» Is Freelancing Right for You?
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Posted on: May 17th, 2010

Web designers face the difficult decision of whether they should work as an employee, freelance, or both. While it can be a tough decision, the good news is that they are all viable options and you just need to find the best fit for your own situation. There is no right or wrong answer and in this article we’ll take a look at some of the common purposes of freelancing and the keys to determining if it is right for you.

Common Goals and Purposes of Freelancing:

Everyone has their own unique circumstances in life and career, and not every freelancer has the same reasons for working as a freelancer. Whether or not freelancing is right for you will be impacted by a number of factors regarding your personal situation. Here is a quick look at some of the most common purposes of freelancing, along with a description of when it may be a good fit.

1. Work on the Side – One of the great things about freelancing is that it can be whatever you want or need it to be. Many freelancers have other full-time or part-time jobs and their freelance work is just a gig on the side, at least for the time being.

It may be right for you if…

  • You are looking to turn your skills or hobbies into some extra cash.
  • You want to expand your horizons and learn new things.
  • You want to move towards full-time freelancing but with reduced financial risk.
  • You are a student and looking to gain real-world experience before graduating.
  • You are a full-time designer for an agency and you’re interested in building your profile and name recognition.

2. A Gateway to Full-Time Employment – As a freelance designer you will have an excellent opportunity to build your portfolio, brand yourself, and gain exposure, all of which can help to make you more attractive to employers. Many people who freelance do so with the intention of it being only a short-term situation, hoping that it will lead to other opportunities.

It may be right for you if…

  • You would rather have a long-term career as an employee.
  • You have been unable to land that design job that you want.
  • You have skills that should be noticed by potential employers but not much work in your portfolio to show it.
  • You would prefer some flexibility at this point in your life before settling into a career.

3. In Response to Losing a Job – In recent years many freelancers have gotten started for this reason, and not so much because freelancing was their first choice. Jobs are hard to come by and many people have realized that they have the skills to earn a living on their own even if they can’t find full-time employment. In some cases this may be a temporary career move until the job market improves, and in other cases it may be a permanent move.

It may be right for you if…

  • You have lost your job and are unable to find other work.
  • You are in danger of losing your job and you want to have a backup plan just in case it happens.
  • After losing a job you’d rather work for yourself than to potentially go through another layoff.

4. Long-Term Career Move – For some people freelancing is not a means to an end, it is the career that they ultimately want to have for the foreseeable future. Although freelancing can be an outstanding stepping stone to other things, it can also be a great career opportunity in the right situation. We’ll spend the rest of this article looking at the issue of determining if this is right for you.

Full-time, long-term freelancing might be right for you if…

You are able to live with an inconsistent income

If you’re working as a designer for an agency or as an in-house designer you will have the benefit of a consistent paycheck. As a freelancer your income will not be so steady, which means that you’ll need to be disciplined with how you spend your money and with the consistency of your effort to minimize the slow times. Some people prefer to have a steady paycheck and cannot deal with income that goes up and down frequently, and others feel restricted by a consisten paycheck and would rather have the opportunity to make whatever they earn.

While there is a lot more to full-time freelancing than just the financial side of things, I think this should be the first consideration. If you know that you won’t be able to handle not having a set salary, full-time freelancing is probably not something you should even consider.

You are self motivated

As a full-time freelancer you will not have a boss looking over your shoulder or pushing you to get your work done. Sure, you’ll have clients and deadlines that dictate when projects must be finished and when milestones must be crossed, but it’s on you to get it done. Most freelancers work from home, and this can bring a lot of additional temptations and challenges. The ideal freelancer will be someone that is self motivated and has no need for others to micro manage their progress.

You have experience and technical skills

Full-time freelancing is very competitive. If you have a full-time job and you’re freelancing on the side, chances are you will not be under the same pressure to earn money as you would be if freelancing was your only source of income. Because of this, full-time freelancing is not an ideal situation if you do not have sufficient experience and skills. In this case you’ll be better of taking some projects on the side or looking for a job that will help you to develop your skills before making the jump to full-time freelancing.

Without already having the needed experience and skills you will really be trying to learn the technical aspects of design at the same time as learning how to run your business. If you are able to wait until you have more experience before going full-time, the client work should come more easily and you can place more of your focus on building the business properly.

You don’t mind working with finances, marketing, and all aspects of running a business

If you’re working as a full-time freelancer you will have a lot more responsibility in terms of running the business than you would if you were working as an employee for a design agency. Being a freelancer means that you will have to handle finances, marketing, customer service, preparing quotes or estimates, and all other aspects of the business. While you can, and should, get help from professionals like accountants, you’ll still have the ultimate responsibility for making the business go.

You enjoy client interaction

Regardless of whether you are working as an employee or a freelancer you will need to be able to work well with clients, but as a freelancer you will be the single point of contact and you will be dealing with every client. Some people don’t like extensive involvement with clients and for others it is something that they really enjoy about their work. Even if it is not your favorite part of the job you should be able to provide excellent customer service and communicate well with clients if you want to freelance full-time.

You prefer flexible hours

One of the main draws to a career as a freelancer is the flexibility that it can bring. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood or confused as being less work when in most cases it is more work and longer hours. Most freelancers put in more hours of work than they would if they were employees, but there are definite benefits to having increased flexibility. If you’re expecting the workdays to be short, freelancing is probably not a good move, but if you are willing to work hard in exchange for having some flexibility when you need it, freelancing can be exactly what you are looking for.

You work well on your own

Many freelancers, and really anyone that works from home, will tell you that the most challenging part of the work is being isolated in a home office. If you really enjoy working in an office where you have a lot of personal interaction, full-time freelancing can be a difficult adjustment. On the other hand, some people prefer to be able to work on their own without the distractions that come with working in an office. However, freelancing doesn’t mean that you always have to work on your own without personal interaction. Resources like Skype make it easy to communicate with clients or others in your network, and you also have the option to work from public places (like a library or a cafe) when you want to get out of the home office. Collaborating with others on projects will also help you to get more personal interaction in your work.

You have an established network

As a freelancer one of the most valuable assets that you can have is a strong network. If you have existing connections to others in web design and related fields before going full-time freelance you will most likely have an easier time finding those initial clients as compared to if you were starting from scratch. It is possible to make it as a freelancer without an established network, but it will likely be significantly more difficult.

if you’re currently freelancing part-time or still in the process of deciding if full-time freelancing is right for you, start preparing yourself by making an effort to build your network now before you’re in the position to really need it. If you’re unsure of where to start, see our article Networking Tips for the Busy Designer.

You want more variety in your work

Earlier we looked at the fact that freelancers will have to deal with all aspects of the business rather than just focusing on design. This can be a plus for some people because it guarantees some variety in your work. Additionally, if you’re looking to work on different types of projects or with a greater variety of clients, as a freelancer you will have much more control over this than you would as an employee. As a designer who is employed by an agency you will typically be told which clients you’ll be working for and you probably won’t have too much say in what types of work you are doing. As a freelancer you can pick and choose what you want to do and who you want to work with, you just need to be able to secure the business.

You have a spouse with benefits

Benefits, such as health insurance, are major factors that keep many employees from making the move to full-time freelance. Insurance can be a huge expense, especially if you have a family. Although it’s certainly not a necessity, having a spouse with benefits can make it a lot easier to jump to full-time freelance work. Most likely you’ll be able to be added to your spouse’s insurance for a much lower cost than buying the insurance on your own.

What’s Your Experience?

I know there are a lot of readers out there with experience. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the issue in the comments.

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