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15 draw backs to working as a full time freelancer

If you've been reading things online lately, you'll see a lot of "Freelancing is the greatest" or "Freelancers are getting rich". Something along those lines anyways. Freelance is the new buzzword for marketers to try and sell you stuff. With the recession here in the US, I find it only fitting to share some of the draw backs of full time freelancing. Yes, it can be a great gig, but I feel it's right to let potential freelancers know the opposite side of the fence as well.

Here are some tips on how to be a successful freelance graphic designer for a long time. Below is a list of 15 draw backs to working as a full time freelancer that were compiled by myself as well as some great people on twitter. Thank you to everyone on twitter who sent their replies in - and for those of you reading this now who have something to add to the list, feel free to drop a comment and let me know.

15 draw backs to working as a full time freelancer

  1. Freelancing doesn't give you any dependable income. You could make a thousand dollars today and none for the next month. (submitted by @RS_Designs and @AliciaMae)
  2. Less time with family because you are busy doing 10 different jobs (accounting, designing, sales, ect)
  3. Spending more time finding work than actually doing the work. (submitted by @kevincrafts)
  4. You lose the ability to bounce ideas off your co-workers because, well, you're (9 times out of 10) working alone in your home office.
  5. The distraction level in your house can be tremendous (family, television, sleeping in, ect)
  6. People don't take you as seriously as someone with a 9-5 job (yes, they're close minded, but it does happen - a lot)
  7. You have to be your own taskmaster, even if you "just don't feel like it" - and if you don't, you fall behind work and a whole mess of trouble starts
  8. Health insurance is not a given - and obtaining it can be a struggle. (I'd suggest checking out this article for information on it)
  9. If you get sick - you're screwed. There's noone there to take over your job while you're out with the flu.
  10. There are a lot of freelancers out there right now so u had better have work lined up first and great connections that yield referrals. (submitted by @rachelakay)
  11. Marketing yourself against the "big guns" in your industry can be extremely hard as you will generally not have the same budgets as they do
  12. I'm not paid for all of the hours I work. It takes a lot more of my time and energy to be a freelancer than to work for "the man." (submitted by @RS_Designs)
  13. Doing everything on your own will generally make your stress levels a lot higher than a normal 9-5
  14. Sitting in your computer chair for multiple hours at a time working, prospecting and notekeeping will put massive strain on your back
  15. big drawback: admin tasks (invoicing, time tracking, emails, etc). too easy to put off but real pain in ass to catch up on. (submitted by @freelancerant)

For those of you who would like to contribute to questions I may be asking my readers to answer with, feel free to follow me on twitter and keep an eye out - I've got a follow up to this article I will need your input on as well 😉

UPDATE: The follow up article - 15 benefits to being a full time freelancer has been published!

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  1. Mikerdzign says:

    Amen to all of the above, been there-done that. Everything on this list is completely true and while working in corporate settings has it’s fallbacks too, the difficulty of maintaining steady paychecks is difficult. I recommend you have some other form of income in addition; web designers can have hosting fee’s, illustrators and photographers can get royalties from companies like iStock, or you can be lucky enough to find a day job that is ok with your night job. That’s where I’m at now and since I enjoy what I do I don’t mind coming home from work to work some more.

    Best of Luck to anyone taking that bold step, it has it’s rewards for sure.

    • Jeff says:

      Work-a-holic! Just kidding, when you love when you do, it doesn’t even feel like work, I agree with you on that.

      • I, too, love what I do. But there is “work” involved. The saying that “if you love what you do, its not work” is a little overstating things. I love to write. I love to research. I love all the creative parts of what I do. However, as mentioned above (all of which I agree with), when freelancing, there is work involved that is just NOT fun at all. The searching for clients, the molding and remolding of websites and marketing plans, the emailing and invoicing, and TAX time. All of these are not fun for me and ARE work. Thanks for the list because it makes me realize I am not alone out here.

  2. Thomson says:

    I completely agree with your 15 drawbacks. Exact definition of freelancing is unemployed. But if you can get things straight from the word go you should be successful with freelancing. Anyway thanks for sharing.

  3. Anne Minard says:

    Sorry, but I DO love freelancing. Hard to focus on the negative like this, but if I do have to add one thing, it’s the lack of social interaction. I don’t go to work and see people! It’s an effort to make sure I get out of the house and seek some sort of interaction …

  4. It’s a freelancer’s life for me all the way. However, collections is my pet peeve as an independent. Many companies have the attitude that because I’m a supplier I don’t need to be paid promptly. Yet, sometimes, I’m carrying a balance on my credit card from paying upfront for things like online PR services.

  5. crazywabbit says:

    I want hair like that, otherwise great article.

  6. Leonard says:

    A very valid article and correct all round… but a bit depressing! Any chance of doing a 15 good reasons to be a freelance? Freelancing isn’t all bad, it is tough but get it right and you’ll have no peers out there working ‘for the man’ that won’t be jealous of your position!

    Am really enjoying these blogs btw, only recently discovered this site and its taken over one of my precious toolbar live bookmark slots!

    @Louise: I’ve recently learned that asking for half upfront for a job doesn’t get you as many ugly looks as you’d expect, sorts out a lot of time wasters from the good clients to have and means you don’t have to rely on savings or credit cards to get you going. Also, if they don’t want to pay you up front for anything (which would be a warning sign for me) make sure you at least get them to pay for ALL out of pocket expenses up front.

  7. Mike says:

    Thanks for all of the awesome replies everyone :) It’s good to know the guerrilla freelancers out there are banding together!

