The realities of freelancing

3rd December 2010    

4 years ago I started to learn a bit of coding and thought “making money from this is going to be easy”. Just over 1 year ago things got to the point where I was skilled and confident enough to officially go freelance.

As our household looks forward to a decidedly frugal Christmas 2010, looking back on a year of financial stress, awkward clients and far too little sunlight I’m asking myself “is it worth it?”. It’s just so different to everything I expected, and here’s why.

Clients

Most of my clients have been fantastic. One or two of them keep in touch for non-work purposes, just because we got on, and it goes without saying these are the same people who pay on time and expect to get what they pay for. Others have not been so nice.

A photographer wanting me to make his portfolio images tiny “so people can’t print screen and steal my photos”. The guy who didn’t pay me or reply to me until threatened with legal action, offered no explanation when he finally did pay, and then immediately asked me to take on more work. The endless people who agree to a ballpark quote, wait for it to be written up into an official proposal, then decline with no reason. It’s not as easy as you might think to find “real” clients out there.

Projects

Especially at the start of the year, I wasn’t really in a position to decline any work that came my way. From “erotic” sites to spammy sales blogs I worked on them and I was happy for the money.

In the last few months I’ve been moving away from this sort of job into more exciting and satisfying territory, so let’s hope this trend continues! It’s one of those things, you can’t get portfolio-worthy work because you have no experience on decent sites, and you can’t get experience on decent sites because you have no portfolio.

Thankfully I’m almost past this stage, due to a neverending desire to work on personal projects.

Work hours

For most of this year, I’ve worked or slept. Those are my two major activities, occasionally interspersed with a meal or some gaming but mostly everything else has been on the back burner. This won’t continue of course, as my rates creep up my hours should creep down, but it doesn’t help that I still have a list of personal projects to complete as well as client stuff, and that those are just as important to the future of my business.

Thankfully, I’m blessed with an equally geeky partner so have less of the tension that comes from both wanting to do different things in our free time. On the downside, so much time sitting at a computer can’t be good for my spine.

Money

This is of course the big one. Right now, I’m at a crossroads that I imagine most freelancers (and generally self-employed people) go through. Things are picking up, but not fast enough to be ideal. I can make this work, but won’t be rich for a while yet. Is it worth sticking with freelancing or is it time to go back to guaranteed pay? I lean towards the former, because I have no problem with living on little money. However, I do have a partner to think about and I’m sure I’m not the only freelancer to struggle with the guilt of holding someone else back.

Will I end up back in full-time work? It doesn’t seem likely, from a cursory glance of the local job market. Will I end up a rich freelancer? Maybe, if we can get through another year without running out of money completely. Will it be more difficult than I was ever willing to admit before starting? Almost certainly.

Categories: Rants & Rambling

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