The Challenges of a Freelance Career
“Work from home, and be your own boss”—the perks of making a career out of freelance work can seem very appealing. The Office for National Statistics’ analysis of the UK labour market shows that a record number of 4.6 million workers are self-employed. Yet despite the ability to assign yourself flexible hours and work in your pyjamas, freelancing isn’t entirely care-free. It comes with plenty of mental challenges that need to be taken into consideration in order to build a career that is both lucrative and healthy.
One aspect of freelancing that can be particularly challenging is autonomy, or “being your own boss.” Of course, a freelancer faces pressure to offer their services at a high standard. However, freelancers also need to take on the roles of manager, PR and marketing officer, executive assistant, and every other job required for running a business. Those who operate in creative fields such as graphic design or writing may not be prepared for the organisational rigors of self-employment. If even one of the many aspects of running their business is lacking, a freelancer’s business can suffer. This juggling act can make freelancers especially susceptible to stress.
The competitive nature of running one’s own business can also increase the potential for stress. Landing new clients, for example, can be difficult and time-consuming. Since freelancers are responsible for finding their own work, they must constantly remain in “interview mode,” bidding against other freelancers for new work opportunities. Freelancers may also find it difficult to take a break when they have deadlines to meet. Unless a freelancer has steady work from regular clients, they may experience a “feast or famine” scenario in which they are overwhelmed with work one month and have none at all the next. This has the potential to result in an increased risk of financial instability.
Although a freelancer does not need to deal with co-workers or bosses as such, clients present their own unique set of challenges. Since there are often many freelancers bidding for the same project, some clients may insist on making lowball offers in order to save money – often at the expense of quality. A freelancer constantly needs to advocate for their own worth and ability in order to demand rates that are fair, competitive, and adequate to make a living.
Another challenging part of freelancing is managing the workload. In efforts to stay afloat in a highly competitive marketplace, many freelancers tend to push themselves to complete more projects, and to do them better and faster. Since every job means more experience and a bigger pay cheque, freelancers may be disinclined to say “no” to job offers – even if they already have a full schedule. This leaves freelancers vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed with too many projects. With the pressure to perform better and improve one’s standing as a freelancer, things like sleep and exercise can fall by the wayside. The fear of saying “no” can also be motivated by the perception that saying “no” will prevent clients coming back. In reality, it is low quality or substandard work that will prevent return customers.
Working from home also presents potential problems. In particular, it can be difficult to separate work life from home life, and freelancers may find themselves stressed about deadlines well after the usual 9 – 5 workday hours. Freelancing can also be a lonely career. Most jobs in offices, retail, or service involve a social component, where the employees can befriend and support each other. Many people who work from home, on the other hand, can find themselves alone for most of the day. This increases the risk for freelancers to experience feelings of and isolation. It’s important for freelancers to plan for their social needs if they tend to work alone.