Professional Development

Are you ready for the freelance life?

Written by Eric Titner

There’s no denying it, the work world has witnessed seismic shifts in recent years. There are lots of factors contributing to this radical change—everything from unpredictable economic forces to massive waves of technological innovation have changed the way people approach the very notion of work.

This shift exists on both ends of the spectrum, as employers and employees alike are thinking about hiring and employment in new and innovative ways. The rise of the gig economy, in which employment is handled on a temporary, per project basis, is a perfect example of this.

Depending on your situation and perspective, these shifts can either be ideal or a source of real anxiety. Although today’s workers have a greater degree of flexibility to incorporate varied types of interesting work and projects into their schedules, it often comes at a cost. Drawbacks to a more ad hoc schedule for workers include decreased stability, a need to perpetually hustle for work, and a lack of the sorts of benefits that typically come with full-time employment. For employers, although they can structure and tailor their hiring practices to meet their precise needs at any given time and can often save some money in the process, they also run the risk of working with less engaged contract employees who aren’t familiar with the intimate ins and outs of their day-to-day operations.

It’s a real “push and pull” arrangement, and only time will tell if this setup will persist over the long haul. But for now, and into the foreseeable future, you have the option of considering if a more flexible work arrangement is the right move for you. This includes freelancing. More people today are freelancing than ever before, whether out of economic necessity, a desire for greater work flexibility, or just to try something different and explore new employment options.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, which recently released a report on contingent and alternative employment arrangements (which includes freelance employment), contingent workers accounted for 1.3 percent to 3.8 percent of total employment, independent contractors accounted for 6.9 percent of total employment, and on-call workers accounted for 1.7 percent of total employment in the United States. There’s no doubt about it—for millions of workers across the nation and around the world, freelancing is a viable work option.

Are you ready to join the ranks of freelancers? If you’re eager to get started and live the freelance life (or if you’ve just started thinking about it and are wondering if it makes sense for you), be sure to consider the following before jumping in.

Know your industry

The truth is, when it comes to freelancing, not all industries are created equal. While some have been early and eager adopters of hiring freelancers to meet their needs, others have been slower to embrace the arrangement—which means that your opportunities for securing freelance employment can vary wildly depending on what field you’re pursuing. Therefore, your best bet is to do some research before getting started to determine if freelancing is a widely accepted standard in your industry. Also make an effort to figure out if the sorts of projects typically handled by freelancers in your field make sense for you based on your background, experience, and skill set. The desire to freelance is great, but it really helps to have the requisite background, expertise, and network if you’re going to make a serious go at it.

Know your needs

Before diving headfirst into freelancing, make sure to first determine if it fits your current (and future) needs and lifestyle.

Ask yourself some key questions:

  • Are typical project fees commensurate with your living expenses?
  • Does your projected annual earnings potential help you meet your short- and long-term goals?
  • Is the lack of employer-provided benefits (e.g., medical and dental insurance coverage, 401(k), etc.) something you can live with?
  • Will you enjoy freelancing? (For some, freelancing can be too isolating and the constant need to network and secure new clients can be exhausting.)

If after asking yourself these questions you feel that freelancing is a good fit for you, then it may be something worth pursuing seriously. If your answers left you with doubts, then proceed with caution.

Start small (and be realistic)

Don’t forget, becoming a freelancer doesn’t have to be an “all-in” affair. You don’t have to quit your day job (if you have one) in order to dip your toe into the freelance waters. Consider starting small and taking on a project that you can realistically manage, just to see if you enjoy freelancing and can see yourself making a serious go at it. Then build from there and gradually increase your involvement in freelancing, all the while checking in with yourself and asking all the right questions. The key point here is that it’s wise to take your time and start off small in order to determine if freelancing is right for you—before changing your life drastically.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.