You’ve probably read about the fantastic careers enjoyed by freelancers, who have lots of freedom and significant earnings. You might even have freelance colleagues recommend the ‘freelancing life’ to you.
It’s easy to focus on all the positives of freelance working. But it’s not all plain sailing, and the freelance life isn’t for everyone. There’s no doubting the attractions of freelancing, but there are also some significant challenges and drawbacks that you should not miss.
We’ve put together this guide with 17 freelancing pros and cons to help you decide if you’re the kind of person that might flourish as a freelancer. So to learn more about the pros and cons of freelancing, read on!
The main pros of freelancing
1. Be your own boss
As a freelancer, you are a business, and that means you’re the boss. In fact, in some tax jurisdictions (the UK, for example), if you can’t prove you’re the boss, you might be forced to work on an employee basis (and pay income tax too!).
In other words, nobody can tell you what to do. Because you’re running a business and you’re the boss of that business, you set the rules. You can do what you like as long as your business generates enough revenue to pay your monthly needs.
2. Make more money
Depending on your life goals, this might be the number-one reason for going freelance. But is it true that you’ll make more money as a freelancer?
That really depends on the kind of freelancer you are, and if you know how to negotiate your freelance rate well. But on balance, yes, you should. As a freelancer, you should expect to get paid more per hour, week, or project than a full-time employee. But, there are good reasons for this. Plus you should keep in mind that you may not be able to always have a contract or assignment.
As we’ll see later in this guide, though you can expect to be paid more when working as a freelancer, it’s not all about the bottom line. There’s significant risk you’re taking, so you’ll have to consider that too.
3. Have flexibility & autonomy
For many people, work flexibility and job autonomy are the biggest attractions of freelance work. This flexibility covers many areas, from working hours and workload to workplace and career choices.
Depending on the client and project, you can set your own working hours. If you want to work more hours, you can. If you want to work less for others (and maybe spend more time on pet projects), you can do that, too. The bottom line is that as a freelancer, you can kick the 9-5 life to the curb.
4. Build skills
When you work for the same company at the same location for months or years, you may not get to learn new skills or tackle fresh challenges. As a freelancer, however, you can seek work that lets you polish up new skills or take on challenges that are bigger or different from past jobs.
In some ways, this pro fits into the flexibility we discussed earlier, but it’s attractive enough to make it worth mentioning on its own. This is because when you build your skills, you stay interested and engaged, making work more fun and less like work. It can also mean you make more money. See how these things are all connected? Talking about that, let’s move onto the next advantage to freelancing.
5. Variety is the spice of (work) life
You might be starting to see how the lines between some of these factors are blurred. After all, as a freelancer, you’ll be your own boss, and that means the one thing you can enjoy (only if you want it, boss) is this: variety.
Freelance workers are free to work on projects that appeal to them. It might be the money a project pays, but it might also be the other people working on the project, the work location, or the industry.
As the boss of your own business, you also get to choose your clients. If you enjoy a mutually beneficial, rewarding professional relationship with some clients, you can concentrate on their projects. If you don’t like working with someone, you don’t have to.
6. Recognition of your expertise
Finally! A freelancing pro not included in the other factors on this list.
Actually, this is an important one, and it’s often overlooked: when you’re hired as a freelancer, it signifies recognition of the expertise you bring to a company or project.
This is the kind of positive that can be lacking in a full-time job. If you feel your contribution in your current job isn’t sufficiently recognised, finally getting that recognition might be a powerful attraction for you when it comes to going freelance.
7. Controlling your career
Freelancers are businesses. We already discussed being your boss, flexibility, and work variety. The career control and variety of options you can enjoy in freelance work are closely related to this.
It can be hard to progress in your career when you’re sitting in a 9-5 job working for someone else. You could face office politics, a lack of opportunities, or the daunting task of changing employers.
The freelance world is different. You can hunt for projects and contracts that better fit into the plans you have for your career. This opportunity can be significant when economic developments or technological advances lead to big changes in your industry; consider Chat-GPT! As such, as a freelancer, it’s easier to explore your options.
8. Work-life balance
When you work freelance, you might ‘work for’ someone, but in reality, you’re a business providing a service to a client. You work with people, not for them. That means nobody owns you.
The parameters for your relationships with clients should be clearly defined in contracts so there’s no question about when you’re available for their work. A boss can’t lean on you to work too much or at times that should be yours, not theirs. That should make it much easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance. But as you’ll see with the cons of freelancing below, that’s not always the case.
The main cons of freelancing
1. Be your own boss
No, it’s not déjà vu – we have been here before. We have to say it again, because for some people, being your own boss is a negative.
It’s not just about the freedom to work when you feel like it. Rather, the challenges of being your own boss, especially if you work from home, can be difficult to deal with. Even though we said that freelancing means you can say good-bye to the 9-5 grind, when you’re your own boss, a solid 9-5 work ethic becomes even more important.
Freed from the need to watch out for your boss, be seen to be busy, and clock in and out, it can be easy to fall in the trap of being too relaxed or too stressed with your work.
When you’re running a business, this can be dangerous. Can you make sure you keep your clients happy, and not be either always on holiday, or always working?
We could call this one, “Be Your Own Boss, Some More.” With every business comes administrative chores, and even headaches. There are day-to-day tasks like maintaining communication with clients, monitoring billable hours, and managing client contracts.
