There are plenty of people and blog articles out there that will encourage you to give freelancing a try. This advice isn’t necessarily bad; being a freelance designer can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
However, there are certain drawbacks of freelancing that often get overlooked. As such, the “Should I freelance?” conversation often turns one-sided.
If you are thinking about striking out on your own, you should go into the endeavor fully aware and prepared.
Have you considered these seven potential drawbacks of freelancing?
1. The Independence Isn’t As Great As You Assume
Leaving the corporate world means you’re ditching your demanding boss and unreliable co-workers. You can pick and choose which projects you want to work on. And, no one will be micromanaging you or monitoring when you punch the clock.
You’ll be totally and completely on your own.
Sounds great, right? In some regards, it is great. But if you consider the situation more carefully, you will begin to notice some less-awesome components.
For example, you have no one to turn to when there are problems. Who is going to help if your workload is overwhelming, if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Who can help you identify and resolve the hidden issues that you aren’t able to manage on your own?
The independence can get lonely.
2. You’ll Have to Wear All the Hats
Stop and think about all the different departments a business typically has: marketing, sales, human resources, legal, accounting. Now, take all those different responsibilities and pick them up yourself.
Being a freelance designer, you often get overwhelmed by all the new and different things you’ll have to manage yourself, usually without any prior experience. The actual design work can quickly take a back seat to everything else associated with running a business.
3. You’ll Lose a Bunch of Little Perks You Never Fully Appreciated
Trading the 9-5 world for freelancing means you’ll lose a ton of benefits that you probably took for granted.
You maybe never appreciated your health insurance, paid time off, holidays, maternity leave, retirement plans, or free snacks in the breakroom–but you’ll quickly lament their disappearance.
4. You’ll Struggle to Make Ends Meet
Finances will likely be a big issue, at least when you first start out. The reason is simple: there won’t be as much money coming in, but there will be a lot more money going out.
Obtaining new clients is a struggle–and will be for a long time. In the corporate world, your paycheck is like clockwork. You’ll (hopefully) get paid even if the company is going through a slump. Freelancing, on the other hand, only provides income if you have clients to work for.
And, it should be noted that there is a big difference between billable hours and hours worked. For example, you can’t charge clients for the time you spent marketing to them. So not only will you have do a lot of work that won’t have direct return on your investment, you’re also forfeiting time that could be spent on client work and that would be compensated.
Additionally, there will be a lot more expenses. You’ll have to buy all your own software. You’ll have to pay for computer maintenance. You’ll have to pay for utilities. You’ll even have to buy your own paper and pens!
But perhaps most troubling of all, you’ll be responsible for paying all of your own income taxes. Your employer used to pick up the tab for half; now, you’ll have to pay everything yourself.
5. Clients Will Take Advantage of You
Because it is so hard to get new clients, you’ll be tempted to bend over backwards to keep the ones you manage to land. That means, you’ll likely do things that will, in the long run, cost you a lot of time and money.
Your clients are business owners too. They want to cut costs just like you do. So, they’ll likely ask for discounts and extras that you really can’t afford. You might rework a project or add to it without changing the original terms of the contract. Or, you’ll go above and beyond to try to satisfy someone who is actually impossible to please.
Not only will that reduce the profits you’ll earn for this project, but that behavior could jeopardize earning potential of future projects too. Referrals are extremely valuable. But, what if the client you just gave a ton of extras to recommends you to a friend? You’ll either have to offer the same profitless work to the referral, or jeopardize your relationship with both your new client and the old one.
In order to make being a freelance designer profitable, you’ll have to stand your ground. You’ll have to write air-tight contracts and stick to them. And, you’ll probably have to throw that whole “the customer is always right” mantra out the window.
For many, this hard-line stance is something that goes against their character and is, therefore, difficult to maintain.
6. Your Skills and Personal Traits Aren’t a Good Fit for Self-Employment
Again, getting rid of the monkey on your back seems appealing, but that monkey is actually more helpful than you realize.
Time Management – If you aren’t careful, your work responsibilities can quickly override your personal life. Are you disciplined enough to work just eight hours each day? Or will you jeopardize your mental health and sanity? On the other hand, are you motivated enough to crawl out of bed and get to work? Or will freelancing mean you become lazy and unproductive?
Project Management – Project management is a tough task to learn. To ensure each project is profitable, you need to accurately estimate the amount of time you’ll need and bill the client accordingly. Then, you’ll need to monitor your time and make sure you don’t get too involved. Are you capable of creating minimum viable products, or are you a perfectionist who will always exceed the estimates?
Professionalism – New clients will surely Google you before signing on the dotted line. What will they find? That you are a professional? Someone who can be entrusted with the company’s resources? Or will they find bad reviews and a tarnished reputation?
7. Even the Smallest Mistakes Can be Deadly
As a freelancer, you’ll be breaking all new ground. Designing will likely be the only thing you have actual experience doing. That means, the chance of mistakes and errors are incredibly high.
If you are working for a design firm, those mistakes are easier to avoid–and easier to gloss over when they happen. For example, an established business will have an experienced accountant who knows, understands, and abides by the tax laws. What will happen to your business if you misreport something on your taxes? What will happen if you can’t pay your bills because you didn’t take that one difficult-to-work-for client?
As a one-person show, you are more inclined to make mistakes than with an entire team of trained professionals. And when those mistakes happen, there is only one person who will be held responsible for them.
Will the Pros Of Being a Freelance Designer Outweigh the Cons?
We aren’t trying to discourage you from life as a freelancer. And we aren’t saying the challenges of freelancing are insurmountable. However, if you are aware of the issues you’ll likely face, you can take a proactive approach to their mitigation–which will, hopefully, increase your odds of success!