Freelancing Pros and Cons

I’ve been reading some freelancer websites and online discussions lately, as part of my ongoing self-improvement strategy. I find that I need to look for inspiration in marketing myself, deciding on my rates, and all the myriad decisions I have to make since I am self-employed.

It’s a completely different mindset than either the corporate or the parenting world. In an office, typically you are part of a distinct hierarchy and have specific benchmarks for performance evaluation. You are paid a set salary and have predetermined job functions. With children, you have specific responsibilities, but there is a fairly wide range of activities and functions that change over time, and there are not very many specific benchmarks or tangible compensations.

I’m finding that freelancing is somewhere between these realms. I certainly have chosen a specific set of services that I offer clients, and I function as part of a larger hierarchy even if I don’t report to anyone in terms of performance evaluation (except informally). I set my own payment rates, within parameters for the job tasks and industry standards, but a large part of the compensations are intangible. Benchmarks are also somewhat personal, in terms of new skills acquired, enhanced accuracy and speed of my work, etc.

In general, I am enjoying being a freelancer very much. But I’ve been pondering what the pros and cons are, in the spirit of keeping flexible about what I am doing and why, and whether I would want to return to regular employment at any time (temporarily or permanently).

For me, the upside of freelancing is:

1. No meetings. I do my work (copy editing), I pursue new clients, I manage my own billing and timekeeping. I don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing workflows, performance benchmarks, or any of that other stuff that used to take up so much of my day in the office. I get to do actual work as much as I choose.

2. Flexibility. I can work essentially whenever and wherever I want. I have worked in cafes, in the backyard, on vacation (yes, willingly so!), and in the middle of my bed. I can work later in the evening after the kids are in bed, or on the weekend when they are napping. No one requires me to punch a clock. In theory I could also work in my pajamas if I wanted to, though I’ve found getting dressed in the morning helps me feel more like a human being.

3. Self-direction. I decide on what kinds of work I will do, and how much of it I will do. (I’m the decider, hee hee!) I can look at my current workload and feel proud that I sought out and earned these clients. I could turn down projects, if I were so lucky as to be that busy or I found the work repugnant in some way (I don’t think I’d much like editing a book on serial killers, for example.)

4. Variety. In my particular work, I am always working on a different topic. I’ve worked on books of art history, anthropology, gender studies, spirituality, health and fitness, philosophy, child development, and more. Sometimes I work on less fascinating stuff like business documents, but most of the time I’m reading interesting stuff.

5. I’m getting paid to do something I love. I know that some people love their employers. I never was in that situation–my corporate life came about somewhat through momentum. I had no sense of direction when I graduated college, and simply got a job at my dad’s company. That industry became my “career,” for about 9 years. But I certainly never loved it, and often hated it. I was lucky enough to have the option of quitting that career (thank you, children, for being born, and Anthropapa, for supporting us) and gently moving toward freelancing a few years later.

    Then there’s the flip side:

    1. I can go days without seeing anyone other than my family. I sit all alone in my house each day, only having interactions on the computer, occasionally supplemented with phone conversations. There is little collegiality or social intercourse in the work I do. (This is only sort of a flip side; I really don’t mind being alone most of the time!) No potlucks or baby showers, no meeting new co-workers.

    2. Having a set rhythm can be very helpful for achieving goals. I’ve learned this as a parent–always having meals and bedtimes around the same time helps the whole family both feel secure and function more smoothly. The work day in a conventional office is generally fairly structured–arrival and ending times, breaks and lunches, regular meetings, deadlines, etc. are generally preset and regular. Freelancing is not at all like that for me, so that rhythmical support is lost. I have to create my own rhythms, and they are hard to sustain given the relatively rapid turnover of projects I work on.

    3. I have always had the habit of needing deadlines or other external motivators. Best way to get me to really clean the house? Invite yourself over this weekend! So freelancing challenges that habit constantly. My steady clients will contact me for new work, but to really prosper, I need to seek out new clients fairly constantly, and I need to self-motivate to get the work done on time.

    4. I’m not sure there’s a down side to variety! There are times when I really like to do the same thing over and over. I just want to tune out a little. That used to be easy when I worked in an office–there was always some repetitive spreadsheet data manipulation or filing calling my name. Now I can sometimes choose to do fairly thought-free work, like cross-checking references or marking formatting codes on a paper manuscript. But overall, my work is never the same two days in a row.

    5. Hmmm…cons for doing something I love…well, I suppose it could be something of a pitfall if I stick with the same things and never progress or expand. I could be like those people I knew in the call center: still taking phone calls, still making low wages, and almost ready to retire. Maybe the job had some pros for them, but they were hard to see. I don’t want to be doing the exact same work in 10 or 15 years…unless I can continue to charge more as the years go by, so that I’m not stuck earning low wages after inflation. And I could imagine getting tired of doing this work after many years…nah, who am I kidding? I get paid to read, and correct piddly grammatical errors that I catch all the time anyway.

      An additional down side would be that there are no guarantees for my income. It’s possible that my contacts at my steady clients could move on to new employment, and I could lose that work. I have to pursue being paid for the work I do, sometimes more than 30 days after the work is completed. If I had a permanent job, I would get a paycheck like clockwork, and short of incompetence or layoffs, I would be secure in having a job.

      So, looking over what I’ve written here, I’d say I’m pretty firmly still on the side of freelancing. I could see wanting a steady, guaranteed paycheck, but the publishing world outsourced copy editors as freelancers long before I came into the industry. Short of an employment miracle, I’m sticking with the status quo.

      * * * * *

      Keyboard photo by Prasan.Naik.
      Pen photo by Churl.
      Coffee photo by Pragmagraphr.


      Filed under editing, freelancing

      5 responses to “Freelancing Pros and Cons

      1. As another freelancer, I agree with all of the above. The only downside for me is the admin: getting the invoices out, making sure I’m paid and engaging with the German tax authorities (who despite the small sums I earn, are VERY keen to take their cut). None of these I do well or on time, which is something I know I need to address because it says something about how I value my work.

      2. You’ve summed up my life. The upsides outweigh the downsides, although I find the lack of long-term job security and the daily isolation to get to me at times! I’ve frequently wanted someone to create a sort of drop-in office coop situation where there are office machines, quiet workspaces, and a communal area. All of it cheap, of course 🙂

      3. I could really see myself doing something like freelance work in a few years. Thanks for sharing this.

      4. I choose to freelance in 1992, and I have never worked for any employer since. I stopped in 2002, and I am trying to start again. I’m finding it difficult, as the demands of my children are so much right now — all in four different directions. I love freelancing, and consider it an honor never have to work for anyone again… EVER.
        Right now, though, I’m struggling, to find the time. My biggest challenge is that I love writing SO much, that I get lost. Time flies, in what seems like seconds… and I have mothering responsiblities that I can neglect. For me, sadly, I haven’t found away around this… so, I just can’t work right now. For the sake of the children. Childcare? I’ve pondered that… however, with the am k schedule, the preschool schedule, the afternoon homework… there isn’t a minute that I could fit someone in. Sigh.

        Keep at it.. the things you’ve listed as downsides, work themselves out eventually. I’m waiting for my current ones to do so too.

      5. Great topic and post, i have favored you in my bookmarks.

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