If you read some of my older posts you can clearly see that I encourage freelancing and an independent lifestyle. I didn’t changed my mind. I still believe that freelancing is better than having a full time jobs, but as any other thing on the earth, it has downsides too. I think it is fair to discuss about the disadvantages too, not only about the advantages that will mislead people to think that freelancing is perfect.
I am a freelancer for over 7 years, with good periods and bad periods. There were many advantages and good moments, and there were some dissapointments too. In this article I will go trough most important disadvantages, but before I want to make a quick review of some of the biggest advantages of the freelancing.
I like freelancing because I love freedom. During the 16 years I spend in school and university I always felt as being trapped into a prison. I didn’t liked school, or better said I hated school, and I still hate it when I remember. Whenever I think of something from my childhood there are some bad memories from school that comes out. I hate that I can’t look back and enjoy the happy moments in my early times. Despite I was good at some classes, and despite I liked most of them ( except maybe French class ), I hated because I didn’t liked what they were trying to teach me, what they thought it is important, and mostly, that they wanted me to do things whenever they wanted, never when I wanted.
I had a fixed job for 2 times in my life. And it was bad, so bad that in both cases it didn’t lasted more than 3 months. I can’t explain exactly why I wanted to leave, because it was a feeling from inside. I started to feel exactly how I felt in school, doing things that I don’t agree with, during a time when I wanted to do something else.
Freelancing saved my life so far. Even while I was employed I did some freelancing on the side. With much less time I’ve done more money doing things that I liked to do. It is not that simple at it looks because I had to spend a lot of time looking for the right jobs for me, but I never considered this as a lost time. It was a pleasure to read what others are looking for because I was able to see what other people are looking for so I can keep the track with the market.
If I do everything right, I can work 1 week to make money that I usually do in a month. In the rest of the time I can learn something new, I can rest or I can travel. Usually I take work to cover a longer period, but never to fill up all my space. I always have time to learn or try something new. I don’t live to make money. I make money to live the life I want. Some people may suck at time management. In such cases, maybe freelancing is not a good option. I am not a time management expert, but I can deal with it. If I don’t want to wake up in the morning to work on a project there is no problem, I will stay up late to do it. If I have a lot of time and no idea what to do then I work more on the projects. If there is no project to work on then I spend the time looking for new ones.
Freelancing learned me almost everything I know, from programming to internet marketing. Browsing the available jobs made me curious about things that people were asking for. I was later searched them and if I liked I learned the basics so I can apply to that kind of jobs.
I think it is enough with the good side. I wanted only to take into account some advantages but it seems that there are a lot and it took more space than needed. Now, I will go trough the disadvantages. It is not intended to scary people off freelancing. If you are asking my opinion you should definitely try freelancing, it can improve your life a lot, but you can’t expect that it is like not working at all. If you think that it should be perfect, and you find out that it isn’t you might be disappointed. Freelancing can be stressful, overwhelming in some points, boring in others, and some people can’t do it, this is why you have to be aware of the downsides so you can overcome them and build a life around freelancing.
1. Very high competition.
The best thing about freelancing is actually an advantage for the business owners. They can work the same with one from United States or someone from India. The distance does not matter anymore. This means that when you get on the market you compete with people all around the world. Most of them will want to do the work for less than you do. This is by far the worst disadvantage of being a freelancer. Most people, when they realize that there are so many freelancer are deciding that it is not worth doing this and they leave before trying.
They are right, you can’t match their prices, but let me tell you something: they can’t match your quality. I’m an not talking only about the quality of the code that you write, but the quality of the service you offer as a whole. Because you asked for more money, you can spend more time talking with the client and having a better understanding of what he wants to do. You can talk with him and understand his goals so you can make suggestion. Let him believe that you are the right person to do this job. The truth is that most buyers have bad experience with cheap freelancers that are asking for almost nothing, they want to get away from those. If you ask for more you have a higher change to be selected, and more time to produce some quality work. If you go into their pricing war, you will lose it. There is always someone that is willing to do the same thing as you do for less.
2. You have to spend a lot of time looking for projects.
When you first start out as a freelancer you don’t have connections, you don’t have any portfolio to show. If you are quiting a day job you migh have some friends or old clients that you can take away, but this applies only to few of the new freelancers. Most freelancers are getting into the field with nothing behind.
The portfolio is also important. If you are not in a rush for money to live, you can spend few weeks on this step, and it will highly improve the chances to get good projects. Learn more in your field. For example if you are a freelancer web developer, spend some time learning wordpress for example. If you are a web programmer but never worked with wordpress it will be harder to get wordpress related jobs. Then do a project on your own to prove your expertise. Once you have the project completed you double your chances to have a project awarded, at the price you want.
