Is freelancing a viable career path for you?
I get asked about a freelancing career a lot. In fact, almost all the time nowadays when I tell people what I do for a living.
I graduated with two Computer Science Degrees almost a decade ago. But if someone had asked me this question then, I would've flatly answered No. Or maybe a quizzical face suggesting I knew nothing about freelancing 😂
Ten years on, with a mix of employment and freelancing experience under my belt, I now know the answer can very well be a resounding Yes.
It can be LESS risky than a full time job
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One of the biggest concerns people have with a freelancing career is that you're not part of a company for a full time contract and have to get work on a regular basis. This can vary from month to month, so it appears freelancing is a bit unstable and risky.
However, this is only true for when you're just starting out. As you complete more freelancing jobs, build a reputation on popular freelancing platforms and develop long term clients, finding regular work becomes much easier.
At that point, freelancing actually becomes less risky than being a full time employee of a single employer. This is because at any given time, freelancers can work simultaneously with multiple clients. If any of these clients leave you, you always have others to lean on for some time.
When working full time, if you lose your job, you also lose your sole source of income. And in many cases, it might be more stressful to get a new one.
So a freelancing career really can be a less risky working arrangement than being a full time employee.
Freedom to develop your career
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Freedom is a buzz word associated with freelancing quite a lot. But most people only consider this freedom in terms of lifestyle benefits. That is, freedom to work anywhere, at any time when you like.
But there is more to it in terms of a viable career!
You also get the freedom to work on the things you want and the areas you want to focus on. In a typical employee scenario, you can only be very lucky to get the type of project you want or the work you enjoy.
While freelancing, you can choose the projects you want to work on according to the expertise you want to build. And that's not it. You can even modify this as you go along!
For example, when I started freelancing, I wanted to focus on Mobile App Development. I did a few mobile app projects, but eventually decided to focus on the Web with the Angular framework.
This type of freedom to develop your career as you see fit can be difficult to imagine in most companies. You can be required to work in different teams and projects - some of which you might not really like at all - affecting your work satisfaction in the process.
Growing your career comes naturally
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People can get complacent in full time jobs. Since you're already at a comfortable position, you really don't have much incentive to upskill yourself or learn new things apart from those that the company arranges for you.
With a freelancing career, you're a regular visitor of freelance platforms and job boards to get work. This exposes you to the latest trends of your area of expertise and gives you a good snapshot of what you can learn next to stay on top of the game!
So growing your career in terms of skills comes quite naturally to you when freelancing.
In addition, since you have the flexibility to adjust your work schedule, you can take some time off or even accommodate some learning on a daily basis - to gain more skills. A great time for this is in between two projects - when you've just finished with one but searching for another!
Set your own salary
An important part of your job is of course the compensation that you receive. Freelancing also offers you the freedom to set your own salary, so to speak. You're not restricted by the "market rate" - just by your own unique level of expertise.
So it is quite common in freelancing to see professionals charging more for their services than full time employees.
Your rates are in your control - as long as your clients are willing to pay them!
And while in most companies, you might get a raise on an yearly or half yearly basis, you don't have any such restrictions while freelancing. You can raise your rates as you develop more expertise or whenever you feel that you're not charging your worth for a specific set of services.
Also, you can charge different rates for different types of services - based on the expertise it requires. For instance, if you're offering a service that's difficult to come by, you'll find clients willing to pay higher rates for it!
This kind of flexibility in your income is difficult to get when you're employed full time and opens your doors to many new earning opportunities while freelancing.
Scaling your work
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I know what you're thinking - all of the above sounds good and all. But still you get to see clear career progression while in a job with junior roles and then moving on to leadership roles as you climb the corporate ladder. Wouldn't that leave you sort of stagnant when freelancing?
Well, not necessarily. You can remain a solo professional if you want to and that might be perfectly fine - if you can continue raising your rates as a consultant and develop a higher level of expertise.
But you can also start scaling your work by converting it into an agency. You can start by hiring or working with more people and developing a team of professionals.
A big advantage you get when freelancing for a while is that you've already built a solid client base. So you can have your agency off to a flying start with your existing clients!
But that's not the only way you can scale your work. During the course of your regular work, you might've come across best practices or built up something that could be released as a product of its own. This can be something highly technical or even just a digital learning product such as a PDF or video explaining something.
With platforms such as Udemy, Gumroad and Youtube - you can start sharing your knowledge and expertise with the wider community and also augmenting your freelancing income at the same time.
Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash
So as you can see, freelancing can be much more rewarding than simply giving you a different way to earn a living. The biggest advantage of being a freelancer is the freedom it gives you to develop your career as you want. What I've given you above is just given a snapshot of the possibilities.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Freelancing has its downsides as well, but if you can live with them, it might be a viable career path for you (as I discovered for myself).
Thank you for going through this post!
If you feel intrigued, follow me on twitter as I share my experiences as a full time freelancer and front-end engineer on Upwork.