Last year, over 700,000 people in the U.S. added their names to the growing list of people who earn part or all of their income through self-employed or freelance work, according to a recent report by Spera.
We freelancers tend to work from home or remotely in some way; we are free from the commute and often free to move to a new city without losing our clients.
But many employees are working remotely too — so, what is really so “freeing” about freelance work? What defines the freelancing experience, beyond just the ability to work from home or in a quiet corner at the local coffee shop?
I asked other freelancers about this — what does the “free” in freelance work mean to you? — and answers differed somewhat. But several relatively universal answers emerged:
1. I can set my own schedule.
This is a big one, especially for those who freelance part time. Grant Bolton does voice-overs as a part-time freelancer. “As a graduate student,” he says, “it is easy to rack up debt and hard to scrape up any extra money. In terms of finances, freelancing has allowed the flexibility that a part-time job would never offer.”
The flexibility to fit work around family time is also one of the biggest draws to the freelance lifestyle for both men and women. “I am able to work as early or as late as I need,” says Bolton. “I usually record late at night when all the kids are asleep.”
2. I choose who I work with.
Hate your boss? Don’t get along with your co-workers? As a freelancer, you are in charge of selecting what clients you want to work with and which ones you don’t. Not happy with how a client treats you? You can fire them. You have much more control in this area than an employee has.
“Freelancers choose their clients every bit as much as their clients choose them,” says Susan Anderson, freelance writer and chief guru at WorkingWriterHappyWriter.com. Equally, if there are certain types of organizations that share your values, you can share in their mission by choosing to work for them as a freelance contractor. “We get to choose whose stories we tell,” she adds, “which companies we aid in growing, and which messages we help to shout from the rooftops.”
If you prefer your own company above others, the solopreneur life can have extra appeal. “I like the digital or voice contact over being in an office, dressing the part and meeting face to face,” says Michael Stover, an editor and writer. “I do most all my work in shorts, barefoot, and I like it! I can collaborate professionally via chat or voice and be comfy, too. Plus, I do my best work when alone without distractions.”
3. I have control of my income level
As freelancers, we set our own rates and can adjust and raise those rates at our own discretion. Many say they work fewer hours doing freelance work and make more money than they did as an employee. Others may tell you the opposite. Either way, we are in control.
Nels Norquist is a self-employed photographer. He works long hours during his busy summer months, but is able to slow down and take time off during the winter months. “I enjoy the control I have over both my schedule and my income,” Nels shares. “It may not be for everyone, but this works for me and my family.”
Freelancers can even choose how to charge: many have an hourly rate while others have a fixed price based more on value delivered than on time spent. The Editorial Freelancers Association’s rate sheet on their website can be a useful gauge for what an experienced freelancer should expect to make in the writing and editing fields.
More about this: How to Smartly Raise Your Rate (and Handle Unsustainable Clients)
(Many people forget when first diving into the freelance world that only a portion of work hours are billable. The All Indie Writers website has a great tool for calculating the rates to charge to achieve the annual income you desire.)
4. I can do what I love
Many freelancers are making a living using a totally different set of skills than what they used while they were in the traditional marketplace. (I was actually a bookkeeper for over 20 years before starting my freelance writing career.)
Others, like Jodie Norquist (who’s married to fellow freelancer Nels), have simply moved their existing career field into the freelance realm. “Writing as a reporter for a small town newspaper had a limited scope — and very limited pay,” says Jodie. Freelancing gives her the freedom to pursue and expand her work skills in ways she couldn’t as an employee. “Writing for magazines and interviewing people from a broad spectrum of society fulfills the desires that led me into journalism in the first place.”
Freelance work: free to fail and free to succeed
Is there risk involved in launching out into freelance work? Absolutely. When you work as a freelancer you are starting a business. Starting and running a business takes a lot of work. No matter what your primary skill is — graphic designer, web development, writing, photography — you need to add the multi-skilled hat of the small business owner to your arsenal.
Also of interest: When Do I Begin Freelancing Full-Time?
Clients do not automatically show up at 8 a.m. each morning with your assignments for the day. You have to go out and find them. Paychecks are not delivered like clockwork every two weeks; you can spend 40 hours in a week working on your business and not collect a dime for all your effort.
So why take the risk? The four rewards listed above are the reasons most freelancers take the plunge and why most of us say we’ll never go back to working for someone else. We would rather be free to fail than forfeit the above freedoms in the traditional role of employee. Freelance work is not for everyone, but a growing number of people, like myself, are embracing the freedom of it.
Is your plan for going freelance working out for you? If you’re getting stuck on some of the important details, check out our “Freelance Full-Time” checklist!