If you want to spend less time looking for projects and more time working, you must know that there is one thing more important than your ratings or your portfolio: the proposal. If you think that the more projects you bid the more chances you have and you just copy and paste your proposal you will waste your time, you have few chances to get a project and if you get one, it might not be suitable for you or underpaying because you only scanned the requirements. Spend some time to understand what he wants, what are his goals and don’t forget to include this into the proposal. Tell him how you plan to approach the solution, even if you know that he don’t understand. He will think that you really know your stuff and you will have more chances winning that project.
3. You will live with the fear of not getting paid.
Despite most clients have no intention to rob you, there are some of them that this is why they are working with freelancers: they want to get something away for free. If you find your clients on a good freelancing website like Freelancer, Elance, or vWorker then you are pretty safe. They have escrow systems that will prevent them from fooling you. If you find your clients in other places, then I advise you to use an escrow system, although it does not guarantee that you will get all the money for your work. How is that ? Well, this leads us to the next disadvantage.
4. All the clients will try to make you work more than agreed upon.
Not always the requirements are clear, or the client may have something in mind but he is unable to understand what he wants. Because the payment is on the project, some clients will try to make you think that it will be less work to do, while they know that the project is bigger. They will use phrases like: “Someone experienced will do this in less than 2 hours.” or “It is an easy job for someone who knows what he is doing.”. If you see phrases like this in the job description, it is a flag to stay away or to charge much more. If you charge less you will end up doing much more work that you expected.
In most cases, the client will intentionally have you do more work than you want. You will tend to do the work because you may thing that if you don’t do it you will not get paid, or that he will give you a bad rating. If you are in one of these situations, my advice is to try to do everything to get out. Don’t work with that client again. If you manage to get out of it with minimal loses, don’t think that you might be doing better next time. He will always push you to do more.
It is not only about the money. You can actually ask more if he adds up things that were not discussed. If you find yourself in this situation, ask for more money. There are 2 outcomes of this: the client pays you what you ask or he cancel the added stuff. If you think that there are only small issues don’t worry, he will give you more and more until you decide to stop it.
Added stuff will take more time to finish the project, and you might not have time to finish other projects and will screw with your time management which will lead to the next issue.
5. Projects may take more time than expected.
When you work on a day job, if a project takes more time than expected and it is not your fault then it is not your problem. You go home when the work hours are done or you will get paid double to do extra hours. On freelancing, even if it is your fault because you misjudged the time needed to complete the project, or you are asked to do extra things that you don’t refuse, or simply there are things out of your control, you will feel the effect.
A late project means that you will have to work instead of going out or sleeping at night, or working on weekends. You have to pay extra attention to time management and leave you enough spare time. If you do not, you will either miss deadlines and things go very messy, either you have to pay with your free, sleeping and weekend time. Even if it is your fault or not.
Imagine this scenario: You book your plane tickets to go few days on vacation. A project goes bad and you need 2 more days to finish it. You either sacrifice your vacation, or you sacrifice the project which means that you lose all the money involved. It will get even more complicated if you planned to use the money from that project to spend on the trip.
If you work full time and you get sick, or simply you are not able to work that day you can just call a personal day or a sick day. Your boss have to deal with this situations. In freelancing, the client will have a hard time understanding what is happening and will think that you just don’t want to work for him that day. You might pass the deadline which will mean that he will have a reason not paying you for the project.
Either way, you must be very careful when planning working time, projects and vacation. Leave more spare time even if you are sure that you won’t need that. Remember that you work for money to live, not the reverse.
6. Bad feelings about your time spent on working or relaxing.
We are getting to more complex things invonving the freelancing lifestyle. If you are not doing it right, bad time manangement won’t affect only your money earned from projects or trips. It can affect your happiness at a deep level.
If you go to a day job, you don’t have too many doubts. You work a fixed number of hours and you get a relative fixed amount of money. You will never think that: “if I work harder to make some more money I can buy that car/phone/tablet”, or “if I worl less I can travel more”. In freelancing lifestyle you will tend to doubt if you need to work more or if you need to work less. This feeling will lead you to not being satisfied about yourself. You either work too much and you don’t have time to relax, or you work too little and you don’t have money to buy all the things you want. It is very hard to get away from this feeling.
When you will work hard and you will start to get tired you will think that it is at your own option to get away and watch tv, or go outside. However, it is not that simple, you have a project to finish and a deadline to meet. You made a decision before that is affecting you right now. When you look for work, you take a decision that will affect you later and you will always try to think what will you do next week and how you will feel. It would be nice to have a machine that will allow us to see in future.
On the other hand, when you are relaxing, looking tv or just hanging out with some friends you will ask yourself if it will be better if you go to the computer and work to that project to finish it sooner, or to try to find some more projects to work on so you don’t run out of money.
A solution to this problem, although I am not sure it is the best for all, is to have fixed work hours. Set yourself to work a fixed number of hours every week or every day. Start the clock and when the time runs out it is finished. Even the project is finished or not. Maybe it will be harder at the beginning, but when you get used, whenever you take on a new project you will judge based on the fixed time you have every week, and you will let the bad feelings about why you take so much work to go away.
