As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the ways that we live and work, people are increasingly looking for new ways to make a living.
Perhaps you’ve been laid off, furloughed, or had your hours cut as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps you’re already a freelancer and worried how your income will be impacted now and in the next few months.
Should you throw the towel in and go back into employment? Or perhaps you simply love the idea of working for yourself and are wondering if now is the time to take the plunge.
Whatever your situation, if you’ve ever considered going freelance, you might be asking yourself: is freelancing worth it?
What to expect when going freelance
If you’ve previously worked for an employer in a salaried or hourly-paid position, going freelance can seem like a big change — and it is.
You might dream about handing in your resignation letter (I know one freelancer who actually had theirs written and sitting in a drawer for over a year before taking the plunge!) But in times of economic uncertainty, many people cannot afford to take such a gamble unless they are reasonably sure it will pay off.
Waking up on your first day as a new freelancer is both scary and exciting. Knowing that you’re in charge is a fantastic feeling, but it can also feel like a lot of pressure.
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Getting started as a freelancer is easier than you think. Depending on the nature of your business, you might not even need much more than a laptop, your skills, and a killer work ethic to get going. Remember to check any relevant laws, too. Do you need to register as self-employed for tax purposes, for example?
When you go freelance, you’ll suddenly be responsible for things you might not have thought much about before. For example, you might need to arrange your own health insurance, pension contributions, and student loan repayments, depending on how the system works where you live.
Many people don’t go from employed to freelancing overnight. A lot of freelancers start by freelancing on the side, during the evenings and weekends when they’re not working at their full-time job. This can be a great way to build up a client base so that you’re not starting from nothing when you decide to leave traditional employment.
I know one freelance copywriter who worked full-time while freelancing on the side for three years before quitting their job. So if you want to dip a toe in without making an enormous lifestyle change at this stage, this is a good way to do that.
Is freelancing worth it for you? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.
The pros of freelancing
You’re the boss
Perhaps the biggest draw of freelancing is the freedom it provides. A freelancer can, at least in theory, set their own hours.
To quote a freelance IT consultant I know: “I like being able to work the schedule that suits me, rather than being told I have to be in the office at 9 am every day.”
If you want to start work early and finish early, you can. If you need to take an afternoon off to go to the dentist, you don’t need to get anyone’s permission.
Similarly, freelancers can work from home (or a coworking space or other location if they prefer), wear whatever they like, and take a vacation without needing to book PTO months in advance. In other words, you are your own boss — and that is tremendously rewarding. Everything you do is for yourself and your business, rather than for a company you ultimately have no stake in.
The other benefit to freelancing is that the earning potential is theoretically unlimited. In a traditional job, you can only earn as much as the salary you’re offered. As a freelancer, however, you are free to negotiate your own rates and increase them periodically. You can also choose how you want to balance time and money. For example, you might choose to work more hours to earn more money one month, and then have a slow month to rest and recharge.
There are also numerous ways to increase your income beyond simply working more hours. For example, you could write and sell an ebook, create an online course, or get into affiliate marketing to build up a stream of passive income.
Do what you love
Last but by no means least, freelancing allows you to make something you love into your career. You presumably decided to become a writer or a photographer or a programmer or a graphic designer because you love the work. Since you are free to say yes or no to projects, freelancing also allows you to do more of the things you love, and less of the things you don’t care for.
The cons of freelancing
You’re the boss
Of course, for every positive there is also a potential negative. While the freedom afforded by the freelance life is appealing to many, some people struggle to focus and motivate themselves without a boss looking over their shoulder. If this is you, you might want to work on your time management and self-motivation before you embark on a freelance career.
The nature of freelancing also means that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. There is no paid vacation time or paid sick leave. Therefore, you’ll need to have financial contingencies in place (we’ll talk more about these in a minute).
Finally, freelance income is by definition uncertain. While it is unlimited in theory, it can go down as well as up. Having regular clients is one way to keep a steady flow of predictable income, but even this is not guaranteed. Clients can choose to drop you or cut back on the amount of work they want from you. Businesses can go bust, sometimes unexpectedly. If having an income that fluctuates from month to month sounds nightmarishly stressful to you, freelancing might not be the career for you.
So, is freelancing worth it?
Ultimately, you are the only person who can decide if freelancing is the right choice for you. I’ve tried to lay out the pros and cons for you as clearly as possible. You must choose if the pros outweigh the cons and decide, is freelancing worth it?
If you are self-motivated, determined, and have marketable skills, the rewards can be substantial both financially and in terms of lifestyle.
But is now the right time?
Are there freelance jobs to be had in 2020?
The short answer is yes.
Many freelancers are understandably feeling worried and uncertain at the moment. A lot has changed as a result of COVID-19 and many freelancers have lost clients in the last few months.
