Working as a freelancer can be highly rewarding and exciting. It’s a self-driven profession that brings out the entrepreneurial nature in you. But it can also have some major drawbacks that make it an unattractive and unsafe profession. If you don’t understand the risks of freelancing, you might end up in a tight spot when you make it your career.
Here are some major drawbacks of being a freelancer and how you can cope with them:
1. Salary irregularity
As a freelancer, budgeting for your life and your work is the hardest challenge you’ll face. This is because your salary will be highly irregular. Some months will be great. Others won’t bring in a penny. You might find your entire salary front or backloaded, getting all you’ll make at the beginning or end of the year. To survive this, you’ll need to be very careful with your spending and budgeting. Use budgeting apps like Mint or YNAB to track your finances and stay afloat. You never know when money will flow into your bank account. Be sure you control how it flows out of it.
2. Finding clients
Freelancers aren’t just photographers, web developers, designers, writers, or whatever service they’re trying to sell. They also have to be salespeople, marketers, and advertisers. And this isn’t for their clients. It’s for themselves. As a freelancer, you have two major responsibilities: finding clients and performing the work they ask of you. The latter is actually the easy part. The hard part is spending a majority of your time selling your services to skeptical clients. If you want to freelance, brush up on your sales pitch and learn marketing tactics. It’ll help you keep a steady cash and client flow.
3. Setup costs
Starting off as a freelancer can be a costly endeavor. From paying for web hosting, contracting the development of a website, paid subscriptions for tools, the cost of advertising, legal fees, and more, you’ll need to spend a bit of money to start making money. The only way to skip these costs is to start with clients you already know or referrals already coming in. Freelance work requires a smart investment of both time and capital to make sure you get your business off the ground quickly.
4. No office
Unless you make enough money, your freelance work will mostly be done from home or coffee shops. This may seem like an ideal situation early on, but you’ll quickly find out that the difficulties of working outside of an office significantly outweigh the benefits. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated at home, a place mentally associated with rest and relaxation. Working in coffee shops means you have to look for reliable internet and quiet locations. Further, you’ll end up spending a lot more money on coffee than you might want. Make sure you set up a part of your home as a home office or find a coworking space away from distractions so that you can focus on work during the day.
5. No accountability
As a freelancer, you keep yourself accountable. Sure, occasional clients will be more demanding and will hold you to your work themselves. For the most part, however, you’ll have to face your own deadlines and won’t have anyone around to check your work. It’s no wonder that many freelancers end up submitting work far below their capability. When you barely meet requirements, you’ll be hurting your freelance career. You won’t have many repeat customers if you don’t give them your best. Further, that sort of work isn’t the best type of example to put in a portfolio, which you should always be looking to do. If you want to freelance effectively, try teaming up with a friend or another freelancer as a way to build an accountability structure.
6. No buffer
You are your own manager as a freelancer. There’s no buffer between you and the client, especially when you don’t produce the level of quality they ask for. When you’re part of a team, it’s easier to bear this stress because you have a boss and teammates to shoulder the blame alongside you. When you’re a freelancer, the emotional ups and downs of satisfied and dissatisfied clients will hit you directly. Becoming a freelancer means you have to develop a thick skin to deal with unpredictable clients. If you can’t internalize criticism and properly communicate with unhappy clients, that emotional stress will disrupt your other work and leave you unhappy.
7. Shifting direction
Clients are fickle. Some have a really clear idea of what they want. Others let you do your own thing. Both can be good or bad and it depends on what type of work structure you thrive under. But while you do get to choose your clients, you can’t turn down every single one you meet simply because their work style isn’t a good fit. To cope with this, you have to be flexible enough to deal with changing parameters and deadlines and as clear and concise about your work and process as possible. Regular updates and progress reports will help you stay on track. Keep lines of communication open so you won’t have to redo work because of misunderstandings.
8. Work/life balance
If things are going well, you’ll find yourself taking on as many clients as you think you can handle. A lot of freelancers take on far too much work. This is especially true in your early days when you’re not quite sure how much you can handle. When you take on too much work, your work/life balance will suffer and the benefits of freelancing will disappear. You’ll have to spend more time working with clients and less time with family and friends. The key to this is adaptation over time. Learn to say no to clients and extra money and keep up with your personal life. Otherwise you’ll be working every waking hour and you’ll burn out faster than the money can hit your bank account.
9. No benefits
Freelancers don’t receive benefits from their employers. Some contract positions do, but project-based freelance positions are expected to take the money they’re given and not much more. As a result you’ll have to buy your own health insurance, pay into your own retirement savings, and take a 100% pay cut when you want to take a vacation or sick day. This is important to keep in mind as the safety net of employer benefits is critical for healthy and productive work. Not having it available makes life and planning for the future quite a bit harder.
10. Scams abound
Freelance work is marred by scammers and spammers who want to either get free work from you or steal your identity. Some clients will give you grief by not paying you on time. Others may want to change the details of your work engagement after you’ve completed a project. Only work through trusted online marketplaces or referrals and only take on clients whose identities you can verify online. Protect yourself by getting everything in writing - if a client doesn’t want to sign a contract for your services, move on. Get as much of your pay up front as possible to avoid unpaid bills. Don’t work with clients who don’t have clear lines of communication for both projects and pay. Those are the type that tend to renege on their agreements.
If done right, freelancing can be a lucrative and fun profession. But avoiding the pitfalls and traps of freelance work can be a tough ask for most professionals. If you feel up to the task of budgeting, finding clients, and putting together your best work each day without external motivation, freelance work might be the right career path for you. Otherwise, it might end in lost money, time, and effort in your career.