7. Doubts about what future holds.
This can be maybe the biggest disadvantage of freelancing vs working full time. On a fixed job you have health insurance and retirement plan. If something bad happens you are covered. If you are fired you will get the compensation that will help you to deal with the life until you get something better to work. When you are a freelancer, you have no health insurance, no retirement plan and no compensation when you stop working.
The good thing is that no one can fire you. But, you don’t know what future holds, maybe next year the web development market crashes and you will have to work the same for half of the money you make now, or worse, your are left with no work. If you just finished high school or college you don’t have to think about this issues, but at a point you will definitely start to ask you about the future.
You can pay your insurance by yourself, and make a deposit to have for bad days, but still, these won’t give you the same safety that you have at a full time job and more, it costs you a lot of your money. At this point you realize that your employer was spending much more money with you than you got in your hands.
If you are just starting out you must hope that when you will get at this point you will earn enough money to not care about the insurance, taxes and other costs. If you reached this point and you don’t make enough money then you have to change something. Either the way you do freelancing, or you get go a day job. If you make enough money but never thought of this, believe me, you will sleep much better if you deal with them.
8. Workig from home is not always as good as it seems.
The advantages from working from home is that you save the transportation time. You can basically reach your work desk in few minutes. You can have a nice breakfast at home and a good an inexpensive lunch. You can wake up whenever you want, start and finish working whenever you want. You are close to your family and you can take breaks at your own desire.
How can this be a disadvantage ? First of all, at home there are a lot of distractions. You can’t work where you sleep. You can fix this by having a special space only for working. Another tip I found by reading articles related to working from home is that you have to dress for work when working. Distractions are numerous. Family members or other cohabitants will disturb you to ask you to help them with something, or when they just are bored and want to have some time with you. It is very hard for them to understand that you actually have to work. If you want to start this discussion they will say that you can work later if you want, and help them now. They actually have a lot of arguments to make you not working, and ultimately it will get to the fact that you do not like them or not care about them. They are more important than your work, but you still have to do it. If you do other things instead of working then you have to work instead of going out with your family or spending time with your friends. You know whos fault is this, but do they understand ?
There is no easy way to fix this. If you make enough money you can consider renting an office elsewhere. Most freelancers are students or teens that don’t even own their own house. Some of them are already living in shared spaces and there is not way to talk about a separate office space. The result is that you will work less and it will be hard to focus. You earn more money and it will be harder to make a living only out of freelancing.
Outside your peers there are other distractions too. Tv, games, cooking, doing other house work, paying bills. A workaround to this issue is to set your working hours to be different from traditional time. Set the working hours at times when you will have the fewest distractions. For example, I used to work at the very morning, waking up at 6-7 in the morning and taking a good distraction free 4-5 hours of work until 11 am. Then I take a small break to prepare the launch and do some other house work and when start again at 2 pm to 5-6 pm. This worked out best for me. If the non-work related work took so much and I was unable to get back at 2 pm to work, then I postponed it later. I also found that good hours for work are around 10pm when all others are getting to sleep. However, I am sure that I cannot keep a program like this forever.
Working in the same house you sleep can’t get you in a state of full concentration. I got the best outcome when I had an office far from my homeplace.
9. The clients don’t respect your free time.
When working on a project, you will get to a point where you need the client feedback or you need some content that you have to add on the website. You will not get what you want when you want. The client won’t care about your work and free hours. He will give you the content at 6pm and will expect to be ready next morning. This means that you will waste your work time, and you have to sacrifice your free time to work for a lazy client.
If you work hard you can learn how to work with clients and prevent this to happen, but it is not easy because no one will think that you have free time. They will call you whenever they see fit and ask you to do or change something.
You have to learn how to filter this type of clients, and to start keeping in touch with the clients that respect your time, your work and the money they owe you. If you want to learn more about other experiences with clients requesting for extra work or who don’t pay there is a great site you can read: ClientsFromHell.
10. Missing the social life from a workplace.
When you work on a day job, you have a lot of colleagues. It is known that the closes friends to a person are college friends or work friends. You see them every day, know a lot about them and ultimately you will tend to spend more and more time with them. They are your friends.
If you work alone as a freelancer, then you basically have no mates. There are a lot of hapiness implications to this issue, and you really need to have a lot of friends so you can be happy. Working all day only with your computer will not help you with this issue. Other frellancing aspects like time management will keep you away from hanging with your friends or making new ones.
The solution to this is not simple, you can try to get invonved in a team to do projects togheter, or have some friends and rent an office space togheter. That will make you feel that you are really working, getting involved into a working community and being your own boss.
The purpose of this article is not to convince you that freelancing is hard. I suggest you to try at least one the freelancing lifestyle. Being aware of these disadvantages will help you to deal with them when you get there, or if you are already stuck at any point to know that you are not the only one who face problems.
If you have any other problems that you have faced as a freelancer, or tips to overcome them please share them with us in the comment field.