Going Freelance: Courageous or irresponsible?

Pros and cons of being a freelance designer

Whenever I work in a studio full-time for someone else I am always thinking back to when I worked freelance and the difference between self-employment and full-time employment in a regular studio.

Pros of working for someone else

The obvious one is a regular pay cheque, but there are also other benefits. When you are employed by a company, they pay your super, your income taxes, you get holidays and you get personal leave for illness or carer’s leave. You don’t have to worry about bills, getting paid or the challenge of finding design work. But there are downsides.

The obvious one is a regular pay cheque, but there are also other benefits. When you are employed by a company, they pay your super, your income taxes, you get holidays and you get personal leave for illness or carer’s leave. You don’t have to worry about bills, getting paid or the challenge of finding design work. But there are downsides.

You might end up with a wonderful strong and capable boss who encourages and mentors you. I can honestly say I have never had this. I think that this type of boss is like a unicorn. Beautiful but fictional.

Cons of working for someone else

You essentially have one client: your boss. She/he is the person who holds all the power over your employment. If your boss isn’t experienced as a leader or you don’t get along, you can have a terrible time. I have experienced bosses who were threatened by my experience and/or knowledge, and was asked not to talk or contribute in meetings.

You essentially have one client: your boss. She/he is the person who holds all the power over your employment. If your boss isn’t experienced as a leader or you don’t get along, you can have a terrible time. I have experienced bosses who were threatened by my experience and/or knowledge, and was asked not to talk or contribute in meetings.

working as an employee makes you vulnerable to bully bosses but does offer financial security
working as an employee makes you vulnerable to bully bosses but does offer financial security makes you vulnerable to bully bosses

Your boss might be a bully. I have found some family owned businesses can enable this kind of behaviour as there isn’t anyone to hold them accountable. If the HR person challenges them, the boss can simply fire them. I had boss in one such company, who was an extreme bully. I still feel sick when I think of her, because she would pick on a different person each day and it seemed to be on rotation. It made everyone scared and paranoid. One day this boss literally screamed at me for 45 minutes in a team meeting, because her website had been hacked (I’d discovered the hack) and that someone left a bad review on Google. I ended up leaving the next day, despite it being financially challenging. As I went to log out she refused to allow me to log out of my Linked In account, and she literally deleted my entire Linked In profile the following day although she wasn’t terribly smart because I could see it was her by the IP address. Anyway you get the picture. It was toxic.

You might not like your co-workers or they may not like you and there is no escape from that. I have most certainly had that a number of times. I have worked in places where my co-worker put headphones on at 9am and took the headphones out to go home. The conversation was nil. In a studio, you need to brainstorm ideas and collaborate, to get the most out of the team, so this was a real block. I’ve also worked with people who are completely stressed all the time, and everyday when I walked in there was some problem that was a catastrophe. I dreaded walking in each day.

You don’t get to pick or choose the clients. For example I am opposed to gambling, but found myself designing poker machine graphics for a casino when working for someone else.

For me, working for someone else doesn’t really work. I try and do a great job, but am not terribly good a politics and I am pretty sensitive. I’ve tried to get a thicker skin, but I can’t. It’s what makes me who I am creatively to be receptive to the world.

Lastly you might not be able to find a job. There aren’t a lot of jobs around for 40+ year old designers. According to an employment website, 90% of designers over the age of 40 move into other industries.

Working freelance means you can work anywhere that has wifi
Working freelance means you can work anywhere that has wifi

Working Freelance: The Cons

The obvious is the lack of financial security and regular pay check. It tends to be book or bust without a lot in between. The other thing is that you have to pay your own tax, keep financial records, pay your own super, and you don’t get paid for holidays and sick days. You need to find

You need to find clients, and deal with the financial side of the relationships. If you aren’t meticulously organised you will struggle. I personally love systems and processes (developing and using them) so this is great for me.

You need to be very self motivated to work freelance
You need to be very self motivated to work freelance

Working Freelance: the Pros

You get to choose your target market. For me, I love beauty and lifestyle, so I target those industries. I also don’t work in industries that I don’t agree with such as gambling, tobacco or companies that test on animals for example.

I get to work my own hours. Having psoriatic arthritis I sometimes have flareups or I might be just plain exhausted. I might work from bed on low energy days, and other days I get tired at around 3pm so take a break and pick it back up at night. Other days, and it might be a Saturday, I am full of beans so I get loads done on a weekend.

Being a freelancer means you can work anywhere. For example, I want to visit my mum, so next week I’ll be working 600km away on the north coast, sitting on my mum’s verandah.You don’t need to deal with unpleasant people. If you have lots of smaller clients and one turns bad, then you can let them go. I have done this before when a client has been too difficult or stressful to work with, I’ve let them go.

You don’t need to deal with unpleasant people. If you have lots of smaller clients and one turns bad, then you can let them go. I have done this before when a client has been too difficult or stressful to work with, I’ve let them go.

Being freelance means you can work in your own style, in your own environment at your own pace. I find I get loads more done as a freelancer than I did as an employee. Less meetings, restrictions and political stuff. I also can earn more that I did as an employee.

Final thoughts…

I love working as you can probably tell, but wanted to share my thoughts today. If you are thinking of going freelance, be ready for the boom bust pay cycle, but also be read to be able to hit the beach in the middle of the day (just be ready for a late night working). Freelance is not for everyone. If you need the push to work or procrastinate, or don’t like working alone, you probably shouldn’t freelance.

Let me know your thoughts below. I’d love to know your experiences and thoughts on working freelance.

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