The Pro’s and Con’s of Freelancing…

As I said in my previous post I have been freelancing now since 2010. Events that transpired back then (ie being made redundant) turned my career in a different direction. I kind of fell into freelance as I had been out of work for 4 months and was at a point when I realised I needed to find the confidence to try something new. Having lost a LOT of confidence in the full time job I had been made redundant from, I went into my first day of freelance like a deer in the headlights. It was terrifying at first but I soon started to really enjoy it. As much as those early days involved long hours in a world I was totally unfamiliar with (I’d never done any brand marketing design before), my work was appreciated and I realised I wasn’t bad at my job!

I was fortunate in the sense that once I got my foot in the door of my first freelance job, I ended up being there a year, a ‘Permalancer’ as they say in the biz! After that, a 6 month stint somewhere else, then back to the first company for another year and quite a few ‘month’ stints pinging between a few key companies I’d gotten to know. Work was steady and cashflow was good. BUT…  as I soon realised, when circumstances change, this stability can easily be shaken in the world of freelance and then you then get the opposite effect of worrying where the next job is going to come from. It’s a rollercoaster of sorts but I am now at a stage in my life that I try not to panic and have confidence that a job will come up, and do you know what, it always does! I’ve now learnt to value the downtime as well as the busy times and it seems to work for me.

So in my humble opinion, here’s a few of my Pro’s and Con’s of freelancing…

What I like about freelancing:

Variety of jobs: working in different agencies, you see a huge variety of clients and the kind of campaigns they do. It’s always interesting and every day is different.

Variety of ‘work’: one of the things I enjoy about freelancing is that I get to do a bit of everything* (*within reason… I am not a developer!). From print campaigns, to digital media designs, large format design (ie shows and events) and retail POS, it’s always exciting to see what comes next. Admittedly there are just days when I am art working typos which is generally a bit boring but I still get paid, so it’s not all bad.

Meeting new people: I have met some really interesting people over the years of freelancing. There are some really talented designers out there, each with their own wisdom and knowledge to impart. It’s always good to learn from them. I’ve definately met some ‘crazy characters’ too. Some a bit too crazy for my liking when you have a deadline and you are trying to concentrate, but they are certainly entertaining. Mostly I have made some really good mates. I’ve realised that the industry I work in is a tad ‘incestuous’ (apologies for the want of a better word)… It’s like that 6 degrees of separation thing, there’s usually someone, who knows someone, who knows someone. It’s a good thing when you want to try and expand your network a bit.

Learning new things all the time: Being around so many different skill-sets in so many different places, you do pick up bits of knowledge that I don’t think you’d get working in one place all the time. I always try to ask how something is done as you never know when that information might come in useful elsewhere. Occasionally I even get to impart my own knowledge. I am prided for my OCD-ness in file structuring! The other good thing about meeting many other freelancers, is that they are so helpful in advice on just BEING a freelancer. When I was deciding to go limited, a lot of people I met gave me so much good advice. I have a solid network of people I’ve met, some I see a lot, some I only run into on occasion. All of them have been valuable to get me where I am today.

Working in ‘quirky’ creative environments and offices that have pets at work: My partner finds it funny that I work mainly in converted barns and offices that have ‘funky’ designs on the wall and toys everywhere. Though he is jealous of places that have Lego he wants on display! I do love some offices where the surroundings aren’t just corporate. It makes it a fun place to work when music is on and it’s colourful.  And it’s especially nice when there’s an ‘office mascot’ – usually a pooch. My favourite has to be this little one.

She’s a spaniel called Cookie and is just a gorgeous little dog. It’s so nice to get a welcome from her each time you go in. Plus it gets you out the office at lunch if you offer to take her for walks.

Not getting involved in Office Politics: So nice as an outsider to the company to not have to get dragged into daily gripes about stuff.

Pay: When  work is steady, my cashflow is good = one happy Sharon! Even in short stints here and there, the pay isn’t bad either, but obviously no work = no pay… not so happy Sharon!

Tax breaks:  Being able to offset expenditure against tax has been good so far, especially since I took the plunge and went Limited. Though if George Osbourne keeps punishing small businesses, who knows what the future holds!

The downsides (although not ALL bad):

Long hours: commuting is a b*tch. Especially when you need to work further afield and you’ve had a project run late. I avoid London like the plague. Am too old for that crap! Couldn’t do trains every day… So I sit in my tin box on motorways, back roads, behind tractors, behind traffic jams, adding a few extra hours to my day. Sometimes it’s good downtime though so I just turn my music up loud and blow away the cobwebs of the day. In winter though, it sucks and I am longing for the day when there’s an option for a car to drive itself! The one big plus though is that I am now a boss at finding shortcuts and backroads and I know Berkshire and Buckinghamshire pretty well without a sat-nav!


Being expected to know how a company works from the moment your bum sits on the seat of your first day working somewhere new & technical issues: And by that, the account managers assume you know where all the files are on the server, where all the images are linked to and you know the brand guidelines inside-out don’t you? Oh and can we have that done in 2 hours please?! …  Sometimes its a good challenge and you always have to hit the ground running, but on the days where the file structure is chaotic or non existent, or the equipment you’re using isn’t logged into all the right servers, not so much!

Timesheets: the bane of anyone’s working life.

Admin: See above… As much as I like tax breaks, I have never hoarded so many receipts before in my life, ever! My home office used to be super organised, now it’s like a tinder box full of paper!