Other administration can include generating invoices, chasing clients for payment (more on this below), staying on top of your accounts, and — horror! — paying taxes.
Don’t worry, though. It’s possible to let someone else handle some or all of these headaches. You can hire an accountant to handle financial paperwork and filing your taxes. You can use an online platform to manage contracts, generate invoices, and worry about payment.
Nonetheless, there will be some administrative tasks involved, that you wouldn’t have as a regular employee.
3. No Employee Benefits
Full-time employment can come with a range of valuable benefits. These benefits can include health, life, and disability insurance. How much is a staff canteen or gym worth to you?
Depending on where you live and work, you might have to consider how much it will cost to replace those benefits if you have to pay for them yourself. In much of Europe, quality healthcare is free. If you live in the USA, the medical insurance that comes with your job might be worth more than your salary. Consider also additional monetary benefits, such as bonuses or vacation pay.
4. No paid time off
Freelancers only get paid when they’re working. Unlike full-time employees, they don’t get paid time off. That means you have to consider how much your income is going to be reduced by taking time off, whether that’s for a vacation, a medical emergency, or something else like training or a trade show.
This factor really belongs in the section above about Employee Benefits. But, it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning here on its own. This is to reiterate the point that freelancers face a lot of out-of-pocket expenses that they don’t have to worry about when they work for someone else.
This also means that your holidays become extremely expensive; not only you have to pay for the holiday, but you’re also not receiving any salary in the meantime.
5. Income instability
Sure, freelancing gives you flexibility and the chance to make better money. Unfortunately, it also means that your income will be more unstable. In some cases, we could even call it volatile.
Unless or until you’ve built up a big client base (ideally one that’s not focused on any single industry) you can normally expect to have slow months when you earn little or no money. You’ll need to save money while the times are good, so you don’t have to worry in lean times.
When there’s an industry downturn or the economy weakens, it’s normally the freelance workers that get let go first. But, if you know what to do as a freelancer in a financial crisis, you’re prepared for the ups and downs and you don’t have to be scared. You can use the break to enjoy a vacation, re-skill, or work on your portfolio/marketing (which brings us nicely to our next point.)
6. You have to sell yourself
If you work in sales, marketing or branding you might wonder what the fuss is about. However, a lot of people love working for someone else because they can just focus on their jobs (and not worry about finding clients).
As a freelancer, a lot of your time and energy will be focused on selling yourself. That means building your brand, marketing yourself, and other activities that help you find more clients and win more jobs.
Some people enjoy the challenge of building their brand and expanding their client base. Others might be put off by having to do these things. But even if you’re good enough at selling yourself to get freelance work, there are other areas where communication can be problematic.
7. Communication and loneliness
A lot of freelancers work remotely, based at home, out of a co-working space, or even (if you’re lucky) on a beach. This can create communication challenges you don’t have when you work with colleagues in an office.
Thanks to modern technology, there are many options for staying in touch with clients and team members when you work remotely. However, you still face the potential perils of isolation. Not having to deal with anyone face-to-face is ideal for some people. Others can find it challenging to stay engaged and happy if they can’t easily catch up over coffee, go to a ‘real’ meeting, or otherwise interact with flesh-and-blood humans. Simply put, freelancing may become lonely!
8. Clients paying late or not paying
Every business has this problem. It’s a sad fact of life that as a freelancer, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll end up with at least one client not paying their invoice. Hopefully, it only has to happen once for you to learn whatever lesson it takes to avoid it happening again.
There are ways to reduce the danger of not getting paid, but clients can still end up paying late. Thankfully, it shouldn’t be a common problem, especially if you make sure your contract is up to scratch and/or you work through a platform or agency that protects you against this risk. But realistically, it is bound to happen sometime.
9. Work-life balance
If you’ve made it successfully through all the pros and cons above, you might be wondering why we’re talking about work-life balance again. After all, didn’t we say this was one of the advantages of not working for someone else? Yes, we did, but…
Many of the other cons we listed here are just types of overheads every business has. When you work for someone else as a full-time employee, they normally take care of things like tax and insurance, for example.
When you work freelance, it’s important to recognise that there will be business overheads like admin and marketing on top of the time you spend working for clients. Combine that with working-from-home, it can be difficult to disconnect from work. This can damage your work-life balance, so it’s a good idea to create an ‘official’ workspace in your home, maybe in a separate room.
How do you decide to start as a freelancer?
As you can see, big money isn’t the only factor to consider when answering the question: should I start as a freelancer?
One of the biggest attractions of freelance work is that you can dip your toes in the pool by getting small projects at first that you can work on outside your regular work hours. For some people that means: Yes you can freelance while working full-time. This is an excellent way to find out if freelancing is good for you, without worrying about the risks of leaving your job.
Plus consider questions like these: Do you work well on your own? Are you a self-starter who likes to plan things carefully? If yes, then maybe freelancing will work for you.
On the other hand, if you hate selling yourself and don’t want to learn how to do that, you might be better off as a full-time employee. If you like having a boss or project manager dole out discrete tasks that you can simply complete and wait for the next task, you might find freelancing a challenge.
If you found our guide helpful and you want to take the next steps, you might enjoy reading this article on finding your first freelance client.