It’s been a while since I’ve written a careers post. That’s because, somewhat ironically, I’ve been busy with work. However, the busier I am, the more I feel qualified to provide you with careers advice: I’m always skeptical of bloggers who exclusively blog about blogging, or someone who’s sole career is being a careers coach.
Something I’ve seen floating around my social media channels recently is people looking for advice about going freelance. And it’s not just my fellow media grads feeling the desire to go solo: self-employment is seeing a massive upsurge. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of self-employed individuals in the UK increased from 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 2017, and that number continues to grow.
There’s a lot of sense in self-employment in the current work climate. Us twenty-somethings are demanding more flexible working conditions, a better work/life balance, and the ability to travel and move around the globe at will.
But it’s scary going it alone. I wanted to share my experiences for anyone considering taking the plunge into the freelance pool.
My journey to self-employment
Become a freelancer wasn’t always my intention. After I had to walk away from my supposed ‘dream’ job in September 2017, I found myself in an unknown city with no job, nowhere to live and no friends. Yikes. My previous employer was based in London, but I knew I couldn’t afford to move back there after investing so much time and money into relocating to Manchester. However, they very kindly took me back on a freelance contract for two months while they looked to replace my role in-house.
While I was technically self-employed at this point, nothing was really different than when I worked in the office, apart from the fact I invoiced for my hours at the end of the month, and I was responsible for my own tax.
Almost immediately after my freelance contract with my previous employer ended, I was contacted by another media company looking for a long-term freelance journalist. At the time I was actively pitching for television work, so the flexibility of technically being freelance, while having the security of guaranteed work was a godsend.
It’s only been since moving back to Edinburgh that I’ve started freelancing ‘properly’. I’m pitching to publications and businesses, I’m taking on paid blogging work, and I’ve been making money through other creative opportunities which has been really exciting.
I saw a really good quote on Facebook that perfectly describes being self-employed:
“It’s like sitting on a lion. Everyone says, ‘wow, that’s so brave’, while you’re thinking, ‘how did I get a lion, and how do I keep it from eating me?”
The pros of freelancing
The number one benefit of self-employment is the flexibility it brings. Over the past 12 months it’s been a Godsend being able to attend hospital appointments whenever I’ve needed to, to visit my family whenever I felt like it, and to jump at opportunities that have come my way, regardless of how last-minute they have been.
Going freelance provides the ability to explore multiple income streams. If you’ve ever wanted to launch an online shop alongside your day job, to be a writer/ marketing whizz/ social media guru, or any other combination of careers then self-employment is for you.
The self-satisfaction of being your own boss is second to none. Whatever you achieve, it’s great knowing that it’s entirely down to you. There’s also a certain amount of bragging rights that comes with being able to say you run your own business (hollllaaa!).
There is an amazing community of freelancers out there to connect with. I’ve met some incredible people since starting my self-employment journey, all of whom have been so supportive and taught me lots.
When you’re freelance, your earning potential is unlimited. It can be frustrating working a salaried job and spending hours above and beyond in the office without being compensated, but if you’re self-employed you’ll either charge by the day or hour, or per piece of work you provide. This means that every hour you work should (in theory) be paid for. Essentially, the more you work the more you earn.
The cons of freelancing
If you asked freelancers what the biggest downside to self-employment way, most would say it’s that there is no holidays or sick pay. Going on holiday costs me twice: I need to pay for the trip and I lose money by not working those days. It’s not ideal, but that’s why freelance fees are usually above the standard hourly rate.
You may be your own boss, but the client is king. If you don’t please your clients, you won’t have any work. Simple. This can mean putting up with unreasonable demands or taking on jobs you don’t really want to do just to pay the bills. Lucky you.
Waiting for invoices to be paid is stressful. Not having a monthly payday is a huge downside of freelancing, and you need to bear this in mind when it comes to paying the bills.
It’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself. If you don’t know what the future holds, then it makes sense to take on any work as and when you can find it. But taking on too much work comes with problems of its own. Remember to always prioritise your own physical and mental health, fellow freelancers!
It can be lonely. I, like many freelancers, work from home, which means I don’t have colleagues to socialise with. Equally, there’s no one to pat me on the back when I do a good job or to bounce ideas off when I’ve hit a wall. If you’re a very sociable person then this aspect of self-employment could be tricky for you.
You need to save for your tax bill. Self-employment means filling out a tax return rather than having money taken off your earnings each month, which can be not only complicated but difficult to fight the temptation to spend whatever you earn.
It’s an extremely competitive marketplace right now, and as more and more people go freelance it’ll only become more so. Not only do you need to be amazing at whatever it is you do, but you should be a networking whizz and a marketing guru to get your business off the ground. You need great talent and self belief to have any chance of surviving self-employment. You will face rejection and it will knock your confidence, but the key to going freelance is to keep going no matter what.
Is freelancing for me?
You may have noticed that the cons list looks longer than the pros list, but that’s because the pros are of a heavier weighting. Honestly, becoming self-employed is the happiest accident of my life.
If you have the option to step into the freelance world gradually then I’d recommend taking that route. Yes, you’ll be working double time (and your tax bill might be a bit confusing) but this way you’ll still have a financial safety net.
The bottom line is – if you don’t try it’ll never happen. If being self-employed is your dream then go for it! As long as you are prepared to work hard and have the self confidence to follow your dreams then there is no reason why you should fail.
Keep on rocking, my fellow Girl Bosses!