Sitting in a cubicle after 5 p.m. on a Friday or even just on a beautiful spring day, can make anyone dream of striking out on their own. Freedom may not turn out the way corporate captives dream it will be. For instance, many freelancers/contractors end up occupying cubicles, just without the benefits or job security enjoyed by many full-time employees. Before jumping ship consider the following:
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- Free agents, freelancers, contractors and even entrepreneurs have notoriously erratic, and often low incomes, particularly when they are starting out. In fact, it can be years before an individual has both the client base necessary to generate a decent income on a regular basis and the financial foundation to weather the inevitable periods “between projects.” Some never achieve that level of comfort and financial stability.
- Contractors must not only have skills that are in demand and enough experience for prospective clients to trust them, they must also know how to sell themselves. Clients generally don’t go looking for independents, although some may turn to a placement firm or even look through the yellow pages or visit web sites that specialize in connecting freelancers with projects. Even if a client initiates contact, the free agent has to be able to convince the client that they are the best person for the job. In addition, to avoid long gaps between projects, an independent pro must be able to sell themselves to new clients while still working on a current project.
- Independent professionals shoulder more responsibility. Without an employer, those who strike out on their own must pay their own taxes, including social security and self employment tax, supply their own health insurance and manage their own plan for retirement. Depending on the type of work freelancers provide, they may also be required or prefer to carry liability insurance. Clients may also expect them to pay for tools, printing, travel and other costs out-of-pocket, to be reimbursed through the payment schedule agreed upon prior to the beginning of the assignment.
- Free agents are half hermit and half socialite. To succeed, contractors must build an extensive network of contacts. These aren’t just prospective clients. They are also suppliers, vendors and even other independent professionals the free agent can call upon to help complete a project. Building this type of network takes time and effort. It also means attending meetings of professional and civic organizations. At the same time, a free agent has to be self-motivated and able to work alone. Even working at a client site, freelancers are isolated by the fact that those they are working with generally know that when the project is complete, the talent-for-hire is out the door. Peers may also resent or be jealous of the contractor, making the work environment tense. The good news is that most of the time free agents can avoid or ignore office politics. The bad news is that many independents find themselves just as isolated among friends and family as they are in the workplace. Those who “want the best” for the freelancer and “care about their future” often don’t understand the attraction of going out on one’s own, so they regularly, sometimes constantly, urge the free agent to take the more conventional path and “get a real job”. Standing up to that kind of pressure can be harder than anything else a freelancer does.
- Most freelancers have a vocation, not just a career. They also tend to be ambitious and workaholics. Independent contractors who have been at it for any length of time, talk about how much they enjoy what they do and how they could never NOT do it. For many their “work” is their hobby in the sense that they learn new skills, add certifications, and work on personal projects related to their “career” because it interests them, not just to enhance their careers. Most would probably do it even if it didn’t make them more marketable. They are passionate about what they do to the point that they can have trouble getting away from it.
Many people dream of being independent. They think it means more money, more flexibility and more control. For those who have the financial wherewithal and personal dedication, or just plain old stubbornness to survive the rough patches, it can. The reality, however, is different from the dream. Don’t chase the dream unless you can live with the reality.