When it comes to freelancing, there are many myths and misconceptions. From “you work constantly” to “you barely need to work at all” and “you control your own life” to “it’s terrifying”. So what’s the truth? If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to be a freelancer, I’ll let you in on the reality of full-time freelancing…
1. Work-life balance
On the surface, freelancing can sound great—work when you want to do, where you want to, and how much you want to. In fact, an estimated 72-78% of the UK public believe that freelancing improves work-life balance. In my experience, the first year of full-time freelancing involves a huge amount of work, so the balance tips heavily towards work, but the rewards in future years are much less work, far more play. After a few years of freelancing, my hours are around 25 per week instead of the UK average 37, leaning far more on the life side of the scale.
When you’re stuck in the office missing the (short) British summer, you’ve probably said “I wish I worked from home!” As a freelancer, you’ll probably be working from home permanently. For some people, like me, this is amazing. No office distractions. If you like your own company and can block out home-based distractions (laundry, chores, etc.), then homeworking is brilliant. Hands-down, I prefer the home environment, working with my cat, than a noisy, smelly, too hot/too cold office! But it’s really not for everyone, so you need to be honest whether it’d work for you. Try it out for a few days.
While working from home means no catching the office cold, it’s very easy to become inactive and realise you’ve been sat in the same spot for 4 hours. You need to keep fit and healthy while homeworking, which might mean getting in-house gym equipment or joining a local gym. Not to mention buying a proper office chair so you don’t do your back in. On the upside, you’re more likely to eat proper meals than a crappy sandwich or snacks, like you would in an office. And you can work from the garden every day to get a good dose of fresh air.
Freelancing can be a lonely business. For those who need social contact, homeworking can be very isolating, so social butterflies may want to work from a library, coffee shop, or freelancing hub. That said, it means no annoying colleagues or irritating bosses. Plus, you get to spend more time with the people you like (friends, family, etc.), because you can manage your own hours around them. This is particularly useful if your loved ones work nonstandard hours, or if you have caring commitments.
One of the major benefits of freelancing is being able to work from basically anywhere as long as you have a laptop and WiFi. I literally worked from around the world, beaches, bars, poolside, and on the road. It’s incredible to be able to combine work and travel. If you get it right, freelancing makes that possible without needing work visas. Just make sure you pay your taxes in your home country.
On that note, tax isn’t something you’ve probably thought much about. As a freelancer, tax is your business, and it’s easy to get wrong. My advice is get an accountant early on, keep a spreadsheet of your business incomings and outgoings, then leave it to them. Set aside some money every month to pay your tax, then pay your tax bill at the end of the year like a good freelancer. No problems.
When I tell people that I freelance, a common response is “Oh, I couldn’t motivate myself to do that!” Yes, there are days when I feel less productive and motivated than others, but there’s something about being responsible for your own business and livelihood that makes you knuckle down and do the work. Especially if it’s work that you love doing, rather than a 9-5 job you find dull and uninspiring.
In an office, your hours are often set for you, but as a freelancer, you choose your working day. So choose wisely. Set yourself working hours and a routine, but only if it works for you. Try to keep your work and home life separate. Plan “down time”. Give yourself breaks and annual leave. Keep track of your time so you’re not overworking. Figure out which hours are your most productive. Most importantly, do what works for you.
As a bit of a control freak, freelancing was revolutionary for me. I control my time, work, priorities, work-life balance, environment, money, etc. And I love it. For other people, this is frightening, because it’s all on you. Being a freelancer requires a lot of independence and initiative to source your own work, meet your deadlines, and resolve problems on your own. But for those who embrace this, it offers unprecedented freedom to make your own choices. If you know yourself, you’ll know whether this works for you.
Money is a complex issue for freelancers. Yes, your income will probably be irregular, meaning you need a back-up pot to pay the bills or a loved one who’s happy to cover them until you get paid. Yes, you might spend more on gas bills in the winter. And you have to pay your own pension, and cover your own annual leave and sick pay. But you’ll find that you barely spend anything. No expensive, uncomfortable office clothes, work lunches, transport, etc. My take-home pay has actually increased from being a freelancer, because I rarely spend any money.
In short, freelancing has its ups and downs, its pros and cons. It’s certainly not for everyone. But those it is for, it’s magical.
What do you love about freelancing? Let us know below!