I feel as though the word “Freelancer’ fills any parent’s heart with dread. It brings up feelings of insecurity, inconsistency and for some, laziness. Probably similarly to saying you want to be a Hollywood Actor or win ‘The Voice’ – it’s not perceived as a very secure path to financial stability and career progression.
The first two feelings can absolutely be true I’m afraid. The second, however, is a total myth.
We’re always taught (at least was) that we go to school, pick our options, do our Exams, decide when we leave education and then find a job. The path is basically from school straight into employment.
I’ll admit that I didn’t leave school and instantly start my own business, I started my entrepreneurial journey at the age of 25 and left employment when I was 27. But I do think that, even in the 12 years since I left school, being self-employed has become far more popular (probably thanks to the Pandemic) and with the digital world we live in, it’s never been easier to start and run your own business. So here’s my take on becoming a freelancer, even if you’re fresh out of education.
The mother in me is going to start with the hard truth, you will need to be self-motivated, dedicated and extremely disciplined. There is no-one to tell you when to start working, you honestly won’t always know when your next invoice will get paid and you have to file your own tax returns and be accountable for your… accounts (as well as literally every other aspect of your business).
It is not, unfortunately, as simple as some TikTok’s make it seem. Life would be great if you could be good at something, advertise it a little bit and then earn a stable income from doing so. But after a few interns let me tell you, when your hobby becomes your job it always becomes a whole lot harder.
Take my industry for example, we’ve had a few interns who have come onboard because they love social media, but when you have to consistently and recurrently create content for clients – it becomes less fun. Honestly, think long and hard before you turn a passion project into your full-time job. If it’s your escape, what will you do when you need to escape work? Because that time will come and you will need another outlet.
You do need to be honest with yourself, with no clocking in or manager to monitor your workload – will you be motivated to be productive? Even at the grand old age of 30, I have days where I have to force myself to tackle my to-do list. Of course, eventually clients would start to get grumpy but there’s a hell of a lot more leeway regarding timing when you run your own business, and it can be really easy to fall behind.
Lastly on my negative-Nancy checklist, you have to be disciplined financially. As I said, your earnings can be inconsistent. 90% of my clients are on a retainer (meaning they’re on a monthly contract and pay the same every month for the same services) and even my income fluctuates. Clients can be late paying, cancel your services or even ask for a refund. Not only that but as I said before, you need to be prepared and diligent when it comes to your tax return – unless you pay an accountant, no-one else is going to do it for you and they will fine you for being late or wrong.
Okay, now we’ve got all of that out the way…
I don’t need to tell you that the freedom is unmatched, I’ve done both WFH and running my own business – of course being self-employed allows me far more flexibility. If I’m feeling motivated on a Sunday afternoon, then I can get some work done. If I then want to take longer working out, or Sophie’s off school – I can have some time off. My time is entirely my own. Apart from meetings, I work exactly when and where I fancy.
There’s not just the obvious benefits of working flexibly, it actually allows me to produce far, far better results. The 9-5 business day is fairly archaic now, I’m not sure who came up with it but it certainly wasn’t the modern person. Thanks to our hormones (females), the weather, the seasons, our sleep the night before, our food the day before!… we will naturally feel more tired, motivated, creative, organised etc. on one day versus another. I’ve spoken about this a lot before. But if I forced myself to work 9-5 in my office, the captions would often reflect the dull and unimaginative way I feel. Being able to work freely means that I can work only when I’m at my best, so my clients only get the best from me. If you’re someone who genuinely struggles with a Monday-Friday routine, consider if this way of working would suit you better (remember my earlier advice though, you do have to do the work at some point, it can’t be put off forever).
Not only can you play to your strengths in terms of time, but you can also do so with your skillset.
Imagine if you said to a boss ‘I don’t want to do X part of my job anymore, I’m going to find someone else to do it’. How do you think that would go down? However being a freelancer, you have two options. Either you only say yes to jobs that 100% match your skillset. Or, you build a team or network of trusted partners to join up with. You’ll have to check each individual contract, and my advice is that you be upfront about it, but I have a team of fellow freelancers around me who basically do the bits of my job I don’t want to do. You get to choose what those tasks are, you could employ a marketing company (hey), an accountant, an admin assistant, honestly for almost any aspect of your business you don’t want to do – there’ll be someone who loves it and is willing to be paid to do it for you.
Now finally, although I spoke initially of the financial insecurity – your earning potential is basically unlimited.
Please, please don’t think I’m yet another self-employed knob guru telling you that you can earn millions overnight. I personally don’t buy into that. But the biggest driving force behind my becoming self-employed was that I’d never be waiting for my 1.5% pay rise a year if I wanted to earn more money. Now, if I want to earn more – I weigh up how much more work I can take on, and that decides if and how much more I can expect. Then of course I have to go out, find the client etc. So it’s not necessarily as easy as I put it, but the opportunity is absolutely there. My point is, you can set your own goals and targets, and then you are your only barrier to achieving it. No pay scales, commission structures, corporate policy on pay-rises etc.