Freelancing: is it awesome or just plain difficult?

 

Jo walking down a jetty at sunset

Freelancing means I have the freedom to go on holidays! But there are some bad sides to this career path… Photo by Amit Turkenitz.

A few months ago I was in a state of despair: I had no freelance work. I began to worry that I was on the wrong career path, and perhaps I shouldn’t persevere with being a freelance science communicator. My thoughts tumbled over one another and just as I thought I should do something about my career choice, I was suddenly flooded with work.

Work came in from all of my clients at the same time, and I went from wondering how to fill my time to cramming every minute of the day with work to reach my deadlines.

I was researching Israeli start-up companies, editing academic papers for an architect, interviewing an ecologist for a newsletter, and writing about methane emissions for cows (aka. cow burps). I loved it all: being busy, planning my time, working into the night, and learning new things. I was doing challenging work. I felt like I was a success finally, and I would have money coming in soon and life was good. I didn’t feel guilty going out for dinner any more.

Three weeks later, the work dried up.

Therein lies a big problem with freelancing. Freelancers can be without work for a while and stressing about where our next pay check will come from. Then we can be overwhelmed with work, and think “Hey, this is an awesome business I’ve created for myself!” Then the downtime comes again. Within this cycle we’re lulled into a sense of safety with the status-quo; we change nothing because sometimes we’re successful, which pushes away the bad memories of when we’re not.

Freelancing can be a great line of work, but the challenges are significant. After over a year of freelancing, I’m still working on how to improve my business. The feast or famine cycle is just one of the challenges I face. Here is my summary of what I love and hate about freelancing.

5 reasons why freelancing is awesome

  1. Working from home – no painful commutes! I can open the window, cook lunch in my own kitchen, and go for coffee with friends, all without a boss wondering where I am!
  2. Choosing who I work with
  3. Not wasting time at boring office meetings
  4. Freedom to set my own hours and decide when to take holidays
  5. Location independence – I live in Tel Aviv, but work for people in Australia and Israel. I communicate via email, wikis, skype and the phone. Occasionally I’ll meet someone face to face, but most of my work is done on the computer, which gives me the freedom to work when and where I want.

5 reasons why freelancing is hard

  1. No one to bounce ideas off
  2. Figuring out how to improve my skills
  3. Uncertainty about when clients will give me work
  4. Uncertainty about when the money will come in
  5. Finding new clients

I haven’t got all the answers for how to be a great freelancer. I’m still learning, but I’m enjoying the experience. Now that I’m back studying Hebrew full time, it’s the perfect way for me to continue to bring in some money.

Are you thinking about being a freelancer? What is holding you back?

Or are you a freelancer? How do you cope with the bad stuff?

For more on my freelancing experiences, read my interview on Career Pioneers.

 

Jo Savill is a writer, science communicator and entrepreneur. Stay up to date with Jo’s writing by signing up to her newsletter

 

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