There are big differences between being a freelancer and an employee.
The main one for me is that as a freelancer (or independent contractor or small business owner if you will) is that you are running your own business. You do not work under someone else, a company essentially hires you to do a job and then pay you accordingly. You have the freedom to choose whichever jobs you take on.
As an employee you are for the most part, exclusive to the company employing you and all the work you do stays within it. You get perks alongside that like: job security, benefits, maybe some stock options or a 401k and whatnot.
There’s pros and cons to both sides and neither is outright better than the other.
As someone who has been freelancing for the last 6 years, there’s a few things that I’ve learned through firsthand experience that I otherwise would’ve never truly grasped or honestly, cared about.
1. Be knowledgeable about contracts and legalities
When you’re a newbie freelancer of any kind, we all tend to cut corners in an attempt to make things easier (you wear many hats when you start out on your own) or save money because you’re broke. One thing you should never cut out is the paperwork. It’s annoying, a lot to learn, and will cost you something in order to get it all in order but it’s WORTH IT.
You know what’s not worth it? Getting burned by somebody who won’t pay you cause there’s nothing legally binding them to you. If you still aren’t going to do this, well, you’ll learn the hard way just like I did.
My favorite resource for all things business and legal is Small Business Bodyguard. It’s absolutely worth the investment.
2. It will push you past your limits
It is terrifying to quit your day job(s) to freelance full time. The first four years after finishing school I still kept a day job or two. I had a mountain of student loan payments on top of rent and other bills. It was one of the toughest times of my life because even with working constantly around the clock, I was still broke almost all the time.
I ended up losing one job as a receptionist for an acupuncture clinic because I needed an entire month off to do a photo gig.
There was a full half a year where I worked 7 days a week. HALF A YEAR of working EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. That’s spending Monday - Friday 9-5 at a coffee shop I briefly co-owned with my mom, front desk work at a yoga studio on the weekends, plus assisting on shoots and doing my own shoots in between all of that. I’ve assisted on shoots that consistently went from 6pm - 2am on weeknights. I’ve shot weddings that went from noon to midnight.
3. Keep only supportive people around you
If not then it’s time to cut them out or put some distance there. It’s a painful thing to write, to think about, and to implement. But it’s the truth.
Working all the time is mentally and physically taxing and stressful beyond belief. Trying to maintain relationships that aren’t serving you in a positive way makes the work 1000x harder. There will be a point where you may have to make a choice on whether or not certain people in your life are worth keeping around.
If they are a constant negative influence, give you crap because you can’t afford to go out or aren’t available, or just don’t get why you’re doing all of this, then it’s time.
If you’re like me you come from a culture and family that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with this whole creative/freelance situation. My mom wanted me to pursue something practical, secure, and steady. I fought tooth and nail and did not take that road. It’s taken awhile to get her to come around but eventually she got it and is now more than happy that I can support myself doing what I want. I’m pretty sure she actually brags about it now. *gasp*
4. Self-employment is not for the feeble-minded
Especially in a creative field. You’re constantly questioning your work, going back and forth from thinking it’s amazing to thinking it’s garbage. You try hard and fail at not comparing yourself to others. People will tell you they love your work and others will tell you it sucks. You’ll spend an ungodly amount of time convincing yourself that this isn’t going to work or that it was all for nothing.
I hope you have thick skin, if not then you will grow some. I also hope you understand your own self-worth and don’t let outside things influence it, if not then you will learn.
This wasn’t written as a way to deter anyone from working for themselves but I wanted to be honest about the struggles. The struggle is very real. The best thing you can do is roll with the punches, learn from it, and let it better you. Practice gratitude throughout the experience. Believe in yourself and keep it pushing.
Cheers to being a creative,