I’ve been working as a freelance for the last five and a half years and marketing agency types often sidle up to me on the quiet and mutter that they’re thinking of going freelance and would I recommend it? I’ve always answered that it depends on your circumstances and here’s why:
Is there any work out there?
Do clients and/or agencies in your geographical area regularly bring in outside help in your field of expertise? And if they do, are the current people freelancing very busy and turning down work or twiddling their thumbs? Are you better/cheaper/faster/more flexible than your potential ‘competition’?
Do you have a decent Network?
90% of my work comes from old contacts, either people I’ve worked with in the past or via their recommendation. It helps that when I was a full-time agency planner I worked in the three biggest agencies in my area which means I recon I worked reasonably directly with over 500 people in 12 years. If you’re still in your first job or have recently moved to the area you simply won’t have that network.
It obviously also helps if you have a decent LinkedIn page full of recommendations from your network and a personal website as it makes you so much easier to track down when someone does want to hire your services.
Can you afford to startup?
When I was made redundant, I took the opportunity to switch to a freelance life, helped by my redundancy payout which funded my laptop, decent printer, insurance, business cards and all the stationary and small tech that until then had come from magically self-refreshing ad agency stationary cupboards. All in all, I spent the best part of two grand setting myself up at a time when I suddenly had no salary coming in.
I was also lucky that within a week of announcing my redundancy I had my first piece of work booked in – thanks to someone I had worked with years before. But if things had taken a while to pick up I could have been without any income for several months.
Can you cope with a permanently fluctuating income?
Freelance life often means feast or famine – one month you’ll be working all the hours and billing work like mad, the next you’ll be twiddling your thumbs. And some companies will be considerably better than others at paying your invoices on time. If you have very high monthly outgoings without much wiggle room for quiet months things could get very stressful.
Would the lifestyle suit you?
If you thrive on pressure, deadlines and team camaraderie then freelance life is probably not for you. Equally if you’re rubbish at networking, get easily distracted when you’re working alone or are hopeless at managing your own finances then stay employed. Tax returns, IT support and website design can all be outsourced but you do still need to be a fairly organised self-starter to succeed as a freelance.
But if you enjoy being in control of your own diary, having the flexibility to arrange work round your life rather than vice versa and want to be master of your own destiny, then go for it!