Most creative professionals, at some point in their lives, have at least considered the option of quitting their office jobs to instead work as a freelancer. Freelance professionals are not permanently employed by one company, and therefore are “free” to take work on a project-by-project or client-by-client basis. Whether full-time or part-time, what is most enticing about freelanced work is the self-employment, which some people believe to be synonymous with “total freedom”. This is not always the case. We at ECR have put together a short list to dispel (and occasionally prove) some common myths about freelancing.
1) I can work from anywhere, at any time of day.
This is often the biggest factor in deciding to go freelance, and for the most part, it’s a completely legitimate statement to make about your freelance career. What people don’t often account for in their rationale is the fact that more often than not it is some higher power determining your work hours – whether it’s your client, your contractual employer, a deadline, or that mountain of paperwork you have to get around to. Yes, you can work from home, yes your hours can be flexible, but your hours ultimately have to be realistic. If you want to start work at 11 pm at night and end in the wee hours of the morning, then consider freelancing for clients overseas – because if anyone in the same time zone wants to get ahold of you and hash out some minuscule detail of their design, or ask some questions about a commissioned painting, it’ll be pretty hard to do when neither of you are
available at the other’s convenience.
With that in mind, people often assume that “freelance” is synonymous with “always available” it’s not. Working from home, you get caught up in the mindset of “well I can do this one thing for them, I’m not terribly busy right now” but the reason you aren’t terribly busy is probably because you haven’t separated Work from Life, and now you have little to none of the latter. It’s essential to set, and adhere to, personal limits regarding your work hours. While when you work may vary day to day, pick a set number of hours you would like to work each day. From there, take one or two of those hours and dedicate it to doing your accounting and bookkeeping.
File your invoices, make sure you got paid, plan what you need to work on next – do this consis-tently enough that it becomes routine instead of a massive headache. When breaking up the hours of your day, include time to get out and socialize, even if this just means going to buy groceries. Working freelance or working remotely often means you spend a lot of your time alone, and while a lot of creative professionals don’t mind this, “alone” can become one short step away from “lonely”.
2) I’m my own boss.
Somehow, the belief exists in many creative professionals that things get easier when you are self-employed. To some extent, that can be true – particularly because there are “less fingers in the pie”. Whatever you’re working on, you direct the course of its creation and completion. Except, the more fingers there are in the pie, the less responsibility you have; instead of just focusing on the creative aspect, you are now responsible for communicating with the client, taking their calls, having meetings, writing up a business plan, writing up contracts, making sure you receive payment, filing the paperwork, handling your marketing, answering e-mails and social media … and being creative. And of course, when you’re working for a company, you get guaranteed work and usually some form of health insurance or benefits – and the risk of being laid off.
Although you’re running all the shots of your own business, the people giving you business also have a say. To a degree, clients are the ultimate boss – but at least you can “fire” them if you need to. One thing to bear in mind though, is the dreaded difficult client. Working for yourself, you often have several projects on the go instead of focusing solely on one, but different projects means communicating with different clients. The next thing you know, you have two or three hard-to-work-with customers instead of just one.
Of course, self-discipline, motivation, and organization will prevail over all else developing a system for handling each client or project is beneficial. Although you might be working at home one day and from a cafe the next, general consistency and routine from project to project is key.
3) I control how much money I make.
This statement must first be preceded with the assumption that you will make money freelancing no matter what. You have no control over that. What you do have control over, however, is how you ensure you are in a position to make a profit. First and foremost – do not up and quit your Job to freelance. Unless by “up and quit” you mean “create a game plan and save up some money first”. Working freelance is different than any other typical office job because a great portion of being successful comes from first testing out the waters and finding out what works best. And the tides do change.
While there isn’t a larger corporation taking a cut of the profit made from your work, or no other employees to pay, there are still a number of factors that determine whether or not you “make it”. You choose how many clients or projects you work on at any given time, so you do have the option of multiple income streams. But referencing the water-based analogy used earlier, freelancing can come in waves. Sometimes you will have an abundance of work (and therefore wealth), and sometimes you might not. Sometimes clients will take a long time to pay you.
The control that you do have is over how you spend your money. In addition to your savings, devise a monthly budget and a monthly average income that you need to reach to support your budget based on the averages of the lowest months’ pay you received last year, or if you’re on salary, look at how much a few of the projects your company received were worth. At worst, you can still support yourself, and at best, you will exceed your financial expectations. Devising a proper estimate is just as important as how you budget your money. The most common mistake that freelancers make is by short-changing themselves in order to seem more appealing to clients, to get more jobs.
However, working for far less than the project is actually worth is detrimental to your bank account. With a proper estimate, a proper contract is key to avoiding scope creep (unpredicted and often unpaid additional tasks that go along with a project). Make sure to outline in your contract the amount of revisions allowed before you can charge extra for work or time that wasn’t originally accounted for in the initial estimate. Of course, properly estimating a job only comes with time and experience (and often mistakes). Research what other professionals in your field are charging for their services, then develop strategic pricing from there.
4) I only have to work on things
I’m interested in.Working on only things you’re interested in can be widely true, if what you’re interested in is fairly broad. For instance “print ads” versus “print ads for car companies” very different. That being said, when you are working a field as competitive as the world of freelancing, you can’t afford to turn down potential work until you have an established client base. Less work only means less money. If you like designing print ads, you might just have to suck it up and design websites sometimes too.
Another common misconception is the idea of working only when you feel inspired which we would all like to believe happens more often than it actually does. Being creative, whatever field it may be in, takes just as much practice to be good at as it does to be good at accounting, or selling cars. That being said, it’s important to make sure to work even when you are not inspired, which ties back nicely to the first idea of setting a schedule for yourself. A blank page is not nearly as close to an end product as scribbles and mock-ups are, so by waiting for inspiration to strike, you’re not only losing out on the important process of creative development, you’re also losing out on billable hours.
Freelancing can be a great way for creative professionals to self-manage their skills and their potential, as well as have personal control over their income and time, but it’s often highly mythicized. It’s no easier or “better” than any other job – at the end of the day, doing a good job at what you do requires just as much hard work and conscious effort in or out of a traditional office.