I get asked a lot about what it’s like to be freelance and how it works for me in Cornwall.
Yes, I love what I do and I’ll be the first person to say how much a love freelancing, but I always want to answer these questions realistically. Being self-employed isn’t easy and it isn’t always better than being employed, otherwise everyone would go freelance, right?
The Hardest Things About Freelancing
1. Self-motivation & Temptation to Procrastinate
Without a boss watching over you, being your own motivator is actually really difficult, because if you’re having an unfocused week or you’re not feeling it that day, you’ve then got an inner conflict on your hands. “I could do work, OR I could just do it later”, “No you really should do it now”, “Nah I’ll just do it tomorrow…”. Who would win?
If you have a deadline to get the work done, that’s one story. But not all freelance work is client work and deadlines; a lot of it is admin, marketing and working ON your business. So motivating yourself to do those things is really hard.
2. Security & Responsibility
When you’re freelance, you don’t necessarily have the security of a steady salary, or a contract, or laws that make it hard for employers to fire you or stop paying you without good reason etc. In a job, there’s always work for you to do, so you don’t have the worry of having a ‘quiet month’, where you won’t be able to pay yourself the amount you need to get by.
Being responsible for all that yourself is pretty daunting; YOU are the one who has to find the work, you are the one who has to do a good job, and the buck stops with you. Finding enough work to be able to for pay bills, rent/mortgage, food etc. each month all yourself is an achievement in itself.
(And I know not ALL jobs come with good security like that, but generally that is a perk of being employed.)
3. Finances & admin
I’d say about 60% of what I actually do is paid work. The other 40% is admin and marketing for my business, which is unpaid, un-billable hours. As a freelancer you aren’t just doing your job (eg. Website Design), you are also the Head of Finance, Account Director, Sales Team, Marketing Manager and COO of your freelance business… but you don’t get paid to do all that.
This is why freelancers have a much higher hourly rate than employees, because they need that hourly rate to also cover the 40% of their time when they’re not getting paid!
It’s great if you enjoy those things (I love the Marketing side, for example), but if there are things you really struggle with or hate (for me it’s Finances, but for many it is Sales & Marketing) it can be really challenging trying to do these on your own, and not everyone can afford to hire out help when they are starting out.
4. Boundaries and Guilt
It’s actually pretty common to get TOO motivated with your freelance work; going self-employed with something usually means you’re passionate about it, so it makes sense that you would want to do it ALL THE TIME! It can be hard to balance that passion and motivation around having a relationship or a family.
I often want to work on projects into the evening once Alex gets home. Luckily he is self-employed too so also often needs to do emails in the evening too, but it’s still important to set some boundaries for yourself because otherwise your whole day is gone before you know it and you haven’t been outside or really spoken to your loved one!
The guilt doesn’t only come from wanting to work late or at weekends and missing out on time with your family – it also comes when your partner has been out at work having a stressful day while you’ve worked hard of an evening/weekend so have taken a day off to enjoy the weather because of having more flexibility. I imagine in many relationships this could be a real source of conflict and I don’t have the solution for it sadly.
5. No Sick Pay, Pensions or other benefits
A huge downside of being freelance is having no sick pay. When you work, you make money – when you don’t work, you don’t make money (unless you’ve got a SICK passive income situation going on, in which case congrats!). That includes if you can’t work because you are ill. There’s no such thing as statutory sick pay for freelancers, so instead you have to be prepared with your finances to allow for sickness and emergencies.
Freelancers don’t get pension schemes like employees do, although we can set up our own pensions but again it requires you to be prepared and organised with your finances.
I have no idea how freelancing works when you get pregnant, but guess what – there’s no maternity leave either. If you work from home on a laptop, I guess you’d hope you can continue to work, but realistically your productivity is going to drop and you will need time off, in which case – again – you need to prepare your finances well in advance.
A lot of people mention that this is something they are worried about when going freelance, but I’ve never had an issue at all. For one thing, I’m an introvert, and 100% prefer working quietly on my own far away from other people. Even in my old job I had a huge office all to myself and rarely left my desk to socialise!
But also there are easy ways to overcome any feeling of loneliness anyway. I started a local Facebook group, went to local business meetups, reached out to other freelancers/bloggers, and made great friends with other people who are self-employed and have flexible working hours. Prime example – Olivia! We both run our own businesses and have super flexible hours, so if we are in need of socialising, we will meet up for a dog walk or a coffee during the day.
You can also join clubs, workshops and classes, or join a co-working space for one day a week to get you out of the house and in a more social environment.
The Things That Make it All Worth It
1. Flexibility of time
Being able to dictate my own working hours and schedule is a slice of heaven. Of course I make sure I stick to deadlines still, but how I achieve that is up to me. If I’ve had a late night, it doesn’t matter if I want a lie in, as I’ll just work a bit later instead, for example.
It’s the BEST during summer as well; if it’s warm and sunny outside I can head out for a walk or to the beach whenever I want, and do the work later on in the day when it’s due to be raining or when it gets dark instead.
I can go to the bank or the shops at a normal time of day, I can be home for the postman, and I can go to the gym at off-peak, less busy times, and it’s great! I can go away for a night or book a last minute holiday without warning or booking it off, and (technically) I could do that as many times as I like.
2. Flexibility of place
Speaking of travel, my other favourite thing is the fact that because I work from a laptop, I can work from anywhere in the world (albeit as long as there’s a decent internet connection).
I love taking advantage of this, and although it takes some planning and can have its own challenges, it’s so exciting to be able to explore new places but also make money while you’re away.
3. Ownership, Freedom & Control
This is a big thing for me; there’s the whole ‘I don’t like being told what to do’ thing, but I’m also just a massive control freak. I’m pretty balanced and more relaxed in day to day life nowadays, but when it comes to work I’ve found I just need to have full control over everything in order to do my best, and the freedom to do it my own way.
Having ownership like that is what motivates me. Being in control of every aspect of my business and having the freedom to do and create whatever I like is invaluable.
4. Endless possibilities & no limitations
When you have your own business you are not limited by the figure on your payslip. You can earn as much as you are prepared to work for, and if you’re savvy enough, you can earn well beyond that as well.
I wholeheartedly believe in trying things out to see if they work, and if they do – that’s great, but if they don’t, move on to the next thing! I currently have several different income streams from different types of businesses, and I’m always having ideas of what else I could be doing. Lots of things I have tried have failed and I’m sure I will make many more failures but having the freedom to try different things and is exciting and (hopefully) worth it in the end!
There are many challenges when it comes to being your own boss and it simply doesn’t work for some people because of those reasons, but that’s okay! There are definitely ways of being employed but having good flexibility, ownership of what you do, and not be limited; you just have to seek them out.
For me personally, I don’t think I could ever work for someone else or go back to being an employee. I love the control and flexibility freelance gives me more than anything, and I could never give that up now.
Are you self-employed/freelance? What are the things you find hardest?
All photos taken at sunset at Basset’s Cove near Portreath.