We’ve been led to believe that the world of work is a meritocracy. We spend our education working diligently in the hope that one day our efforts will be rewarded by the job of our dreams. A job that rewards our hard work, creativity and determination with a competitive pay package, reasonable and flexible hours and a positive, happy and enthusiastic working environment. Upon graduating, however, many of us are shocked to find a barren wasteland where we had hoped to see a land verdant with opportunity. It’s a land of exploitative zero hours contracts, unpaid work “opportunities”, internships which are more cynical attempts to get naive youngsters to work for free rather than entry level positions and so-called graduate roles that offer neither graduate pay nor graduate prospects.
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In such a hostile climate, is it any wonder that so many young professionals turn to the gig economy to nurture their careers. In an era where in some countries the majority of graduates are working non-graduate jobs and wage repression and stagnation mean that young professionals are increasingly unable to make ends meet in an unforgiving economy, freelancing is an increasingly attractive option for talented but frustrated professionals. For those who constantly feel as though they’re banging their heads against an impenetrable glass ceiling, freelancing may seem like the perfect way to reclaim their professional lives and approach their career and their financial livelihood on their own terms. But those expecting a land of milk and honey are also in for a rude awakening. Here we’ll look at some of the perilous pitfalls often encountered by nascent freelancers and how you can overcome them in order to not just survive but thrive in the competitive and capricious but potentially rewarding and thrilling world of freelancing.
Make no mistake, freelancing certainly can be awesome!
While freelancing has its caveats, there are many things that make it a career thoroughly worth pursuing. If one understands the prospective benefits to a career as a freelancer they may be better able to negotiate the inherent dangers by keeping their eyes firmly on the prize. Lots of freelancers would never consider the idea of returning to a salaried job. While working for a company may afford you things like sick pay, holiday pay and a workplace pension, many do not consider this adequate compensation for the inherent restrictions of the corporate structure. If you’re able to avoid the following pitfalls, you stand every chance of becoming a self-employed powerhouse with complete autonomy over your working life…
Too much too soon
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing more soul crushing than working in a job you hate. That nagging feeling that you’re wasting your life in a position where you’ll never be truly appreciated nor will you be properly remunerated for your efforts. While many can tread water in a dead end job for years, for others the feeling of stagnation can be too much to bear, especially if the skills and abilities they honed during their education and training are beginning to atrophy in an unrelated job.
For a few who take the plunge and become full time freelancers, quitting their job and diving headfirst into freelancing gives them the impetus they need to build a thriving freelancing career… But while the idea of telling your boss exactly where to stuff their job, dropping the mic and getting the heck out of there may be extremely appealing, it’s probably not terribly prudent.
You may be better served by building your freelancing business as a side hustle alongside your day job and slowly transitioning into full time freelancing. This has a number of advantages to going in “cold”. You’ll be able to take some time building your social media presence and establishing your brand. You’ll be able to take on small but manageable bundles of work for clients in your free time and gain time management skills that will become vital when you make the jump to full time. This will enable you to hit the ground running with a strong body of work, an established clientele and a brand with real meaning behind it.
Unrealistic expectations can mire freelancing careers and make this wonderful life so much less rewarding and enjoyable. This includes unrealistic expectations on the part of the freelancer and the client. Many freelancers begin their careers with unrealistic expectations of themselves, and in their fervor agree to deadlines that find them working for 12-14 hours a day on projects that they grow to despise.
It’s essential that you know your limits and are honest about them with clients or prospective clients. They will respect you far more if you turn down work or negotiate on a deadline than if you turn in work that’s unfinished, shoddy and riddles with mistakes… but handed in on time.
Thinking that a flashy logo is enough to build a brand
Branding is essential for all SMEs, and while freelancers and sole traders may well be the face of their brand, this does not mean that they don’t need to consider branding. The thing is, however, branding is so much more than a fancy logo on your website or Twitter banner. Your branding needs to inextricably tied to your mission statement. It should represent not just a standard of quality but a certain type of product that your clients should expect. Whether it’s your art style, the way you string your prose together or the creative flourishes that make your work idiosyncratic or unique, your brand is the one thing that can make you stand out among your legions of competitors and it should be front and center in your online presence and all of your work samples.
Cash flow crises
Becoming a freelancer can be quite a jarring transition for those accustomed to receiving a specific sum every month from their employer. Like all small businesses, freelancers need to ensure steady cash flow through their business. They need to be able to invest in tools, equipment and software to improve the quality of their work, boost their productivity, increase their output and ensure that their work is of a consistent quality. But they also need to budget to ensure that their tax affairs are in order and that they’re saving adequately for their retirement in lieu of a workplace pension.
Unfortunately, the lot of a freelancer isn’t always conducive to a healthy cash flow. Sometimes clients don’t pay on time. Sometimes there are accounting errors and sometimes invoiced get lost. Savvy freelancers must position themselves so that a late payment will not seriously derail their business and / or household finances. Business invoice factoring can be a very useful and affordable tool in helping to ease cash flow and avoid the inherent costs incurred by unpaid creditors. It can be a real lifeline for those with a potentially worrying combination of impending bills and unpaid invoices.
While we’re on the subject of cash flow, it’s vital that freelancers take steps to ensure that they budget adequately in order to avoid potential financial reprisals. Rather than having a set payday every month, freelancers tend to receive trickles of income from various clients sporadically throughout the week. Not only can this make it harder to manage household costs, it can also prevent you from saving adequately for your retirement or failing to honour your tax commitments. Here are some useful tips on budgeting as a freelancer.
As important as it is to manage your money effectively as a freelancer, it’s not the only finite resource that you must concern yourself with. You must also take great care to manage your time and your effort so that your zeal and your determination to get along in a competitive arena don’t cause you to burn out in ways that will be detrimental to not just your business, but your quality of life. Freelancers are just as susceptible to entrepreneurial burnout as any CEO. Indeed, since you’ll likely be a sole trader with no support network to lean on, you’re more vulnerable than those who manage even a modest team. Once again, it’s vital that you are realistic in the promises you make to your clients and the deadlines you agree upon. While working hard for long hours is a noble pursuit, working when tired or creatively exhausted is rarely conducive to a product that you could stake your professional reputation on.
Even freelancers deserve a modicum of work / life balance.
Stop getting social media wrong
Many freelancers believe themselves to be social media savvy. Indeed, many under 30s have been using it all of their adult lives. But even those with a solid understanding of social media and a robust following can still make mistakes on social media platforms which could alienate prospective clients and jeopardize their chances of making new contacts. Treat social media as a platform to make new contacts and network. Don’t use it as a platform for hard sales. Don’t spam prospective clients with unsolicited speculatory messages and unprovoked tags. It’s more likely to make you seem like a nuisance than a hungry and dynamic freelancer who can provide them with a vital service.
Steer clear of these perilous pitfalls and you have every opportunity to become a successful and happy freelancer.