I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve seen recommending that folks take on freelance work to make ends meet during the current economic crisis. From keeping the wolf away from the door to working on top of a full-time job, I’ve seen freelancing cited as a panacea. It’s especially promoted to anyone working in a relatively creative field — not just writers and designers, but videographers and coders are being told that freelance is the way to go. I even spotted at article last month suggesting that sales reps should see if they could pick up a few bucks on a freelance basis.
In general, I think freelancing is a great option — but I also know that it isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering taking the freelance route, there are a few questions you need to be able to answer in the affirmative.
1. Can you meet those deadlines?
Freelancing is very deadline-oriented. A client can’t tell you when or where to work, but he can certainly tell you when your project needs to be done. That sounds like it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but think of it this way: if you’re taking on freelance projects just to keep money coming in while you hunt for something permanent, you can get into a little trouble if you actually find a new job. Will you actually have enough time to complete your projects after you’ve put in your time at your brand new day job?
2. Are you willing to give up your free time?
If your freelancing hours are limited to after work, you may find yourself devoting all of your free time to your new projects. While that may not sound all bad, it can be a one way ticket to burnout unless you are very careful about your time management. After all, at least a little social interaction is necessary to keep most people happy.
3. Can you find enough work?
Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty of freelance work out there these days, especially since many companies are turning to freelancers to cover their staffing needs after layoffs. But finding that work is a whole different matter. How much time can you afford to spend on checking job boards? Assuming you’re planning to freelance for more than just a few projects, you’ll want to put some marketing in place — a website with your portfolio and that sort of thing — but even basic marketing and job hunting can take up a lot of time.
4. Do you have a portfolio in place?
Most freelancers rely on their portfolios, rather than resumes to get them hired. A prospective client wants to be able to take a quick look at your work — whether it’s a press release, a web application or a video — and decide on the spot whether he wants to work with you. That means you need to have a solid portfolio in place. True, you can find freelancing opportunities without a portfolio, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to make only a fraction of what you might otherwise.
5. Are you going to make enough to meet your needs?
Freelancing isn’t exactly a fast route to riches. In order to make enough to cover your needs, whether replacing a full-time job or covering unexpected expenses, you probably have an exact amount you need to be making in mind. When you consider the hours you have available to work, that number may not translate into a practical hourly rate — at least for a starting freelancer.
6. Can you wait for your money?
The grand majority of clients do not pay their freelancers upon completion of a project. Instead, you’ll be looking at payment within a month of an arbitrary date (assuming you aren’t working with a big company that requires 60 or 90 days to pay invoices). That arbitrary date can be from the point of invoicing to the point of publication, depending on who you’re working with. Freelancing isn’t really the ideal option if you need the money by this weekend.
7. Are you able to go to bat for yourself?
If you’re used to working with a manager or supervisor, freelancing can come as a bit of a shock. Not only do you need to go out looking for your own work, but you also have to set timelines on your own and take care of invoicing and other paperwork. You can learn how to do all of these things, of course, but the learning curve isn’t exactly shallow.
8. Is freelancing going to interfere with your commitments?
Most clients expect to be able to communicate with freelancers during normal business hours. That can mean taking a call at your day job: that sort of situation is practically begging for an eventual problem. With some effort, you can work around these issues, but it can mean trouble that isn’t really worth it for the amount of money you’re bringing in.
9. Can you be flexible?
You might get a rush project that has to be done by the end of the day tomorrow — which means pulling an all-nighter tonight. You might go a week without getting a new project in. Freelancing requires a lot of flexibility, especially when you’re first starting out and are still working on building a name for yourself.
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