I’ve been a freelance web developer for more than eight years. It’s allowed me to write for SitePoint during the past six years and since this is my 1,000th article (cue fireworks and fanfares), I thought it was time to share my experiences of the freelancing world.
Going freelance is a scary step. I dithered for far too long and wish I’d done it years earlier. Perhaps you will too…
1. You have a skill
If you’re a developer or designer you have a skill relatively few possess. Don’t underestimate your knowledge and talent; others want your expertise. You’re also in a young industry where demand has always outstripped supply. It’s difficult to find good people but, if you’re one of them, you’ll regularly have more work than you can handle.
2. You’re not afraid of hard work
In most companies 20% of people do 80% of the work. If you consider yourself part of that 20%, freelancing could be a great option. But remember:
- There’s no hiding place. Unlike salaried employees, it’s easy to dispose of your services if you don’t deliver.
- You’ll be completing direct work for clients and indirect work for your company: marketing, sales calls, accounts, tax, etc.
3. You want to live the dream!
Most people dream of running their own business but few ever take the final plunge. You may not be the CEO of Apple but, as a freelancer, you’re responsible for a small company. It will be daunting but it’s probably easier than you expect.
Freelancing will take over your life but most jobs do.
4. You thrive on variety
Good freelancers can pick and choose the jobs they want to tackle. I often take roles which interest me rather than a better-paid tedious task. You can also diversify; article writing, training courses, photography, video editing, game creation and more are all possible. I’m paid to write this!
5. You want flexibility
Do you have a dentist appointment? Do you want to see your kid’s school play? Do you fancy a day off? Do you feel the urge to migrate a database at 4am?
Freelancing need not be a nine-to-five job. While most clients will expect you to be contactable, you’re not an employee; if you’re not working, you don’t get paid. You’ll never need to complete an absence request form ever again!
6. You want to do what you love
The top employees in any company are ultimately promoted. That may be a good thing but it normally means doing less interesting work as you step up the management hierarchy. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just risen to your level of incompetence. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just been bypassed for promotion by someone less competent!
Freelancers can concentrate on what they enjoy — presuming someone is willing to pay for that work.
7. Less discrimination
Your gender, age, race, looks, disabilities, location and education are (normally) less of issue in the freelance world. That’s easy for me to say as an attractive 21 year-old able-bodied white male but, the point is, you’re a temporary worker and may never meet your clients. I wouldn’t suggest freelancing “solves” discrimination but it’s more important you can do the job. A client’s personal preferences and prejudices are less evident.
8. You can escape corporate culture
Good freelancers can slot into a variety of teams, working practices and corporate cultures. But, even with a long-term contract, you’re still outside the normal company structure. You’ll rarely be invited to pointless meetings. You’re not subject to tedious assessment procedures. You need never indulge in pointless office politics or power games.
The most unusual benefit: everyone listens to you. Bizarrely, people often trust independent advisers over and above their own employees — even when they’re saying exactly the same thing!
9. Job security
At best, job security in any employed role is an illusion. You’re a month away from redundancy no matter what the company’s prospects. Of course, freelancers are only one minute away from contract termination but:
- it’s less catastrophic; you have the processes in place to move to your next project
- you’re unlikely to sack yourself from your own one-person company!
10. The rewards
Let’s talk cash. Freelancers set their own rates based on factors such as the work, location, convenience, urgency, length of contract, company size, interest, etc. Employees can be shocked to learn freelancers typically earn three or four times their daily rate. Freelancers may also profit from other activities and retain a higher percentage of payments because travel and equipment can be offset against revenue.
But don’t under-value your services:
- you’re hired for a limited period — perhaps by the hour
- clients can terminate your work without notice or reason
- you’re not entitled to paid sick leave or vacations
- there are few perks such as pensions, medical insurance, subsidized food, etc.
- employees don’t normally pay for services such as accountancy, public liability insurance, advertising, business cards, etc.
- you’re worth it!
Becoming a freelancer is a big step and I was far too hesitant. There’s never a perfect time but, if you’re regularly consulted about outside projects, you know the work is out there. Ideally, you should save some money to last a couple of quiet months but you’ll never feel you have enough. Not having a financial buffer is very motivating!
Become a reasonably successful freelancer and you’ll never want to enter the world of salaried permanent work ever again. What are you waiting for?…
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.
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