Lots of people, upon finding out that I freelanced as a writer for about four years, ask how to make it work for them. I usually tell them it’s a terrible idea and that they should steer clear.
Yes, I will not lie, I had a bad time as a freelancer. Part of this, of course, was battling mental illness, but I think the stress and lack of structure really didn’t help.
I primarily used the site Upwork, which has the benefit of handling the money aspect for you so you don’t have to chase your clients down to get them to pay you. However, the site also has many downsides, which I will address below.
Here are some reasons you should NOT freelance:
The pay is not good.
Unless you are unusually savvy, you will start out with clients who want you to work for CHEAP. This is especially true if you decide to use Upwork, which markets itself to entrepreneurs who aren’t looking for experts.
Also, many clients will pay by the project rather than by the hour. This doesn’t sound so bad until you realize you’ll need to do your own research, adding time to your project. Even when you’re given what seems like a fair wage, there are often unforeseen hiccups that can extend a project’s time commitment, and you will not get reimbursed for those.
Getting out of this low-pay rut requires a significant amount of luck OR enough savings to be able to be discerning from the get-go.
You often don’t get to decide what you write about.
If you use Upwork, you will be applying to jobs where your clients already know what they want. While you may be able to nail down an area of expertise, your topics will usually be decided for you. (You will probably still have to do your own research.)
If you would prefer to write an article about something you care about and then sell it, you will probably make more money per article but sell them less frequently.
Income is not consistent.
Even if you’re making pretty good money, you will have highs and lows. This can make it hard to budget and save.
Likewise, time commitment is not consistent.
Sometimes, a client will need something urgently, or you will get more clients, and your workload will be huge. Other times, you will be ready to work, but have nothing available to work on. This feast or famine can be really stressful.
You constantly have to be selling yourself and looking for new jobs.
If you don’t like job hunting, freelancing is not for you. You must be constantly on the look out for new clients and new opportunities, and many people find this draining.
There are no worker protections or benefits.
Worker protections and benefits have been hard-won in the last two centuries, and when you freelance, you get none of them. With freelancing, there is no minimum wage. There is no healthcare. There is no Paid Time Off.
It’s hard to work alone.
When you go to a physical workplace, you will almost always have coworkers that share in the camaraderie of the grind.
I often use a strategy called body doubling, but that doesn’t happen in freelancing unless you MAKE it happen by teaming up with other people with similar work.
You have to motivate yourself because there’s no structure.
When you freelance, you don’t have a boss or a teacher to make sure you’re working steadily— or at all. You get up in the morning and YOU have to make the decision to sit down to work. This can be really tough. Often, freelancers struggle with procrastination.
If you are REALLY good at waking up at the same time every day and sitting down to work at the same time every day, you will probably have an easier time than I did. My schedule was all over the place, and I was just as likely to be working at 2am as at 2pm. I had absolutely no structure to my life, and my mental health definitely suffered for it.
You will OWE taxes come tax season.
When you work a regular job as an employee, taxes are automatically taken out of your paycheck, and you get a large portion back when you do your taxes each year. As a freelancer, you would have to keep track of your money and save your own taxes, to then pay the government what they are owed. It’s not fun.
It’s hard to relax when your home is your workplace.
Unless you have an extra bedroom whose door you can shut, you’re going to be looking at and worrying about your work even in your “off” hours. Trying to sleep in the same room as my desk really stressed me out.
Reasons you SHOULD freelance:
You’re totally serious about a career in copyediting and you like internet marketing.
If you are 100% dedicated to a marketing and/or copyediting career, then freelancing might be your cup of tea.
It’s not the same skillset as any creative writing you may have done, even for publication. The fundamental aspects of copyediting are different and have different goals. You may often be asked to dabble in social media and/or graphic design. If that sounds like fun, I think you should seriously consider a freelance writing career!