“I haven’t had a lot of success finding traditional work—I’m thinking about quitting and trying to freelance instead. My parents think this is a terrible idea. What do you think?”—Mitch from Arlington, TX
It doesn’t have to be an either/or question. At least in the beginning. When I began freelancing, I was in your shoes. I had recently moved to a new city and struggled to find a full-time job. I began asking people I knew if they could use my help. I tested the waters by taking on projects while continuing my job search. Over time, I had enough freelance work to quit searching for something else.
Freelancing can be a fulfilling career, but it is not a good fit for everyone. You need to consider your finances, experience and personality to see if it’s the right choice for you.
Your financial situation is probably the most critical factor in deciding whether or not to freelance. Full-time jobs offer a lot of financial benefits that freelancers must cover themselves. Can you afford to pay for your own insurance, retirement savings and taxes? Full-time jobs also provide the equipment and services you need to do your job. Do you have a reliable computer, printer and scanner? Do you own the software your job requires? Can you afford phone and internet service?
It takes time to establish a freelancing career, so you may go several months without a paycheck. Projects and checks will gradually build, but even once you’re established, you likely will not receive a consistent, biweekly paycheck. You may get three checks one week and then nothing for a month. Do you have enough savings to support this? Do you have a backup plan in case a check comes in late? Can you manage an uneven cash flow?
Experience is not critical, but it certainly helps. You need to be able to “sell” yourself to clients, which requires expertise and, in many cases, samples of your work. Also, with work experience comes a strong professional network, which has been invaluable to me. Knowing someone who knows someone can take you from being an afterthought to being exactly what a client needs. Nearly all of my freelance work has come from people I know, including former colleagues and classmates.
Many freelancers work remotely. Can you handle being alone all day, or do you thrive on social interaction? I don’t mind being alone, but I still like to head to the library or coffee shop to be around people sometimes. Can you focus on work while you’re at home instead of doing laundry, running errands or catching up on your daytime shows? When you work from home, you need to be able to avoid the temptation of distractions.
I have been very happy freelancing. I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects with many different clients and the flexibility to set my own schedule—both of which are rare with traditional full-time jobs.
If you are considering freelancing, it certainly doesn’t hurt to dip your toes in the water before diving in head first.