deadline or please a client, so they don’t find someone else.
You also have to be flexible about what you do. You may prefer to write copy for websites, but will you turn it down if a long-standing client wants some copy for his social media profiles? Maybe at some point in your career, but it would be foolish to turn down projects you can complete well that don’t require any effort to obtain in the early stages.
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if a freelance career is right for you. We can’t choose for you, but we hope the advice we outlined above will help you make the decision. The freelance lifestyle isn’t for everyone. If it’s not right for you, it’s alright to stick with the traditional employment model.
But if you think you would do well as a freelancer, we encourage you to make the switch as soon as possible. As our world changes, freelancing will become a significant (if not a majority) position in the global economy. The sooner you adapt, the better off you’ll be.
Freelancing successfully means managing yourself smartly. That requires a careful understanding of how you spend your time. If you decide to dive into freelancing, check out Timing, an automatic time tracking tool for productive and efficient freelancers. Learn more about Timing.