The drawbacks of being a freelancer

I’ve been a freelancer for 6 years now, which thinking about it is quite a long time given my young age. Long enough to get a taste of what the pros and cons are.

Coming from a very small town in south Italy where web development or any web related work is generally underpaid, becoming a freelancer was the only way for me to fund my university studies abroad using my passion without asking financial help to my family.

I was 17 years old when I started. Working on my own was a dream for me. One year later, I had made more than enough money to start my adventure together with an immeasurable sense of freedom. Little did I know that one day it would have been too much to bear.

Advantages of being a freelancer

In my opinion, freelancing does have many advantages over employment. At the same time there are certain downsides that can easily take over and slowly eat away your passion.

Potentially make more money

It’s true that you can make more money freelancing, after all you’re in control of how much you charge and how much you work. Furthermore there’s also the opportunity to create multiple income streams. A lot of time and effort is needed to build a reputable portfolio before you can put your rates up.

Freelancing also pushes you to constantly learn new things and improve yourself so that you can increase your rates.

Decide what to work on

You’re in the driver’s seat of your business. Nobody is going to tell you which projects to accept and which to reject. At the same time, while freelancing, you don’t just spend time creating, you also need to spend a lot of time finding new clients, work and manage the business.

Disadvantages of being a freelancer

During these years I went through different phases. At the beginning I was excited about starting up my own business, finding new projects, learning how to deal with customers, etc. After a few years, I started to notice that this job was making me more frustrated than happy. I’ve realized this too late and at this point I can only learn from it.

Save as much money as you can

Money is the stress of all stresses. Living on my own, studying and working full time, paying rent, bills, etc. Having an inconsistent monthly income pushed me to live in constant fear of running out of money. Sometimes I imagined the worst-case scenario and how many months I could sustain myself until money ran out.

You work and think about work all the time

How much work is enough for the day? I couldn’t figure it out until recently. While freelancing, you will most likely find yourself working 14 hours a day and while for some people it might be acceptable, you’ll start to notice that at some point this also puts a strain on your personal life.

Whether it’s going well or badly, you keep thinking about work. I didn’t know how to shut off work and I didn’t know how to walk away and ignore it for any more than an hour. Sometimes it was extremely hard to keep ideas from bouncing around in my head.

Some might argue that this shows a sheer passion for what you do. I once thought that too but believe me, find a new hobby, take a break and you’ll start feeling better. I’ve now learned to worry less and it feels great.

Isolation – Lack of social interaction

Working for yourself often means that you’re working by yourself. Like most of freelancers, I work from home where I don’t have someone for small talk, feedback or to talk nonsense with. A life of such isolation can be detrimental to well-being.

Enter: the co-working space.

Co-working spaces are shared workspaces with a professional office environment where freelancers and other self employed people can work independently. Something I should have probably done a long time ago is joining a co-working space, unfortunately for one reason or another I haven’t had the chance to signup or find an appropriate space.

No security

When you are employed, you still get paid if you get sick. You have paid vacation and other benefits. When you’re a freelancer you don’t get anything like that.

If you ever get sick, you can’t just lay in bed. Work is still there waiting for you to get up. Going on a vacation? Better have a solid plan first because some customers will still expect support from you.

This kind of stress won’t be there when you’re employed.

The bottom line

When I started working as a freelancer, I already knew what I was getting into but I didn’t know the full extent of it.

Freelancing is tough and is not for everyone. You have to do all your own marketing, networking and administration on top of your actual work. It can take up a lot of your time and cause lots of stress. It becomes easy to get sedentary when you’re really busy working in a home office environment. It’s the harsh reality.

Thinking back at my experience, I realized that I was spending less time having fun - doing what I love/enjoying life - and more on clients and running the business. Most importantly the stress was slowly eating away the passion I have for the web and art, it got to the point it was also interfering with my personal life.

So, I took a drastic decision: I’m no longer a freelancer. I have 2 clients left for which I’m still working and a personal project that should keep me busy until just before the summer. Once I’m done, I’ll be traveling for a while and then I’ll be looking for a new exciting challenge that will push my skills and techniques to a new level.

Will I miss being a freelancer? Yes, I definitely will and I would do it all over again. After all, freelancing has allowed me to kickstart my career, it forced me to develop self-discipline, it improved my project management skills and made me learn how to deal with customers but I wish I realized some mistakes earlier.

I hope my story can provide you with some insight on what it’s like to work as a freelancer and the struggles I’ve faced so that it can help you making the right decisions.