You’ve decided to take the leap and leave your 9-5 job. Goodbye cube farm! Goodbye endless meetings and committees! Hello freedom and adventure! …then reality sets in. How will I pay my rent? How will I conjure up a monthly income? How will I NOT end up living on my aunt’s couch eating tuna out of a tin?
Hopefully you had some sort of plan of action before taking the leap to self-employment, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury. I was laid off suddenly in January after my brand was “Sunset” (don’t you love that pretty word for killed?) and had to make some big decisions on the fly before my UI checks ran out. I decided to take the leap and work for myself. Some of my romantic notions have come to fruition, and some have been “Sunset” by harsh reality. One thing I learnt however, was that freelance gigs and contract gigs have some definite pros and cons, speaking as a media creative professional (I can’t speak to any other industry, so no hating from accountants ok?)
Freelancing vs. Contract: Do the Hustle
The hustle of getting and keeping clients can be seen as a pro or con depending on your personality. I personally love the hustle. I love the challenge of seeking out new clients, networking, marketing myself, and seeing the gigs add up each month, knowing I did it on my own. Others canNOT stand pulling up the proverbial fishnet stockings and pimping themselves out on a regular basis. If you love the thrill of the client hunt, you will love that aspect of freelancing. If you despise it, consider signing up with a contract house that specializes in your job industry. They will take care of the initial awkward vetting phase and hook you up with companies who are seeking your skill set.
It’s like yoga – How flexible can you be?
Freelancing does signify freedom. You can choose how hard you want to work, hours, clients, and area of expertise. You’re no longer working for the man! Then suddenly all that freedom flies away with a harsh dose of “You new man is called a client” reality. You are at the mercy of your client’s schedule for most projects. I have edited videos on weekends, holidays, written articles in motel rooms on “vacation” and for me, it’s actually been fine. I am a pretty non-traditional person who gets up at 5am to squeeze in a few hours of work before my day really starts (aka kids get up) and have no problem hopping online again later that evening after dinner. I schedule out weeks for myself and my family ahead of time and don’t feel guilty about it. For example, I am heading off to Las Vegas this weekend to work as a photographer for an event, and can add on a day to unwind and relax before my gig starts. It works for my lifestyle and wonky left-handed brain (I blame all my quirks on my left-handedness). I personally resented being chained to the cube until 5pm if my project was completed at 3pm because I buckled down and worked really hard. Now, if the thought of editing in your dining room in your pajamas by your lonesome makes you break out into a cold sweat, that’s totally understandable. I know many people who treasure working in a team environment and being onsite for that extra dose of motivation to you know..work. Most contract gigs are onsite and allow you to work with teams that you can learn from and actually expand your skill set. I enjoy hopping on a 3-week contract to work with other humans and feel the rush of the fast-paced tech/corporate / media culture (whatever the gig holds). Then I also REALLY enjoy coming home and spending a week chilling in my pajamas at the dining room table editing a fun freelance video. You can have the best of both worlds if you want, but keep in mind: make sure that most of your contract gigs are advancing you towards meeting your professional goals.
Show me the money: Start-up effort and costs
Most people don’t have a full-scale professional production kit lying around if they’ve been working full-time for many years. I certainly did not. I had to dip into a combo of savings and debt to acquire most of what it would take to make videos. I rent a lot of pro equipment as well. This way I can try out different brands and save up for the quality equipment I really like that will take my business to the next level. Even if you’re not a video producer and don’t need a ton of money, chances are you will need to upgrade your computer after you lose your work one. One might assume that contracting takes care of all that equipment for you, but here’s where things can get tricky. I’ve had many contract gigs that consist of a table and expectations that you will bring the equipment necessary to do your job. Make sure you ask about laptop and equipment requirements before signing a contract with a company. You can factor in the cost of using your own into the rate.
Benefits: The lowdown
This is easily one of the top reasons people stay at their job. Health care benefits are a big dang deal and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Kids get sick. Accidents happen. Sometimes a prolonged or serious illness will come up and knock you on your feet emotionally AND financially. I am lucky enough to have a spouse who works full-time with excellent benefits. I am not going to sugar-coat it: I am privileged and grateful and very lucky for now. There are quite a few contract houses who actually offer health care benefits and that’s definitely a reason to go the contract route. Otherwise it would be wise to look into insurance coverage for self-employed individuals and families. A quick Google search will yield a number of results – I am not going to cite examples here because I do not want to advocate for anything I am not familiar with.
Currently, I do contract work and freelance, and it works for me at the moment. I love the security and collaboration that contract work offers, and I love the creativity and freedom that freelancing offers. Don’t let people berate you with boundaries that you “should” and “can only” do one or the other. Be bold and brave and smart. Get out there and create a future that works for you!