5 years ago I left the world of employment and started up a virtual assistant business. Since then we have all experienced virtual working, and there has been a spike of people making the transition to freelance.
I am all for a healthy work/life balance; it's one of the reasons I decided to leave the corporate world, however it's not all sunshine and lattes like some of the online articles selling the 'side hustle' dream would have you believe! The truth is that it is hard work to set up your own business, the same as it takes dedication to work your way up the corporate ladder.
In this article, I address some freelance myths and look at the realities of going it alone.
Freedom to work how and when you want
It is true that you can decide where you work and you can flex your hours to pop out to that appointment, however, digital nomad or working from home, you do need to deliver the work you have agreed to and you can only do that by dedicating your time. That may mean that instead of clocking off at 5pm, you need to work until 10pm to make up the time because you started late. That may suit you and of course having the flexibility is great, particularly if you are fitting work around your schedule. But the fact is that you still need to do the work!
Clients come and go
Many people are worried about maintaining a steady flow of work when becoming self-employed, but the truth is that there is no such thing as a job for life in any employment. I believe that you should not allow yourself to become institutionalised, as many employees do (we can all be creatures of comfort after all, myself included). Different companies have varied approaches and it's not until you experience those differences that you learn and figure out what works well. If you do a good job for a client, the chances are that you will work together for a while until the business needs change. Your contact may end up going to another company and ask for your services there. This is actually an ideal scenario for a freelancer in the long run, as that way your network and experience grows, creating potential opportunities in the future.
On the flip side, if you experience a 'bad client' - and most freelancers do at some point - then you can simply choose to stop working with them - a luxury perhaps not available whilst in employment. A 'bad client' could involve work that you simply do not enjoy doing, or someone who does not respect your boundaries, time etc.
The bigger your business is, the more successful you are
The more satisfied clients you have, the more likely you are to be recommended and have further opportunity to showcase your work and market your business. However, there is only so much time in the day to be able to do the work yourself and at this point you may consider taking on some help. As you gain more clients and therefore more income, you may need to consider whether to adjust your business set-up. This could mean additional financial admin and the need to hire an accountant. Keeping your accounts as a sole trader can be pretty simple, especially if you are an online business with minimal outgoings, whereas becoming a ltd. co can be more complicated.
The bigger the team the more likelihood of issues developing, particularly if a team member becomes unavailable and you need to be able to cover their work or risk losing the client. This increased pressure may not be someone's vision of success and can outweigh the additional income. For some, alleviating people-related stress can be the reason why they became freelance in the first place.
WFH is easy
Most of us have experienced working from home over the last few years and many are now back in the office, with hybrid working becoming more and more common place. I personally love working from home - I enjoy the quiet focus time and being able to pop out for a run at lunch time etc. But it really is not for everyone and it can feel lonely & isolating, especially for those starting out in their career who may be missing out on the community of office life. Coupled with the cost of living hike and other pressures such as family expectations, and it's easy to see why working from home can prove stressful and the office a good escape.
All of the above said, I love being freelance and have worked with some brilliant clients who I have learned so much from. I have increased my skillset over the past 5 years way more than I believe I would have done if I had stayed in employment. If you're thinking of setting up yourself, my advice would be to do as much research as possible - weigh up the pros and cons, roll your sleeves up, take a deep breath and take that leap of faith onto the self-employed ride!