Freelancers always getting the crap *desk/chair/keyboard/mouse/monitor*. I’ve had several occasions where I swear the keyboard has been pulled out of a bog somewhere. Case in point…

I swear I could clone another person with the detritus that is stuck to said items. As for chairs and desks, I guarantee I will end up getting the one with the wonky back support (hence why my spine is knackered) and I will end up at the desk right under the air-con or where everyone dumps spare paper or equipment. My tips… Always ask where the office equipment wipes are or bring your own mouse!

There’s probably loads more I could waffle on about but on the whole, I do enjoy being freelance. I enjoy the freedom it offers and the fact that every day is different. Maybe one day I will settle down (that sounds like the lyrics of the ‘Littlest Hobo’) and go full time again, but for now, I’m enjoying my career choice…

The anxieties of freelancing…

I read an article today titled ‘Freelancing with depression‘ by Shayna Hodkin from the Nu School website. In it she talks about her experiences with depression and how she ultimately dealt with them. It resonated with me a little so I wanted to share it. With mental health being pushed more into the open these days, I wondered if any of my other fellow freelancers have experienced anything similar.

I don’t think I’m depressed. I’ve never been diagnosed as depressed… but I would say I am somewhat an ‘anxious’ person, even if I don’t outwardly show it. Ever since I was a child I was always the one at kids parties who would have a bit of a cry if my mum left, or if my mum was there, I would check constantly to make sure she didn’t disappear. Growing up in school I was fairly easygoing but I was quiet and introverted, sometimes a target for bullies but I eventually found my way in life.

When it came to work and getting a job, I was always that little bit scared to try new things. After my degree  I carried on working in a retail job I’d had throughout studying. When I eventually go the opportunity to apply for a ‘proper’ design job, as much as I disliked the retail job I was scared to leave what had become my ‘norm’. Surprisingly when I got the design job, that fear went and I found confidence in learning the ropes of design and the new technologies that came with it.

So when I found myself redundant for the 1st time in 2006, it all came as a bit of a shock. It didn’t hit me at first as there had been such a long build up to our company collapsing, it didn’t seem quite real. But I remember standing in the veg aisle of a supermarket and just suddenly having a panic attack at how I was going to pay for stuff in future. Luckily I found some freelance work almost 2 weeks after being made redundant and my anxieties eased a bit. The offer of a Full Time job came in Jan 2007 with an ex colleague, which was doing similar stuff to what I’d always been doing since starting work in 1998, so I took it. It seemed a safe option. The 3 years I worked for said company beat any shred of confidence out of me that I had. It was an all male environment, the work was not at all what I’d hoped it to be and I felt I just didn’t fit in. I used to wake up and immediately think of excuses not to go in. When the economic crisis was in full swing, this company laid me off in 2010. Whether it was to save money or whether it was just to part ways with me as I didn’t ‘fit’, I don’t know, but it was actually like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and it was a chance to re-evaluate what I wanted to do.

I was out of work for 4 months in the summer of 2010 before a chance opportunity via a friend of a friend meant I started freelancing full time. Those few months whilst I was out of work were very up and down. Money was tight with a mortgage to pay and I hated signing on but needs must. The flip side was that it was a glorious summer that year and I made the most of it with friends and even went camping by the sea on my own.

My freelance career began in September 2010. It was in a completely new environment for me, much more design based (the job I previously had that I’d hated ended up being more like a developer), was fast paced and I got to work on several big brand campaigns. I worked steadily for the first 3 years without much of a break. In 2013, I had a minor car crash and it seemed to co-incide with a time when all my regular clients went quiet and stopped using freelancers. Not only was I faced with the financial worries of getting a new car so I could least GET to work (if some came in), there was also the worry about how I would pay for said new car. Luckily I was able to get a banger that got me from A to B so I was at least mobile. (As an aside, I am always slightly envious of fellow freelancers I meet who own expensive or swanky cars! Most freelancers I know own bangers… must be a perk of the job… or not!) But from that point onwards, work was always a bit up and down with regards to its regularity, which in turn brings its own worries about money etc.

When work IS steady and regular and the cashflow is good, even then there is always that little anxious voice in the back of my mind, saying “Am I good enough?” “Can I do this?”, “Do I know enough?” … Some days I can be confident and say a resounding “YES” to all of these, but other days, not so much. Often I think,“Can people see right through me and that sometimes I am actually terrified I will mess up”. Its usually at it’s most prominent when I start working for someone new, but then I realise, actually I DO know what I’m doing, I CAN do this and whilst I may never always know enough, you are never too old to stop learning things and sometimes it’s okay to SAY you don’t understand.

That said, I AM so much more confident now than I used to be. If you’d have said to ‘young me’ than I would have to go into new places every few weeks/months, learn how they work – often at a frantic pace, speak to new people, have conviction in my abilities…. ‘Young me’ would have probably stayed as a till tart! And every now and again, you get a client who praises your work, or a piece of design you’ve done gets recognition and the anxieties quieten down a bit to be replaced with a warm glow. I like those days.

I know that every now and then I will always have anxious moments. I will have doubts in my abilities and worries about my finances, but it’s how I cope with them that matters. I try not to let them overwhelm me. Also it’s about knowing when to take a step back… I love getting into the garden, feeding the birds, doing a bit of DIY, talking with friends or even just a walk in the sunshine… It all helps 🙂