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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect 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 about 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.
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 anything 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. In fact, freelance statistics reveal freedom and flexibility are the #1 reason people start freelancing.
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 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, Vollna, 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 hardworking, motivated, determined, and have a marketable skill set, absolutely.
I wish you all the best in your freelancing journey!
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I was a graphic designer for over 13 years back in the 80’s to mid 90’s. The field has obviously changed since then. I was using pagemaker and photoshop and quark was just coming out. Life for me changed with the birth of my two sons. I began a stay at home mom and found jobs that I could schedule around them. Have been working in the school system since then but am now looking to go back into the work force with something I can hopefully retire in. I really miss designing and didn’t know if it would be worth it for me to take indesign, photoshop and illustrator online classes and then freelance. Any feedback would be helpful. Thanks. Ann
I am somewhere at the beginning of freelance thing, its like additional job for me. I can’t get much clients and the income is not worth to make it the only job. I don’t know how you guys are so happy about it. How do you find clients ? Most of the time i am either too late to the party(it looks more like chasing for food in hungry days of humanity) or didn’t response to email in time(i can’t check email all the time). Also some people dumped me, thats sucks as i am in highschool again and hear another “no” from a girl.
Hi there. I’m a finishing artist/designer. I have 13 years experience and have taken the plunge to go freelance. Can you give any tips on getting my first client. I’m in South Africa, Gauteng. Help would be much appreciated. I’m also a family man and I want to give more to family so I will be a stay at home dad & freelance finishing artist/designer.
What about insurance, retirement and the like?
You have to save money for you retirement etc. but there is no price for freedom.
I have been freelancing for over 2 years and it is great, yet not always easy (if it is fun it doesn’t have to be easy). If you manage your business well, keeping your skills up to date, communicate well, you can make good profits.
Im about to graduate in a couple of months and I’m really considerating freelancing after. I know it’s going to be a hard trip. Would be great for some advice about getting your foot in the door.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, I believe there is two kinds of designers. Ones that require self motivation from an art director and others that will shine on their own without orders.
I’ve been freelancing a little over a year and I love it! I’m doing everything in my power to not get back into a traditional 9-5 job. The benefits far outweigh the negatives of this job. While it is more work finding your own clients, etc., I feel like I’m in the drivers seat. I’m sick this week with a cold. I’m still working, but it’s way better being sick and working at home than in a cubicle.
I’ve been working in a studio for 3 years as an 2d/3d animator and doing some graphic design as well. My work was on tv and I it all felt great! But…this was more than 10 years ago! The studio closed down and I couldn’t find another studio to work for. I’ve spend 10 years doing all kinds of helpdesk jobs ect just to pay the bills. Now I’m unemployed again and want to pick up my passion again and work on more creative work. Because it is hard to find a studio again that wants me without the work experience I was wondering if freelancing would be an option.
I already spend €2000,- on a new computer to have the newest version of the programs I used to use work on it. I want to make a portfolio for myself that is up-to-date.
But all that is spinning in the back of my mind is: Is this all worth it? Will I ever get enough clients that will get me a good paycheck to pay the bills? Isn’t it better to look for some job instead of spending time and money now on the gamble to be a freelancer?
All these questions and doubt are really affecting my creativity as well.
Can someone please give me a comment and give me some advice?
Thanks in advance.
This has been a really helpful post! I am finishing up a design certificate program and am constantly looking for real-world information on what to expect.
I’ll never go back. Nothing is bad enough in freelancing to put me in the middle of office politics again. Not to mention, it’s a 9-5 job with a fixed income (unless you negotiate a percentage rate). You;re always at the mercy of those above you.
Working for myself…I always get 1/3 to 1/2 up front depending on the final price. That not only locks the client investment into the project on a financial level but also emotional, which makes their wiggle room less, and I have now made my time into the project almost all the way, the rest is gravy. If there are expenses, the client gets billed as they come in. It’s in the contract. At first, getting clients is the hard part. I was lucky as I worked for a school district, had a zillion clients and a percentage of them came with me. It’s still a bother when it thins and it does. But mostly I’m working on something, even if it’s my own work as a fine artist or photographer, making art for sale. Like a side business. My work is in galleries, exhibitions and I have a separate website for that side business.
Back to freelancing, my greatest bother is the client that comes in for YOU to design but the truth is they came in to do THEIR disign, using your skills and/or name. It’s exhausting and they usually don’t produce quality work that adds up to their business being effectively served. When I’m left alone, I work at the time of day I want and there is so much freedom working for yourself, in your mind and heart, total freedom.
You need to learn to read your clients fast. They are not all the same and I don’t treat them all the same. Boundaries are good. A few samples of what they want go a long way so they think they have choices. It works the best, and makes them feel they ARE a part of process. I work out of my home, meeting clients at coffee shops or the Library, which cuts my overhead. The word freelance communicates all sorts of permission to do it whatever way you want.
Having good references and a killer website with a good client list, and variety of work on the website, is invaluable. I have joined any and all social media clubs for exposure, referrals and credibility. If you can overlap a money making job into freelance so you don’t go from income, to no income, do so. It’s easier and less stressful.
My business really took off when I was able to say “no” when my gut told me too. Some jobs aren’t worth the bother they will be or the person you’re working for/with. It’s when you say “no” that clients begin to really trust you, even in the middle of the project. I am always ready to give the reason why, putting it all in designer world jargon. I use the principles and elements in my reasons. It sounds sound, credible and you sound sure and smart at what you do. I will not produce work I would not put into my portfolio, they’ve seen the portfolio…they get it. (Truth is I have done work, just don’t put on site. For smaller clients. As long as customer is ecstatic, I’ve won a client.) I do best I can with what they give. But everytime I’ve given in to “attitude” I’ve regretted it. Hope this helps. You’ll never make the income you want working for someone else. The worst that could happen…you go back to working for someone else. Gotta try.
