Ep 4: An Inconvenient Truth About Freelancing

So why did you become a freelancer?

"I want to work for myself and have more freedom to do other things."

If that sounds like you, you're not in the minority. I find the 'freedom' part to be subjective, however the 'I want to work for myself' part is whole 'nother ball game.

If you've got into (or are interested in) freelance so that you can work for yourself - here's the scoop...

You're not working for yourself - you're really working for your client.

The irony is that you as a freelancer come last. Your client(s) at the moment will always come first. You're brought in to help grow their business - not your own. And you're at their mercy.

Now don't get me wrong - the freelance life has some great perks! You work when you want. You vacate when you want. And if you're designing, I don't need to tell you that you can virtually work from anywhere you want. For the free spirits out there, these are essential ingredients to leading a more desirable life. After a taste of these perks, it'll be hard to go back to your life before - you can believe that!

On the flip-side, if you don't work, you don't get paid. When you vacate, you probably won't get paid. And though you can work anywhere you want, in the beginning, you'll most likely be stationed in front of a computer for a huge portion of your tenure in freelancing. You're also responsible for your taking care of your own insurance, taxes, and bookkeeping. All this on top of doing a lot of not growing your own business - because you're working for your client.

This is all fine and dandy if this is what you knowingly signed up for in the beginning. More power to you and by all means, don't let me discourage you. For some of us, this is perfectly fine.

For me, starting out, it was all about working for the highest bidder and nailing some long-term, guaranteed work where I could exercise my brand of creativity.

And see, that's just the thing - how was that any different than say...working at a top-tier ad agency? That company would pay well and secure me work for the foreseeable future. The only differences might be exclusivity and having to work on-site.

That was when it dawned on me that after a while, you begin coming back around to employment very similar to what you did before you starting freelancing. Because you'll need a steady stream of clients / projects to maintain a standard of living, you'll want raises and you'll always want to prove why you're better than the next designer. Nowadays, many firms and start-ups out there will grant you all of this. So on paper, you might be an Independent Contractor, but unofficially, you're pretty much an employee - right?

Now we come back full circle to why freelancing is really about being in the best service of your client - not yourself. They've decided to act on an idea, they've been granted the resources to achieve a goal, and now they need help executing that goal. That's where you fit in. Just try to prove yourself irreplaceable so that you're constantly one of the most valuable people on the team. Otherwise, any of those other 10 million designers out there could be twice as good, at half the cost. Your client (or agency) might not think twice.

Working for yourself and being a freelancer might paradoxically be an oxymoron.

Freelancing can be a means to eventually working for yourself, but I don't think it can be achieved solely by being an Independent Contractor. Working for yourself means having created something for yourself - where you can leverage your resources and serve your customers, not clients (so much).

My hope is that in whatever you decide to do, that you have clarity and defined purpose. Freelance is the fast lane on the highway and it's easy to be caught up in the traffic. Take a step back and evaluate your role in society. Make sure your personal goals are always within grasp. Understand an inconvenient truth about freelancing.

I'd love to know what you do as a freelancer and how it's coming along for you!