When you ask a freelancer why he or she started freelancing, you’ll get answers like ‘I wanted to work for myself’, ‘I love being my own boss’, ‘I freelance for the flexibility it provides’ etc. At the heart of it, all those answers mean the same thing: they wanted to escape the cubicle nation.
While freelancers may indeed have escaped ‘imprisonment’ in a cubicle, they can’t completely escape all the things that made their corporate life difficult. Actually because you’re out on your own now (in freelancing), you have to do all the things that your colleagues in their respective departments do on behalf of the company.
In any case, you should know that there are elements that remain the same in both the corporate working life and when you are out of it, and prepare accordingly.
1. Salary/Rate negotiations
In a corporate job, 9-to-5′ers get a fixed salary and structured pay raise. On the surface, freelancers are the exact opposite. They set their own rates and can raise them whenever they want. In reality however, regular employees negotiate their salary much like how freelancers negotiate their rates with clients.
The only difference is that 9-to-5′ers only do it when accepting a job or negotiating a raise; freelancers do it on a regular, client-by-client basis. So unless you have fixed rates stated on your website, you’re actually negotiating more on your rates than you ever did over your full-time job salary.
Freelancers boast of not having to be accountable to anyone but themselves. I beg to differ. We’re accountable to our clients. Sure, no one asks us what we’re doing with our time, or checks in on us throughout the day, but on the day of the deadline, the client expect to get their results from you.
Ultimately, a freelancer is accountable to his/her client. Miss a deadline and you can’t simply say ‘Oh sorry, I wasn’t able to meet the deadline.’ Explanations must be given and in most cases, a client is well has the right to dock pay due to your tardiness.
While full-timers report to their superiors, freelancers report to their clients. The accountability cycle is there – it’s just the names and designation of who we report to that has changed.
While you might not be completely responsible for a single project or deadline, working in a company gives you a bit of a safety net as far as taking the blame is concerned, when things go wrong. In a corporate setting, the manager takes the rap for a failed project regardless of which of his or her subordinates made the fluke.
In freelancing, congratulations, you get to shoulder ALL the blame regardless of your job function, when things go wrong.
4. Office politics
Office workers deal with office politics and the different behaviors and personalities of their colleagues on a daily basis. From the passive aggressive co-worker to the know-it-all colleague, the limelight hogger to the boss’ pet. If you have ever worked in an office setting, chances are you have seen them all.
Freelancers see these characters every day too – only instead of co-workers, they experience them in their clients. Gather two or more freelancers together and the topic of client personalities invariably comes up.
5. Working after hours
If you started freelancing because you wanted the flexibility of working your own hours or less hours, then it probably didn’t take you long to discover that you actually work more hours as a freelancer than you did as a full timer.
Even though plenty of people work after-hours in a corporate job, for freelancers, it’s basically a must. Freelancers often find themselves working nights and even weekends to meet deadlines. If they want to make a success of their freelance business, working long, hard hours is a requirement.
6. Getting a promotion
In a corporate setting employees get promotions as recognition of their hard work and dedication. For freelancers, it’s pretty much the same, except they give themselves the promotion, or a break, or a raise, or a new gadget etc. Getting a raise in their rates, and handling bigger clients, etc are all part of that promotion.
7. bigger and better opportunities
Whether it’s within the company or with another, corporate employees are always on the lookout for their next big break – be it a new designation, job, benefits or environment. Freelancers are the same.
We’re always on the lookout for our next big client. We’re always looking for bigger and better opportunities that’ll help us earn more. Just as no employee sticks to one company for his entire life, a freelancer doesn’t stick to that one client. It’s simply not in the nature of how a freelance business is done. Sure, every freelancer has clients who retain them but that partnership is not indefinite. Eventually they will move on to other clients.
So what’s the difference?
If there are so many similarities, are we just fooling ourselves into believing we’re better off as freelancers? Is making the switch from a corporate full-time job to a freelancing business just a change in the scenery?
The answer is no. There is a big difference between a full time corporate job and a freelance one: flexibility and control. In a full-time job, you don’t have flexibility. You can’t start work later if you want to go to the gym in the morning, you can’t take the random afternoon off and you certainly can’t just turn off your computer and leave work to go pick up your kids in the middle of the day.
Among other things, as a freelancer, you have control over how much you earn, who you want to work with, what days and hours you work. Best of all, you can raise your rates, let go of clients you don’t want to work with and find more, better paying clients. You have the freedom and control to make all these decisions when you are freelancing, and this is what makes it all worth it.