The 15 Worst (And Best) Parts About Becoming a Freelance Writer

The 15 Worst (And Best) Parts About Becoming a Freelance Writer

Money isn’t everything. So goes the old adage, and a recent survey suggests many freelancers agree.

AND CO, creator of a productivity app for independent workers, recently surveyed hundreds of freelancers for their study “The Slash Workers.” Only seven percent of respondents said their main reason for going off on their own was financial. Much more prevalent were the desire for personal growth (40 percent of respondents) and greater flexibility (27 percent).

Financial stability is hardly a guarantee when you’re a freelancer writer. The vast majority of study respondents said things had not gotten much better for them money-wise since going solo: 34 percent had seen no significant change, while 43 percent were actually worse off.

That said, freelancers, for the most part, seem happy with their situations: 68 percent reported an increase in “quality of life” since going independent. Clearly there are factors beyond the financial that fulfill freelancers.

If you’re wondering whether freelancing is right for you, here are some of the biggest trade-offs you can expect to make.

Say goodbye to:

1. Stability

Long-time clients can cut and run without warning. Promising opportunities can peter into nothing. You may have more work than you can handle one month, and next to nothing the following month.

Getting comfortable with a feast-or-famine cycle is essential, at least until you build up a more reliable client base.

2. A steady paycheck

One positive of working for someone else is the ability to collect a regular paycheck every week (or every other week). You know exactly what your monthly income will be, so you can budget, plan ahead and have the security of knowing your hard work will pay off in a predictable fashion.

When you’re a freelancer, timely payment isn’t a given. Some clients drag their feet after you’ve turned in a project; others need to be chased down.

It’s critical to build up a savings buffer before going full-time so you can cover the lean months.

3. Benefits

Working as an independent contractor means you’re responsible for your own health insurance, 401K plan and other benefits.

If you don’t factor these extra costs in when determining how much money you’ll need to bring in, you could find yourself facing other unpleasant trade-offs — like whether to save for retirement or buy groceries.

4. Working on someone else’s schedule

No set hours means you can work whenever, and wherever, you like.  

If you’re a night owl, you can plug away until the wee hours of the morning and then sleep in till noon. If you’re sick, you can take a day off or schedule a last-minute doctor’s appointment without anyone tallying up your away time. You can also enjoy activities normally unavailable to 9-to-5 employees, like going to your kid’s afternoon recital or taking a mid-morning yoga class on a whim.

5. Having a boss

Your clients are, in a way, your “bosses,” but they don’t get involved in the minutiae of your daily routine. (At least, not if they’re good clients.) You’ll have specific deliverables to meet by a certain deadline, but no one will be peering over your shoulder telling you how to make it happen.

6. That awful commute

Never again will you be forced to endure gridlock as half your town’s population heads to and from work at the same arbitrary time. You can also say goodbye to added fuel costs, parking expenses and transit passes.

7. Being around people on a daily basis

Freelancing can be a lonely career. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they miss “the feeling of community that a traditional workplace offers.” You may not be a huge fan of water cooler chitchat or forced birthday lunches, but spending day after day alone in your PJs isn’t always fun, either.

8. Clocking out

The downside of having no set schedule is that the lines between work and home can easily become blurred. When you could be doing work at any time, it can be hard to take time for yourself without feeling guilty about wasting a billable opportunity.

Say hello to:

1. Freedom

Want to take a week’s vacation? As long as you make sure your deadlines are met, that’s your prerogative. Not feeling the new project you’ve been sent? You have every right to only choose the ones you love.

As your own boss, you make the rules — which can be simultaneously thrilling and paralyzing.

2. Higher earning potential

Unlike a regular job, which is capped at a certain salary per year, freelancing offers the possibility to earn as much as your talent and marketing skills allow. That’s not to say freelancers are rolling in the dough; according to AND CO’s study, 43 percent of freelancers interviewed make $24,999 a year or under.

3. Location independence

You can travel without worrying about falling behind in your work. You can pick up and move to a whole new city if the spirit grabs you. You can also work from different locations, like a cafe or a park, to keep the inspiration fresh.

4. Being the boss

From marketing to tax prep to crisis management, everything is on your shoulders when you’re a business of one. You’ll need to learn to be an entrepreneur — or explore other ways to put your talents to use.

5. Creative outlet

From pitching new ideas to covering a wide range of topics, freelancing gives you plenty of scope for the imagination. If creating is essential to your happiness, freelancing is a great way to turn that drive into income.

6. Work/life balance

If you’re smart, organized and disciplined enough, freelancing can be a great way to pay the bills and still enjoy the life you have outside of work. With no set schedule to adhere to, you can work with your natural rhythms and make time for the things that are a priority to you.

7. Variety

As the name of the study indicates, many freelancers are “slash workers” — taking on a variety of projects in different areas to get the most buck for their bang. With 95 percent of respondents working as slashers, you can look forward to work that continually challenges and interests you.

As with any career, freelancing has its pros and cons. What’s important is being aware of those pros and cons and determining whether they’ll be the right fit for your personality and personal goals.

Freelancers: What other tradeoffs have you found you’ve had to make for your career, and do you think they’ve been “worth it”?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor; follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Filed Under: Freelancing
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5 comments

  • Deanna says:

    You pretty much nailed the freelance experience, Kelly! The only difference for me is the freedom. In a sense, I have LESS freedom as a freelancer than I did as an employee.

    When I had a regular job, I was given 2 or 3 weeks of vacation. If I didn’t take it, I would lose it. And, you’d better believe I made use of those days! I totally unplugged from work and truly relaxed.

    As a freelancer, I hardly ever take time off for a REAL vacation, because, if I’m not working, I’m not earning money. So, if I do go somewhere on “vacation,” I tend to take my computer with me and work from there. Not much time for relaxing!

    Plus, this past year I’ve been overwhelmed with work. All summer long, I’ve been putting 10 to 12 hour days, and I’m exhausted. But, the whole “feast or famine” mentally pushes me on. I “have” to take the gig, because what if there’s not enough work next month?

    I wouldn’t trade freelancing for the world, but I long for more balance and freedom. Life is too short to be overworked and stressed out all the time!

  • @Kelly
    Good post for would-be or newbie freelancers, bloggers and web writers. Know what you are entering into beforehand so you’ll not get shocks at every step.
    @Deanna
    I hope your experience will be better off as you move up the ladder.

    • Deanna says:

      Thanks, Rajesh. As a freelancer, there’s no corporate ladder to climb — which is one thing I truly love.

      I shared my struggle, because it’s something many freelancers face. When there’s a high demand for your writing services, sometimes it’s tempting to take whatever jobs you’re offered. After all, you don’t know if you’ll have work next month. (The feast or famine cycle is a very real thing!)

      However, this instinct has wreaked havoc with my quality of life. I need to cut back on the workload so I can have more balance in my life — and just trust that tomorrow will sort itself out.

  • I know my favorite part of the whole experience is the freedom and location independence. I’m still working full-time right now but I love that I get to pick what I’m doing in my side job. I don’t answer to anyone, not even my clients. If I don’t like a project I don’t have to do it. If a client becomes more of a headache then they are worth, I can drop them. That’s what the best part

    Also, for me, I will probably be less lonely when I finally pull the trigger and go full-time freelance. I work overnights in a department away from everyone else at my company, I rarely get to see friends or family, or really even talk to coworkers.

  • Aletha Smith-Forsythe says:

    I find this all very encouraging to begin freelancing. I am retired and looking for additional income to supplement my pension. This sounds so perfect, plus I have always thought about becoming a writer.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

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