What You Need to Know About Freelancing Before You Start

by Laura Spencer

on May 21, 2012

in Business/Freelance

Over a fourth of all workers are self-employed according to some studies, and now you want to join them. You’ve decided to become a freelance designer or other freelancer.

You’re especially looking forward to:

  • Not having a boss
  • Picking your own projects
  • Setting your own hours
  • Working from home

But, hold on a minute. You can have all that…maybe. However, if you’re thinking about freelancing design there are some things that you really need to know before you start.

In this post, I’ll list some freelancing details that many bloggers and gurus “forget” to mention. By considering these details up front, you’ll avoid disappointment later on and get more from your freelancing design career.

If you enjoy this post, you may also like 12 Reasons You Shouldn’t Freelance.

Not Everyone Can Freelance

To be able to freelance, you need to have a marketable skill or a product or service to sell. Some careers just don’t lend themselves well to freelancing and some people are not well suited to freelancing.

If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, spend a lot of time thinking about the product or service you will sell. Ask yourself why an individual or company would need that service (and be honest). Remember, competition is fierce.

It’s not enough to like what you intend to do as a freelancer–somebody also has to need it and be willing to pay money for it.

Freelancing design also takes a lot of patience and perseverance. It’s a fact that some people do better (and are happier) when they work for someone else.

Freelancing Is More Than Doing What You Love

Many freelancers are drawn to freelancing because they think that they will only have to work on those projects that interest them. The boring projects, the unchallenging projects…they’ll turn those down (or at least they think they will).

The truth is that sometimes the boring, unchallenging design projects are the ones that actually make you money. If you always turn them down, you may wind up short of cash.

Also, there are a lot of aspects to freelancing–marketing, accounting, paying taxes…that new freelancers usually don’t think about. In fact, if you’re used to working in a corporation, these roles were taken care of by someone else. As a freelancer, you’ll find that you have to do a little bit of everything because there is no one else.

You Still Have to Work for Others

If you’re leaving traditional employment because you don’t want to answer to someone else, think again.

Unless you can create and market a product, you will still have to answer to someone. It’s just that instead of answering to a “boss,” you’ll answer to your client (and in most cases, there will be more than one). You will need good people skills because some clients are very difficult to work with.

Even if you do create a product, you will still have to answer to your customers. You’ll become the customer satisfaction department and the customer fulfillment department all rolled into one.

You May Make Less Money

Many freelancers earn more money as a freelance designer than they did in traditional employment. Would-be freelancers hear this and look at freelancing design as a way to get instantly rich.

The fact is, however, that you may make less money as a freelance designer–at least at first. There are several reasons for this:

  • Many new freelancers fail to take into account that most freelancers don’t bill for 40 hours a week. Therefore, they undercharge for their services.
  • Many new freelancers also forget to count the value of their employer-paid benefits when setting their rates. Once they add those benefits back in, they actually wind up with less income.
  • In the U.S. employers pay a payroll tax that self-employed individuals must pick up (the so-called “self-employment tax”).
  • The famous “feast or famine” cycle can be very real, especially for new freelancers who haven’t mastered marketing skills yet.

Loneliness Can Be a Real Problem

While experienced and successful freelancers figure out ways to overcome loneliness, it is still a factor for many new freelancers. Even if you don’t consider yourself a social person, it can be disconcerting when days go by without you seeing anyone else face to face.

Although freelance designers interact with people through email, social media, and telephone calls–those aren’t the same thing as having someone right there with you. Plus, not having someone else there means that you don’t have anyone to run ideas by or to ask questions of.

To overcome the loneliness of not having colleagues nearby, I suggest:

  • Cultivating local friendships
  • Finding a mentor
  • Participating in social media groups and forums geared towards your specialty

Vacations Will Require a Lot of Coordination

Back when you were working for someone else, you had to ask permission to get a few days off–remember how it was? What a hassle, you thought.

You may think that planning a vacation will be easier once you are a freelancer, but for freelancers planning a vacation can be complicated.

For one thing, for freelancers there’s no such thing as a paid vacation. So, it will be up to you to save enough money to make sure that you cover any loss of income during the days that you don’t work.

Also, in my experience at least, some clients seem to have an almost eerie radar about when I plan a vacation. No sooner do I get one planned than they contact me with one of the biggest projects that I’ve had all year. This has happened more than once.

For these reasons and others, many freelancers find themselves hauling their work along with them on their vacation. But that really isn’t very restful, is it?

Your Turn

The point of this post is not to talk you out of freelancing design, but rather to give you a heads up on some common problems freelancers face so that you can think about them before hand.

If you’re an experienced freelancer, feel free to add any other factors that you think a new freelancer or someone considering freelance design (or other freelancing) needs to know.

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About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.