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10 Realities of Freelance Life

What really happens when you fly solo?

by
Hannah Sternberg

Bio

June 26, 2014 - 4:41 pm
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As I’ve previously discussed, I recently made the transition to freelance work and I’m loving it. Many people have a romanticized view of freelance life, though, and there are a few hard realities I’ve encountered in my first few weeks that I thought I’d share with anyone considering taking the plunge.

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All Comments   (8)
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As an engineer, I have never freelanced, however, my first engineering job was with a small job shop with the owner, one of his kids, and a couple of other engineers. What I learned was that it was feast or famine. We were either working 100+ hours per week, or barely struggling to eek out 20. Getting paid and getting more work was a huge problem for the owner, but he always managed to pay us and find more work. Of course, I didn't make squat on that job, but I was willing to take the low pay in order to gain experience, get access to the networking opportunities, and enjoy the wide variety of engineering work afforded by working there. Besides, the owner was a great guy and there were a lot of perks that didn't show up on the paycheck, like entertaining clients and stuff that provided a great social life for my wife and I at no expense to us. Although the owner was a great guy, and I really loved working for him, I needed more more money and more security. Also, I could see the writing on the wall as the work was slowly dwindling down over time, so I got a job with our biggest client, and, 27 years later, I am still working there and plan to be there until I retire in 10 years or so.

All in all, my first job was the most enjoyable by far and the closest thing to freelancing that I ever did, but my 2nd job afforded me a high and reliable income and a great life. In the end, the 2nd job is the winner hands down, and it's not even close.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
If freelancing, or the 'Gig Economy' (a series of temp jobs) is the future,
then one needs a spouse, or partners, or some 21st century combination
thereof to level out the load, probably including law and political expertise.

9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
Five years ago at age 56 I left my job in Cubical Nation and I've never looked back. Why? Job Security. When the layoffs come it is the old ones who are shown the door first no matter how hard-working they are. It was time for me to create my own job security.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
You will receive final demands on your car payments.
You will fall behind with your mortgage.
You will upgrade your work equipment, computers, etc every 10 years instead of every 2.
You will curse the day your 8 year old copy of Adobe Creative Suite no longer opens files supplied by clients and the cost of upgrade in your territory is $6K.
You will be hit with late payment fees on your maxed out credit cards.
You will learn to come up with a range of excuses why you can't go out with friends.
You'll appreciate the irony that friends on the dole actually have more financial security than you.
etc
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
The IRS will audit you frequently.
You'll spend about half your time finding work.
You'll compete on price with other contractors.
You'll not withhold enough from your quarterly estimated tax, so you'll have an enormous tax bill in April.
Etc.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
At times I have consulted and experienced all of these things. The lonely part is especially true. Most of us I believe do not fully appreciate the social aspects of work. Over the years your main friendships come from school (first yours and then your kids), church, neighborhood and your workplace. If you move frequently, don't associate with a church, don't have kids and freelance - - then keeping an active circle of friends is like a full time job in itself.

The biggest issue I found however is context switching (after the term used when multi-tasking computers were first a big deal). Typically when employed there is familiarity and continuity of tasks - and that makes it much easier to engage every day and show progress. In consulting you are constantly wading into partially unfamiliar waters. Lots of extra talk, study and work just to put yourself in a position to properly execute a new project. This really takes its toll after a while.

Maybe an even bigger problem: Because of all of the things discussed in this article, you should be asking for 2 to 3 times the rate you would be paid as someone's full time employee. But good luck today getting even a small premium over that rate . . . unless you are a lobbyist or government consultant. I am still reeling from hearing a community consultant to the NLRB tell Fox news that he earns $867 per hour. Not $800 or $850 or even $865. But $867 as if the rate was actually based on some value calculation.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm sure rainbows and unicorns are involved here, somewhere...
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have freelanced as well. You can make a lot of money, and then none. And then a lot. Then none. You need to learn to save and prepare for the dry spells. Can be an interesting life though. Unstable too.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
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