5 Inconvenient Truths About Freelancing

Freelancing can be regarded as a great adventure in which you go from project to project following your dreams and pursuing your passions exactly as you want to. You have total freedom. You can work wherever and whenever you want to. These are very real rewards of working independently.

Every coin has two sides. On the flip side of this romantic vision we find the less desirable aspects of freelancing. Other than the obvious concern of not drawing a steady paycheck, there are things about freelancing, especially as a creative, that are inconvenient. We don’t always notice these until we’re made the leap into independence, and they surprise us. Even so, the reward of flexibility, freedom and self-determination balances or exceeds these difficulties, making the inconveniences more than worth it:

1) You’re on your own.

That’s a given. But we don’t often consider what that means and how it plays out day to day. You have no fallback position. There is no one who will cover for you. Your mistakes are all your own. Creatives who love teamwork and collaboration may find themselves isolated and cut off. There is no one to bounce ideas with.

One way to address this inconvenience is to build a network of peers. Join a professional organization or meet-up group and get together regularly for mutual support. Be sure to connect with people who are further down the road than you are. Anyone who’s ahead of you on the freelance journey and is experiencing success can share their experiences and how they solved problems you’re facing. Seek wise counsel for important decisions (wise being the operative word there.)

2) You are self-determined.

This means you are entirely responsible for the actions you take, the goals you set, and how you manage your time and money. You need to be self-motived and self-disciplined. This may present a problem for you if you are used to team leaders, art directors or managers telling them what to work on, when to work, and how to work. Moving directly from school to freelance work is a huge change.

Solve this problem by taking a look at your life goals, personally and professionally. Write them down and give them a timeline. Identify your values and write them down. Decide what kind of work you want to create, who needs it, and who is willing to pay for it. Look at what successful freelancers do who serve the same markets you want to serve. Consider them as resources to learn from, not as your competition.

Being self-determined means, among other things, that you determine how your freelance business operates and who you want to serve with the work you create.

3) You may not be respected as a legitimate business owner.

This is a tough one, and it’s not about clients respecting you as a professional peer. It’s more about how you’re regarded and treated by banks, landlords, credit card companies and insurance companies. When you are self-employed, it is not that easy to acquire necessary funding for your business. You will need to do more to prove your worth and trustworthiness than if you are on salary. This is not insurmountable, but it does require you to be faithful to pay your bills and to be able to prove that you are faithful by providing requested documentation. It also requires you to have the business structure in place: a DBA filing, appropriate business and tax licenses, separation of business and personal financial accounts, and even a method of accounting and bookkeeping. You will simply need to jump through a few more hoops.

4) Everything changes and you have to keep up.

In re-stating the obvious, that technology and procedures are constantly changing. It is necessary, as part of your self-determination, to understand the times and roll with them. Recognizing when you need training, software updates, computer upgrades, new marketing and networking methods, new goals and such is crucial to your long-term success as a freelancer.

Maybe you need to shift from full-time client-based work into licensing and product development, or into content creation. The manner in which you market will need to evolve according to the trends in social media, how your clients use their devices and where they spend their time. Address these concern by staying aware of what is going on in the world and in your professional field. Become a trend-watcher. Attentively observe and revise your business and marketing strategies. Become comfortable with change.

5) You’ll spend more time marketing and taking care of business than actually creating.

This is a fact. In order to reach out to prospective clients, accept projects and follow through, you will need to take care of business — your business. Most independent professionals will admit that they spend close to 80% of their time working on their business: Planning, marketing, serving clients, bookkeeping, paying bills, invoicing, and more — all the things that you will not bill to the client. In fact, as a creative freelancer, you are a business manager, a marketer, a visionary, a provider of tech support, and housekeeper (keeping your studio or office clean and organized). Also, you will need to manage your money well. While freelance income ebbs and flows, bills, rent and utilities remain constant.

Help yourself out by out-sourcing some tasks, setting up systems, and planning your time in advance. If you are not able to engage the help of a virtual assistant, schedule blocks of interrupted time each week and each month (based on the task) to work on your business.

Identify what activities and events you can postpone or delete from your calendar to make room to work on your business. Eliminate things that distract or that eat up your time.

In my experience, freelancing is the most rewarding way to earn a living. Yes, there are difficult aspects to it. Not everyone can do it! To become successful, you will have to work at it. Manage your expectations, risks, professional relationships, time and money, and creative energy well, and treat it like a business. You will gain confidence and enjoy a lot of satisfaction in meeting all sort of  challenges. How great is it that you can earn a living doing what you love, your way?
Your Turn:

What is one thing you wish you understood about freelancing before you started freelancing? If you’re still considering freelancing, what is one thing you want to know? Add your questions and feedback in the comments below.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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