Working Freelance: The Downsides
Well, seeing as it’s a new month, I thought what better way to return to my blogging than with a nice post full of negative things?
In all seriousness, my post about the benefits of freelance work was constructed with the caveat that there are also significant downsides. It isn’t the ‘sit at home and wait for the money to roll in’ scheme some seem to think.
When I first started blogging on my other website, I’d go on Pinterest and see article after article titled ‘How I Made $10,000 in my first three months blogging’. How on earth, I wondered, was that possible? Was everyone doing it and I was the fool?
I’ve read a lot of those articles. The one consistent theme seems to be that actually, if you’re expecting to earn that sort of money, the work doesn’t stop. You’d have to live, eat, breathe, sleep, and all other manner of bodily functions your blog.
A lot of the articles don’t say that. It’s more like, ‘I did this and so can you!’, carefully avoiding any mention of hard work. Of course, blogging isn’t the only form of freelance work. If I was still patiently waiting for blogging to pay out I’d have starved a long time ago.
I’ve dabbled in a few freelance roles, such as editing, internet rating, and transcription. By far the most successful for me has been transcription, because there are some decent sites out there with regular work, proper pay, and great support. Less so for writing. Content mills pay by the penny, are filled with horribly boring jobs, and for the most part aren’t worth the effort.
I’m not basing my freelance experience solely on writing, but as a whole there are collective downsides that even the most positive among us can’t always avoid.
You don’t have any money
This probably seems defeatist, and it’s very much dependent on your experience. Some sensible people will save up money and go into freelance part-time whilst still working a conventional job. Others, like me, have it thrust upon them by job loss and being too unwell to return to the 9 to 5 grind.
In my case, then, it seems fairly obvious to point out that I started with very little money behind me. I scraped together enough to pay for hosting for my blog and websites, but in the name of true transparency I still don’t earn enough to pay my rent. That’s cold-blooded.
I have not found any form of freelance work guaranteed to bring in more than a few hundred quid at best. Frustratingly, the things I’ve found that could add up to a decent income together tend to take too much time individually. I therefore can’t, for example, sign up to a week of transcription whilst also taking on several decent-paying articles or editing work.
Over time, of course, I’m expecting this to change as I somehow manage to persuade people to let me work with them. Despite what you may see to the contrary, any form of freelancing is not an immediate money-spinner and don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.
Where do you find work?
This very much depends on your area of expertise, and some will be more giving than others. Transcription is pretty popular and there are several sites you can sign up to that allow you to take on as much or as little work as you’re able.
A lot of people want to work from home, though, and sometimes getting yourself on a decent platform, whatever your role, is difficult. I’ve been turned down from countless writing sites. I’ve been accepted onto plenty, as well, but you’re never guaranteed work.
That’s something really important to remember – you are never guaranteed work. Sign up to all the sites you like, but if you’re working self-employed there’s nothing to say anyone is obliged to provide you with work.
This can leave you a bit stuck. One site I work with operates on a shift-booking system where you can pretty much guarantee you’ll get work if you’re on shift. Shifts are set times, though, and if I’ve got something on in the middle of the day (like a frequent trip to the doctors or therapy), then I can’t sign up.
Finding work at first is a minefield, and I’m sure anyone would tell you the same. You have to market yourself, network, connect with people. It’s tiring, and whilst the groundwork is so important, it doesn’t pay the bills.
There’s no one to talk to
Some people would probably be glad of this, and I certainly don’t actively miss working in an office. It is nice sometimes, however, to have someone to bounce ideas off, to make you a cup of tea, or to just chat idly with for a few minutes. I’m pretty good at tolerating my own company, but even I can acknowledge that seeing different faces every now and then is a good thing.
Relationships can be a little harder to build if you can’t just nip down the corridor and hash something out face to face. Sometimes it’s hard when you feel demotivated and there’s no one there to pick you up or lend a hand.
The internet is, of course, a great source of communication. There are so many lovely people out there willing to help if you ask. It’s not quite the same as a good old-fashioned, shut-the-office-door moan about your boss, client, or someone else who’s making your day a little less than perfect.
No pensions or other benefits
Yeah, that. It’s easy to forget when you’re working how much money conveniently sails away from your pay packet before it reaches you. Pensions, loyalty schemes, cycle to work schemes, childcare vouchers… you don’t get any of that when you work for yourself. The thought of when I can next put into a pension pot is laughable.
I know it’s all boring administrative stuff, but it’s important. The government seems determined on grinding this country down into a withered husk. Based on that I’m sure we’ll be working until we’re dead and won’t get a chance to even sniff our pensions, but still. There are a few thousand pounds in there. That won’t last me very long when I have to pay for my own care home, will it?
You do your own taxes
I mean, seriously. What? I don’t even want to get into this because it’s terrifying. What I’m looking forward to least when I complete my tax return is seeing the depressingly small amount of money I’ve earned in the past few months.
When you’re actually earning some money you could hire and accountant to help with this, and perhaps one day I will. For now I’m on my own, and I’m already quietly convinced Inland Revenue will be kicking down my door next year.
Once you’ve mastered it I expect it’s really useful and a great skill to have. Until that point, though… well, it’s anyone’s guess.
You don’t go anywhere
I could just be supremely lazy, but not getting out of the house, especially in winter, is a problem. When I worked, I had to walk to the office or the train station. I might have been permanently exhausted but at least I was getting some exercise. Now, I’m permanently exhausted with nowhere to go. The inclination to leave the house is low; even lower since I broke my leg.
It impacts on other little things, as well. Personally I don’t listen to music anywhere near as much as I used to. I’d listen to it whenever I was walking somewhere or on public transport. That’s no longer a twice-daily event, so I just don’t listen to as much as I’d like.
It has had some benefits. I’m less likely to pop into the shops on my way home or at lunch, so I’ve definitely saved myself some money. It can be hard, though. Forcing oneself outside just because is a lot harder than it seems, for me, anyway.
I don’t want to put anyone off, because I think that freelancing can be a great option. Parents, people with illnesses or disabilities, anyone. It just isn’t always the money-making bonanza that some people like to imagine. It’s a lot of hard work. If I’d worked harder maybe I’d be in a better position. I set everything up during my recovery (or attempted recovery) from illness, so it’s taken time.
Don’t let me put you off. It’s about managing your expectations and making proper plans where you can. There are still so many other things to enjoy, not least the freedom and excitement that working for yourself can bring.