However, there are still freelance jobs to be had if you know where to look. According to a report by Payoneer, 40% of freelancers reported that their income had either risen or remained the same in the first three months of the pandemic. In addition, three quarters said that their hourly rate was unchanged.
The same report paints a very promising picture for freelance professionals in the post-COVID era. 53% of freelancers said they expect demand for their services to increase following the pandemic. This may be due to an increased need for flexibility on the part of companies. Hiring freelancers on a per-project basis can often work out much more cost-effective than taking on a full-time member of staff.
The numbers speak for themselves: freelancing is still worth it in 2020. So if it’s what you want to do, I encourage you to go for it.
Here are some ways you might be able to find clients in the era of COVID-19:
- Use freelance jobs boards such as Upwork, FlexJobs, and Freelancer.
- Set up relevant job alerts on LinkedIn.
- Sign up on gig sites like SolidGigs.
- Reach out to local businesses in your region, especially those you frequent as a customer. Introduce yourself, tell them what you do, and ask if you can help them.
- Ask friends, family, former colleagues, and past clients to refer you to their networks.
- Consider offering an introductory rate or limited-time discount for businesses that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.
If you’ve been focusing on clients in your city, state, or country, cast your net more widely.
As a freelancer, you can work from anywhere. Why limit yourself to clients who are geographically close to you, especially if you live somewhere like the USA that is currently going through a recession?
In short, get creative! There is no shortage of freelance gigs to be had if you know where to look.
If you’ve decided you want to go for it, read on to learn how to jump-start your freelance career.
Quick jump-start guide to freelancing
Is freelancing worth it? So you’ve decided it is. Congratulations on making the leap! As with so many other things, preparation and planning are the keys to success.
Here are my three top tips to get you started and get your new career off on the right foot.
1. Sort your website before you do anything else
You cannot be a freelancer in 2020 without having a great professional website. If you have the skills, you can build one yourself. If not, consider a free website builder or invest in hiring a web designer to do it for you. At a minimum, your website should contain:
- A great home page that introduces you and your services.
- An “about me” page that lets site visitors get to know you.
- Testimonials from happy clients.
- A portfolio including links to completed projects.
- A blog. You’ll need to update this regularly in order to help your SEO and bring your website higher up in search results.
Your website is the first thing many of your prospective clients will see, so make sure it reflects who you are and how you want to present your business.
2. Build your network
Word of mouth advertising is perhaps the most powerful form of marketing for freelancers. If someone loved what you did for them so much that they’re willing to tell others about it, you should take that as the highest of compliments.
Your network is your most critical asset when it comes to finding freelance clients. So you must invest the time and energy into building and maintaining it. Here are some of my top tips to get freelance clients through your network:
- Join a networking group and attend regularly. Many groups are now meeting online, but you should choose one in your city so you can attend in person after the pandemic is over. Make friends, build contacts, and grow your reputation as the go-to person for the type of services you provide.
- Become active on LinkedIn. Follow and connect with relevant people and those you’d like to work with, and build a relationship by interacting with their posts. Additionally, share your own content regularly. Remember to be positive, professional, and always strive to provide value for your audience.
- Collect testimonials. Can someone you’ve worked for in the past give you a great review? If not, consider doing a limited amount of free or reduced work in exchange for a testimonial.
Remember, networking is about giving as well as getting. Be helpful and courteous to everyone, and if you have the opportunity to do someone a favor, take it. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
3. Get your finances in order
Nothing will kill your creativity and productivity like financial stress. Therefore, before you go freelance, make sure you’ve completely thought through the financial implications and drawn up a plan.
Here are my top tips for managing your finances as a freelancer:
- If possible, have a buffer fund saved up before you get started. Having a few thousand dollars in the bank will stop you panicking if things don’t pick up as quickly as you’d like.
- Arrange a system to track your income and expenses. Some people use a simple spreadsheet, while others prefer an invoicing software tool such as FreshBooks. The best system is the one that works for you.
- Set aside 20% of everything you earn so that you don’t have a nasty surprise when your tax bill arrives.
- Consider Income Protection Insurance. This will cover you if you can’t work for an extended period due to illness or injury.
- Understand that some clients won’t pay on time. That’s just the way it goes. You’ll need to be prepared to spend at least some of your time chasing invoices as a freelancer. This article can help you out.
The less you need to worry about money, the freer you are to do what you’re amazing at. Which, after all, is probably why you wanted to go freelance in the first place!
Working for yourself is fantastic. Almost every freelancer and self-employed person I know loves what they do and says they would never want to go back into full time employment. And despite fears to the contrary, now is as good a time as any to launch your freelance business.
Since experts are predicting an increased demand for temporary and freelance workers after the pandemic, you might be surprised at just how much work is out there.
So is freelancing worth it in 2020 and beyond? If you’re hard working, motivated, determined, and have a marketable skill set, absolutely.
I wish you all the best in your freelancing journey!
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