    @Leonard – the positive side of the topic is coming before the end of the week. I’ve got 2 other articles to post first and then I’ll be publishing the positive side of freelancing 😉

  8. Leonard says:

    @Mike That’s good to hear, I’ll look forward to reading that one! Keep up the good work, its great to see such a well written and easy to digest blog about the business end of freelancing.

  9. Leonard says:

    As a quick observation, is your template outputting the blog date on the comments and not the date the comment was posted? It doesn’t feel like Saturday as much as I’d like it to be! 😀

  10. DevLano says:

    if you’re telling me there is ONLY 15 draw backs to being an at home freelance independent citizen, then we won’t compare the 1904854 draw backs to ‘working for the man’ lol.

    as the world changes, being independently successful is gonna be more of a requirement to just survive, as there might not be as many ‘mans’ to work for in days to come.


  11. Tammy Hart says:

    It’s funny, I’ve never worked a 9-5. I started out doing this as a hobby, and as I learned more and more, it just grew and grew into the full time gig it is today. So I have nothing to compare to. I still feel the strain of everything in this list, especially the healthcare and noone to help you bits. I think another thing you can add to the list is self employment taxes. Man, if you’re not ready for them, they can really bite you in the butt.

  12. Everything on this list resonates so true.

    My favorite one has to be the distractions. Not having a boss is great, not having to get out of bed at ungodly hours is pretty awesome too but you have to find a healthy balance otherwise you become your own worst enemy.

    The only one I have to disagree with here is the not having someone to bounce ideas off of…With tools like twitter and facebook I think it’s really easy to find someone else to give something a quick glance to validate the work. I’d gladly give a quick glance at someone’s Seo or social strategy if it meant helping out another free lancer. This is a great way to build connections. I do this to have a living breathing testimonial for my work and will gladly take something someone else might just have too much going on to handle.

    • Mike says:

      I agree. Twitter is great as well as emailing designer friends for their input. I recently have done this for the new design of Guerrilla Freelancing and a couple other designs I’ve done.

  13. Mike says:

    very good advice, thank you!

  14. Matt Powers says:

    I would have to say I’ve probably experienced all of these (still am) with the exception of the lack of respect compared to the 9-5er. Interesting write-up :)

  15. DSBN says:

    Still beats working for someone else.

  16. Christy says:

    Excellent list. Freelancing is a fantastic option for those who are up to the challenges. For me, the flexibility and control over the types of work and types of clients trumps all draw backs. It’s definitely not for everyone. If you think you’re going to work fewer hours, then you’d better go back and hug your corporate desk.

  17. Martyn Web says:

    I don’t think I could go freelance as my organisational skills would go out of the window and point 15 would drive me crazy. Being sick wouldn’t really bother me as I could and usually just sit at my computer when ill anyway. Great list of what I would be letting myself in for, if I came to doing it on my own, but I really don’t think I could deal with all the other hassles that come with it.

  18. Mike Smith says:

    Thanks for the awesome replies everyone. I am so glad everyone liked this article. The opposing article will be published soon. We are working on a redesign and relaunch of the site now and it should all take place between now and July 1st.

  19. Eva says:

    I am curious if you guys ran into this or this is just a phenomenon in my city. If you are a Graphic or Web designer freelance or work for someone, nobody really wants to pay you for your work.

    Most people think that you should expose yourself for free or just work for free. Some clients are looking for students of “interns” so they can avoid paying you for your services or if they decide to pay you, it’s usually very little, something like $10-12 per hour. They demand you to be talented, professional, fast, know all the Adobe, markup languages, Flash etc. If you are senior or really good programmer the rate is around $20 max.

    Is this what this profession, that we all love comes down to or does every Graphic or Web designer works for “peanuts” and lives in the car?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Eva – yeah, unfortunately there are a lot of people out there like this. I’ve came across 5-10 of them recently. My advice for this is to say NO – regardless of if you feel you’re missing out on a “possible job lead” or something else they’ve promised you (my favorite is “oh man, you’ll get so much exposure with your link on the bottom of my website – I know tons of people who’ll see your work – I’m kind of a big deal”).

  20. This is a great post, as I do freelancing part time, and I definitely see both the benefits and the downsides. The problem is no one is really willing to write about any downsides. Good post!

  21. Kathy Buck says:

    Being Too Hungry – Going after the wrong clients the wrong way, and any client just to put food on the table. These are the dreaded hand hold accounts that will suck the life out of you because you probably discounted services to get a foot in the door, any door. This also involves taking on services outside of your service base.

  22. Ok, now, what are the gains? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? If I took to heart the reality of all existing negatives my pursuit for following my passion would never be realized. Yes, life is tough but, no pain, no gain. For me, the passion of doing something you love wins each and every time. Just my personal opinion. :)

  23. Mike says:

    @Kathy – I agree. I’ve been through times like that and it never, I mean, NEVER, turns out well.

    @Erda – you might want to check out the 15 benefits to working as a full time freelancer article I wrote after this one :)

  24. Matt Maxwell says:

    I responded to your excellent article here:

    You article is excellent because it captures the top anxieties of freelancers (most of which are not exactly justified). I think a lot of good designers stay at agency joys they hate because of these myths that keep getting perpetuated.

  25. It is tough, the first 5 years are the toughest!…

    After that, it can get easier. Lots of freelancers are talented but not very good at making money. You need to have a balance or bring other people in…

  26. Paulette Dodson says:

    Agreed with david, I have tried almost 1 year to get job though freelance portals like Elance. it was really tough to understand the behavior or customers. after strugle a long time finally i got first one! that it.. now i’m working with students where i’m mostly helping them with their assignments. mostly people asking me to write my assignment for me and i was yeah why not! :) Paulette Dodson

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