I have written about the Pro’s and Con’s of freelancing here on the Desk blog from Tobias van Schneider. On there we also discussed some of the contradictions of a freelance life in this article. So when we talk about the downsides of freelancing, most of us already know that the life of a freelancer comes with a lot of not so fun stuff ; things like an unstable income, invoice hunting and finding clients are all obvious challenges of a freelance life. So in this article we will talk about the downsides of freelancing, that are less obvious, but are still important to keep in mind when starting out working for yourself.
When you decide to venture out on your own, you are probably super excited to start working. You set up your website, your have your pitch deck ready, you started emailing potential clients, maybe you already send out some proposals. You are all set and ready to go. But freelancing involves a lot of waiting around. Waiting for emails, waiting for feedback, waiting for a green light on a project, waiting for the copy or images to be collected, waiting for that invoice to be paid. Setting up and running your own practice takes a lot of patience.
When I first moved to Amsterdam, for a ‘trial’ period, I gave myself 3 months to figure out if I could find work and if I wanted to stay. This sounded then like a good amount of time, but it goes by much quicker than you think. I only started to contact people when I arrived, and looking back now, I probably should’ve started much earlier. Building a network is a slow process, so you have to start before you quit your job or make the move to a new country.
So when you want to start working for yourself, it’s important to be pro-active from the beginning. Because it will take some time before you can pick the fruits of the efforts you’ve put in. You have to have patience and give yourselves some time (6 months to a year) to get your business fully up and running.
Working for yourself has a lot of advantages and one of them is a steep learning curve in the beginning. You are going for it alone and you need to manage a lot yourself. This means you might need to do your own photography, your own website, your own presentations, learning new software and skill sets. You will need to figure out a lot and even though it might be frustrating sometimes, you are making big steps forward. Which is amazing and you should be super proud of all your achievements.
The most important thing is though, that you need to keep on improving yourself, keep working on your skills. Because after a few years, you might start to get comfortable by the way you do things. And this can be very damaging for your business. I once worked with a fellow freelance designer at an agency, who had been freelancing for over 10 years. Which at that point made him more senior than me. But because of the way he worked with the different Adobe programs, he wasn’t asked to come back the next week. The way he worked was just not up to date to the standards of that agency and the industry. So even though you are working for yourself most of the time, make sure you keep interacting with other creatives, share your different ways of working and try to keep that learning curve going upwards!
Having a mentor in your professional life, can be hugely beneficial for your career, no matter what stage you are in. A mentor can give you advice, guidance or can help you push your skill set to that next level. When I started working full-time in an advertising agency in London, I experienced how amazing it is to have incredible talented people as your senior. I learned so much from them in such a short amount of time, just by observing how they approach creative briefs or find design solutions by asking the right questions.
Now as a freelancer, it can be a bit trickier to find a good mentor. You usually work alone or you are hired for only a short amount of time at a company. Also you might find it awkward to ask another professional for help or advice. Or if you are a bit stubborn, you might think you don’t need other people's guidance at all and that you can all figure it out yourself. And I’m sure you can, but still .. I would recommend finding a mentor if you can. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one person or someone within your own industry or country. Since I started freelancing, I’ve been lucky enough to do projects with people who are more senior than me and from different disciplines and backgrounds from who I’ve learned a great deal. When you come across such people, don’t be scared to ask them to mentor you. A lot of them will feel flattered and most of them will be happy to share their knowledge with you.
One of the downsides of today’s instant messaging culture is that your clients now also have access to you 24/7. It sometimes seems to be that people think you sit at home waiting for them to give you work. So there will be a lot of ‘quick jobs’ that needed to be done yesterday. In the past when clients texted or Whatsapped me, I would feel pressured to reply to them straight away or work on their request that very minute, even if it was a weekend or I had a night off. This is obviously not a healthy way of working and it can be very disruptive of your personal time or worse, get in the way of other clients work. So a while ago I set some boundaries with my clients and just asked people to email me (or switch to Slack) for any work related questions, just to keep a distance between work and personal communications.
Besides your clients, your family and friends can also (unintentionally) demand 24/7 access. Sometimes being a ‘freelancer’ gives people the idea that you are ‘free’ most of the time or that you are ‘not really’ working all day. This means that you get asked a bit more often to help with a move, family obligations or other things that people with a full-time job can’t easily take time off for. This is usually not a problem, because one of the main reasons for people to go freelance, is to live a more flexible life. But even for your family and friends you sometimes have to set some boundaries.
CONTRACT TO CONTRACT
Depending on the kind of work you do, most freelancers don’t own their work after handing it over to the client. Most freelancers provide a service and it is difficult to actually build up long-term value from your work. Yes, you do gain knowledge, maybe you get some repeated jobs from your client, and over time you will hopefully be able to charge more money. But in the end you are still working contract to contract, job after job.
There are ways of changing this around, by being more entrepreneurial. I haven’t look into this myself yet to be honest, but I know that there are designers who work for start-ups and get paid in shares or equity. You can also license your work or sell the rights for only a short amount of time. Some designers make products or prints that they can sell on platforms like Society6 or Threadless. In this way you can create a (small) passive income and you keep ownership of your work as well.
When you work most of the time as a contractor for other agencies, you will probably have to sign a lot of NDA’s, Non-Disclosure Agreements. This basically means that you have no ownership of your work, are not allowed to share any visuals, knowledge or information about the projects you work on. This usually happens when you work for big global brands for big advertising agencies. Sometimes they allow you to put the work you did in your portfolio when a project is live, but more often than not this won't happen, or you are not there when the project is finalised. This makes it difficult to have a fresh portfolio and if you are not careful your portfolio will be quickly outdated. For example, my latest project in my portfolio is a campaign for Dr.Martens I worked on in the autumn of 2015! Obviously I’ve worked for other clients and companies after that, but most things didn’t make it into my portfolio, didn’t get signed off or never went live. So if you are a contractor I always recommend to keep on doing projects on the side, to keep your portfolio up to date with new and recent work from personal clients or side projects.
One of the things most creative freelancers are pretty bad at, is protecting themselves with contracts. Most of us think it is not necessary to write up such a contract, as we trust our clients, or we think we might scare them off when presenting them with one. Most of us probably think it is a lot of work to set up as well. I must say that I’ve also never worked with a contract and that I also don’t have any other form of terms and conditions for clients to sign. And just like any other freelancer I have walked into projects that were badly managed, where I put way too much work in and I’ve had clients that just didn’t want to pay after completion.
Since I know this is a big issue for many other freelancers, we’ve set up an interview last week with a lawyer for an upcoming article on Contracts. What I can say about this already is that it is a lot less complicated than it seems. We are looking forward sharing that interview with you in the upcoming week.
About the Upsides of Freelancing
If we haven’t scared you off with these topics about the downsides of freelancing, then you might be ready to make the jump. There are plenty of amazing things on the internet being said about the freelance life, being your own boss and we know that many that go freelance, said they made the best decision in their life. With this article we want to give you a more realistic view of this sometimes glorified way of living.