Love your blog….FUN STUFF!
Just starting out as free lancer…but learning a ton from your blog!
I do agree with all of your comments. It totally worth it!
when I was in college I only have one thing on my mind…”I’ll never work for anyone or any agency”…so I do start working as a freelance back in 1998!
at the beginning my only experience was working in printing jobs, then I start doing web design with HTML using only tables! can you believe it… my first contact with flash was with FLASH 5 and my vectorial software was Freehand*, both from Macromedia, most of the new generation doesn’t know it
I do love freelancing with all the ups and downs, it helps me travel and knew all kind of new stuff, it force me to learn something new in order to satisfy the clients needs and just keeping my laptop with an internet connection was all I need to keep my business running
been a freelance it’s a lifestyle, and when you combine that with a profit, it make a good thing to wake up every day
*I still have Freehand 10 installed!
In this economy, you don’t get to pick your clients. You’re lucky to find reasonable or likeable clients.
Staying home & being there for the kids is priceless! But there are hidden costs, such as not having colleagues to learn from on a daily basis. Escaping from freelance back to staff designer may not be easy, either.
I took a tour of 5 design firms recently, and each had a strong alliance or a symbiotic relationship with a client, or another company, or a service. So you’d be well advised to cultivate alliances, suck up to your best clients, empower your symbiotic para-sites 😉
YES, YES, YES. Freelancing is so much better than the office ball and chain. Mind you, there is a lot of selling of your self.
Try to add skills to your current set. 7 years ago I had my first digital camera. Now I’m incorporating photography in my skill set, solid photoshop skills helped a lot, especially if you are good at retouching.
If you haven’t taken the leap, start small. Start letting people know your available, make sure you can handle it, working from home
Good Luck, I think the freedom is worth it, and I will never be talked to again the way I have been talked to when having a full time job with some certain boss who’s a jerk.
This post was perfect timing! Today is my last day at my full-time job. I’ve been freelancing on the side for a while now and recently came to a fork in the road… steady job? or freelance? Both was not an option anymore so freelance won! I’m pretty excited, and I all keep hearing is that it’s totally worth. I’ll work as hard as I can to make sure I stay as far away from a cubicle as possible 😉
The more effort the more the reward
No dicatorial bosses or working in a sweat shop bashing out endless junk
lack of bods to bounce ideas off!
Tough in a resession to hold on to your scruples and hourly rate
It’s great to hear so much positivity around freelancing. It is scary and I wouldn’t agree that you can always choose how fast or slow your business grows, but it is well worth it for the freedom and autonomy it brings.
Totally worth it.
I just quite my steady part-time (I’m a full-time student) gig as Graphic Designer for my church to pursue my own business.
It was nerve-racking to say the least, especially in the middle of a recession, but at the time and looking back now it was definitely the right decision. I’m so much happier and love being my own boss! Also I enjoy picking my clients and which projects I take on.
Yes, self-marketing and the stress of not knowing are hard, but the trade offs are amazing. If you have the self-motivation and skill, I’d say go for it. 🙂
I just became a full-time freelancer as of this past Friday so I sure hope it’s worth it! 😉
No, I love it and that’s why I quit my job. I think if anyone is interested in it that they way I did it is the way to go: Try doing it along side your full-time until it’s actually supplementing your income. Then try cutting your hours at work to part-time while staying busy with your freelancing. This is probably the longest step. The final step is freelancing full-time. If you can get enough work right off the bat then go for it but I’d say that doing it in stages is the best way to go.
Travis!! Congrats on taking the plunge into freelance design! That’s some great advice to take it in steps. Too often people try to go 100% freelance before they even have any clients. If you can keep your day job, do it for a while until you get the hang of freelancing.
Thanks for sharing! – How long was the time you spent in step 2 – the overlap step?
@Preston D Lee, In January 2010, I went part-time at my job (25 hours a week) and part-time freelancing. So a year and 9 months. But I’m not married, no kids, so it might be longer for others.
YES, YES, YES. Freelancing for the past 15 years has allowed me to stay home with my kids as they have grown up. It offers a freedom that no job can compare to. Are there times when it’s stressful? Yes! It always seems to be feast or famine, but a part of me loves that.
That’s the best part of freelancing! How many kids do you have (just out of sheer curiousity)? 🙂
@Preston D Lee, only 2 kids of my own, but sometimes it’s 3 with my nephew. I started freelancing when my oldest was 6 months old — he’s now a freshman. I love being home with them and being there when they need me. My business has had it’s ups and downs, and there was a period after we moved from NJ to NC when I lost all clients and couldn’t find work here. I have supplemented with other positions when necessary, but always end up going back to what I love and do best. (that may be more than you really wanted to know!)
@Andrea Schultz, I’m curious to know if you had childcare in place while you were in work mode when your kids were small or did you just sort of work around their schedules? I’m planning to make the full-time leap sometime next year and I’ll have an under 1 year old so I am trying to figure out that part of the equation.
Preston I agree, Freelancing is worth it. That is if you can manage yourself and don’t need other to do that. If you are disciplined and can manage yourself then take the plunge.
I totally agree. I think the designers who end up hating freelancing are the ones that have a hard time managing themselves. They pretty much NEED a boss in order to be productive. Hey IgniteWebsites, what’s your name?
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