To Freelance, or Not to Freelance

Every once in a while I think about plunging into the world of freelancing. And why not? I could work from home, set my own hours, and generally be my own boss.

Of course, I’d also have to pound the (electronic) pavement to find clients, deal with said clients on my own, and would still have to do what the people paying me want.

So there’s some good things and some bad things.

If I did decide to try freelancing I wouldn’t have to plunge in head first, I can start by working on the weekends or after work. If it went well I could then decide whether or not I wanted to quit my job and do it full time. However, I’m mostly thinking about the consequences of doing it full time because that would be the ultimate goal, doing it on the side would be temporary.

There’s probably a million pro and con lists on the web for freelancing so I’m going to focus on what pertains most to my situation.

First issue, finding clients. As I mentioned in the job hunting post I’m extremely awkward socially so I don’t have a large network to work with. Networking in general is a skill I seriously need to improve. So is talking to strangers. Sites like craigslist and elance might help, but I’ve heard that the competition for gigs can drive the prices down to insanely cheap levels (which might be a good wage in Asia, but not here in the US).

Part of finding clients is being able to market yourself. I’m a web developer, I can right front and back end code for websites. If you have a design I can turn it into a web page and can do some basic server work as well. However, I am not an artist and can not call myself a web designer without stretching the truth. I’m also not a writer and don’t know if I’d be comfortable with creating content. Trying to all this to a potential client who doesn’t understand the basics of the web can be tricky.

I’m not sure if I’d be able to cope with the stress of income instability. As a side job it wouldn’t be a problem, but how would I feel if I was freelancing full time and had a couple of slow months? I hate dipping into savings, even if I was saving to spend. I would probably practice income smoothing by taking a set paycheck even if I’d earned more, but would I be anxious if I then used that “savings” in slow months when I didn’t earn enough? Even if I had 6 full months of expenses in savings?

I also worry that I could become even more of a hermit. Then I think that might not be a terrible thing, but then I think that thinking it’s a good thing is a sign of going too far into hermithood already. Also, going to the office forces me to deal with people even if I don’t want to, which helps me improve my limited skills. It’s also possible that I’ll go the other way and want to get out of the house when I’m not working, which could be expensive.

Finding clients and dealing with the fluctuating income are my biggest concerns. The biggest pro? Setting my own schedule, at least to some extent. I’ve alluded to my sleep disorder that makes getting into the office at 9am every morning difficult. I won’t go into detail now, but being able to do most of the work on my own time and just having to schedule meetings would be huge. Seriously, health-improving huge. It would be a dream. I’d still aim to work 40 hours a week, just on my own schedule.

There are other pros as well. I enjoy starting new projects, something I don’t really get at my current job because I work on a single application. I also like to be able to switch back and forth between projects. The greater variety of jobs means I’d have a chance to learn and use a greater variety of skills. I’m more comfortable working in my own home than going to an office. So there’s more to freelancing that appeals to me than just the schedule to help balance out the cons.

I’m not concerned about some of the cons other people cite regarding freelancing. Working for yourself is more expensive because you have to pay for everything an employer typically covers, which needs to be considered when setting rates. I already do my own tech support at home so although I’d miss having an IT department to call it isn’t something I need. I also keep my home computers (a laptop and desktop) up to speed so there’s no extra expense there. I have no one at home to disturb me during working hours because they don’t understand that working from home is still working.

The more I type the more I think that I should just stop thinking and start doing. At least dip my toe into the freelancing waters to see how it feels. Maybe I’ll decide that it is way too much work to find jobs and I’m better off with the 9-5. Worst case, I don’t find any work at all and am out just a little time. But who knows, maybe I’ll end up with people lining up to hire me. Okay, probably not, but I won’t know until I try, right?

But which should I focus on, the freelance job hunt or the regular job hunt? It’ll probably take a while to build up the freelance business enough to quit my regular job, possibly a year or more, but if I take a new job with the intent to quit soon I don’t know if I’d feel right. At the same time, I don’t know if I’d want to do both for a full year. This winter is a good time to get started since I won’t be able to ski (which usually takes up a lot of my free time) but once spring comes around I’m going to want to get back into hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. If the business is on the verge of going full time then it won’t be a hardship to sacrifice a few more weekends, but can I do it for an entire summer?

Right now I’m thinking that I’ll focus on the freelance job hunt but continue to be available if I get calls from recruiters.

Ugh, just thinking about freelancing and I’m feeling a combination of elation and dread. I like stability and routine. Freelancing could mean losing a lot of that. But that’s the point of starting it as a side project, if it doesn’t go well I’d still have my job, if it does then I’d go into full time work with a better understanding of what it will be like.

I completely reserve the right to change my mind at any point in the future.

2 thoughts on “To Freelance, or Not to Freelance”

  1. Do both! This is a tricky job market and so I say look for both and you will get insurance and stability thru a company yet satisfy your free lance itch too! Good luck! Xoxo

    1. I’ll do both to give it a try but long term it would be too much, especially since I don’t need a second job. If I needed the extra income, or had a solid plan for it, I might think differently.

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