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career 7 min read

How to know whether freelance work is for you

By USQ 07 Apr 2019
Studying outside at a park bench with laptop, phone and pencils

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As the number of people leaving their jobs to start their own freelance business or doing freelance work as their side hustle continues to grow, you might be wondering whether freelancing is for you.

Freelance work is becoming increasingly more common in the modern workforce. In 2015, for example, it was revealed that 4.1 million Australians (32% of the workforce) completed freelance work in the previous year (Chung, 2015). But why is this the case, what are the pros and cons of freelance work, and should you seriously consider freelancing as your next career move?

There can be a lot of conflicting advice out there, so we thought it would be helpful to talk to people actually working as freelancers about their experiences, as well as to USQ’s Careers and Employability team to gain their insight.

Statistic - In 2015, 4.1 million Australians (32% of the workforce) completed freelance work

What is freelance work?

USQ careers and employability expert Lou Bromley defines freelance work as the act of completing one-off pieces of work, even if the work is regular. For example, as a freelance worker, you could write website content for one client while also completing other similar jobs for other clients. Freelance work can also include consultative work, where an expert in a field may be engaged to review and make recommendations on a particular topic or practice; but it’s worth noting that consultants are not necessarily freelance workers or engaged on short-term contracts.

The benefits associated with freelance work

One of the greatest benefits of working as a freelancer is that you can choose the work you do and decide how you spend your time. Alix is in the final year of her Master of Arts (Editing and Publishing) degree and works as a freelance editor, in addition to juggling a full-time job and family. Alix says, ‘Being a freelancer means you don’t have to do work that you don’t want to do. For example, I won’t edit horror or erotica because I’m just not into that kind of thing. For the same reason, there are other people who won’t touch theological works or academic papers’.

You also have your own schedule – you don’t have to march to the beat of anyone else’s drum. And you can set your own prices, so you work for what you think your time is worth.
Author profile image of Alix

What are the challenges of freelance work?

Some of the most common challenges of being a freelance worker include having to find your own work, be self-motivated, self-reliant, organised, and able to establish boundaries between work and a social life or down-time.

As Alix says, ‘Freelancing is hard work. The greatest challenge is finding consistent work and being organised enough to get everything done. Jobs very rarely just fall into your lap. There is nobody else to fall back on – you have to be your best marketing tool, the business manager, the receptionist, the IT person, and the person actually doing the work that brings in the income. It can also be difficult to know how to quote when you first start out, especially if there are no standards for your profession.

‘The other real challenge when freelancing is learning how to switch off. It’s so easy to always be ‘on’ when you freelance, because there is so much to do and if you aren’t working, you aren’t being paid. But if you don’t learn to switch off you’ll burn out – and you’ll be no fun to spend time with.

‘Some weeks my work/life balance is pretty poor, but I try to be mindful of what my priorities are and set regular work hours. I also try to set aside at least one day a week where I don’t do any evening work and dedicate that time to my family. It’s important to have non-negotiable no-work time that you spend doing the things that fulfil you, whether it be reading, hanging out with friends and family, baking, gardening, or whatever’.

Phoebe is a freelance project manager. While she finds the financial instability of freelancing difficult, the greatest challenge she faces is not having an immediate support system. As she says, ‘I think that one of the most important traits in a freelancer is self-motivation. Like any job, you need to show up for it even when you’re not really feeling it that day. There’s no HR department to put you through professional development, or an accounts department to ask about your payroll. You’re kind of on your own, and it’s up to you to make sure you’re surrounded by the right people’.

It can be lonely. You need to make an effort to have mentors and freelancer friends who understand what it’s like to work for yourself, because there will be days when you see no-one but the postman.
Author profile image of Phoebe

Finding the right balance can be a big challenge for freelance workers, but there are ways to reinforce the boundary between work and the rest of your life. Phoebe shares her experience:

‘Sometimes it can be hard to stop work as a freelancer, because there’s a blurry line between home life and work life. I used to have a laptop and work from the dining table (let’s be honest: the couch), and that meant the line between work and the rest of my life was very blurry. Now, I have a beautiful home office that is a joy to work in. I love ‘going to work’ each day, but I also love being able to take a break and meet a friend for coffee.’

How uni can prepare you for a freelance career

The good news is that studying a degree at university can help provide you with the skills and capabilities you’ll need if you’re thinking about pursuing a freelance career.

As Alix explains, she learned both the technical skills she needed to perform freelance editing work as well as the transferable skills she needed to be successful as a freelancer by studying USQ’s Master of Arts (Editing and Publishing) degree. She says, ‘I learned the mechanics of my trade through uni – how to mark up a manuscript, how to set up style sheets etc. And I also learned, from studying online, how to keep on top of a workload when there is nobody else there to motivate you’.

Phoebe found the time-management skills she learned at university also helped her manage the competing priorities she had as a freelance project worker. ‘University students will understand what it’s like to have flexibility but still need to get plenty of work done. If you’re constantly putting off work until the last minute, you’ll definitely need to work on your time-management skills before going freelance!’

Pursuing freelance work doesn't have to be a long-term decision or all you ever do. Likewise, you don’t have to throw yourself in the deep end up front by quitting your job and devoting yourself to a new freelance career. For many people, freelance work offers the opportunity to remain in the workforce while also supplementing their income, testing the waters of a more creative pursuit and developing new graduate employability skills that will benefit them in their career long-term. For others, freelance work can be a side-gig that both satisfies their need to do work aligned with personal interests while also providing extra income.

You don’t have to be all or nothing. Work on developing a portfolio of work now so that it’s ready when you decide to make the jump.
Author profile image of Phoebe

Think freelance work might be the direction for you? Get in touch with the USQ Careers and Employability team for more information and advice.

If you’re ready to get started on pursuing freelance work right away, check out these tips to help you find your feet … and a successful freelancing career. You can also learn more about this topic by visiting USQ’s entrepreneurship website.
Banner - Uncover your inner freelancer

Resources:

Chung, F. (2015). Australia’s freelance economy grows to 4.1 million workers, study finds. News.com.au. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/australias-freelance-economy-grows-to-41-million-workers-study-finds/news-story/629dedfaea13340797c68822f4f2a469