Before I joined Coherence Digital to be part of their production team, I worked as a freelance designer for seven years. I had read many articles before I chose to become a freelancer but none of them seemed to reflect my experience, so I thought I’d write my own. Now I’m wiser and have got the t-shirt, I hope to give an honest overview to inspire the next reader to get off the fence.
1. Work whenever and wherever you want
This is the biggest pro to being freelance… no doubt about it
If you want to climb all day, travel Europe in your van, whilst working in the evenings, like I did for a time, there is no-one stopping you.
This was great. Ultimate freedom.
Although, it isn’t quite as good as it sounds, as we all know, nothing is.
But, Wi-Fi and equipment needs to work
When you are freelance, you are the boss. Great. You are also the HR and Operations team. Not so great.
You need to make sure you have the correct equipment, lighting, Wi-Fi, software and you need to maintain it and pay the bill.
Don't rely on public Wi-Fi.
The only place Wi-Fi is reliable is at your own home/office, as you are the one paying for it so you will make sure it is up to standard. You could end up driving miles, paying for a rubbish coffee, or sitting in the street at night using the Wi-Fi, only for it to cut out and you would have wasted your time, money and even risked being mugged while your Mac gives off a beacon of light to the dodgy opportunists.
Different work schedules
You may be working when your clients are tucked up in bed. So if you want to ask a quick question or if the brief is unclear, you will be delayed a further day. Sometimes amends don’t make sense once you are editing the work, which you might not foresee when you first saw the brief, meaning you're either delayed further, waiting for their response, or you go ahead in the wrong direction, wasting your time and their money.
Now I’m part of an established agency, it is a sigh of relief that I can get instant feedback at the click of a Zoom call or a turn of a chair to my colleagues and none of my time, or my clients time, is being wasted.
I don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi and whether it will be worth the coffee, getting stressed as the waitress keeps on passing me the menu, judging how long it takes me to drink it. I no longer have to worry about paying for expensive software and in the unlikely event my Mac has any technical difficulties, it gets fixed and I can still pay the rent.
2. Freelance doesn’t feel so much like work
Another big pro
As you have rearranged your priorities, what you want to do comes first, then whilst you’re recovering or it’s raining and you have nothing better to do, you get the boring work done. This new balance means you enjoy work more because you are doing it because you want to, not because you are told to.
You are also so detached from the work office that stresses seem further away (because they are… literally). You don’t have the daily reminder that anyone is looking over your shoulder.
But, you miss out on the team spirit
I found being freelance quite lonely. The only person I saw was my other half and your relationships with your teams and clients dwindle as they slowly forget your face. This seemed to be more apparent over time.
Now, I love the team spirit in the Coherence office. I look forward to chatting with my team and work improves when you have your colleagues to bounce off, sharing opinions and supporting each other. Being freelance made me realise how much I need the social part of work for my mental health and to develop as a designer.
3. Work fluctuates
This is the biggest downside
You can’t guarantee when the work will come in and whether it will be enough. Some months you have too much, and you consider turning it down. But if you turn it down, then you won’t have it when you do need it. So you find yourself working all day, then you spend the evenings and the weekends working while you have it. But then the next month, you have nothing.
This made me realise how the standard 9-5:30 day is a good middle ground. Even though I can no longer take advantage of a sunny day while I’m working, it brings me comfort knowing I am guaranteed to have every evening and weekend free, paid holidays and a guaranteed amount in the bank every month.
Networking events, leads, advertising, invoicing, chasing payments…
All these tasks take time, are unpaid and may not necessarily lead to any work.
No-one likes chasing payments, and unless you pay a debt collector, you don’t have much to threaten with. This has ruined relationships with friends and caused me a lot of upset and stress, sometimes over such a small amount that I considered whether it was even worth chasing, because the stress it causes isn’t worth the amount. I would rather live in peace.
The networking events were fun, but it is also like a long interview where you are constantly pitching which I find quite tedious over time. For invoicing, I had to use a time tracker as clients wanted details about every hour I spent, and they sometimes questioned it, even though they have no experience doing the task. This became quite exhausting as you would be asked about a job you did last month, while your head is in something else. Every year I did my tax return, I was shocked at how much tax I had to give back, it made every invoice I had sent previously under-quoted.
I love how there are departments in the agency that take care of these aspects now so it is no longer my concern. I am spending my days doing the work I enjoy that pays, not spending my own free-time doing tasks I despise for nothing.
I loved aspects of being freelance as I have outlined above, travelling whilst being freelance was definitely one of the best times of my life and I’m glad I did it.
But now, I appreciate the aspects of work and other opportunities you don't get being freelance. I enjoy the work more now, due to the atmosphere, security, new technology and creative projects at Coherence Digital.
I can now focus on work I enjoy and am good at. Working with Site Studio and Drupal has been a breath of fresh air compared to other CMS’s I've worked in the past and I still get to enjoy the occasional Adobe design. Meetings are productive and collaboration works seamlessly when using project management and tracking software like Jira, Confluence and Float. My inner-organiser loves this.
My colleagues are supportive and can have a laugh, which is very important! The values the company hold suits me down to a tee and I feel it is a very good fit for me. If I can offer a final piece of advice for anyone thinking of making the jump from freelance: make sure the company you land in matches your values. It makes a massive difference and makes the switch much easier.