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Would you be happier and better off if you went freelance?

Have you ever wondered whether you would be happier, not to say better off, if you were to go freelance? If you are considering going it alone, here are seven questions you must ask yourself.

Questions to ask before taking the plunge

  1. Could I cope with the unpredictability? Sam Howard, founder of the B2B freelance collective The Comms Crowd, says that apart from great skills you need to be flexible: “In my experience, those that are best suited to freelance are the people who are highly skilled from the outset, need little direction and have an incessant work ethic combined with a mentality that can flex with the busy and the not-so-busy periods. If you’re just as happy putting in a series of 10-hour days one week and followed by a week pottering about in the garden, then freelancing is perfect for you.”
  1. Am I only doing it for the money? If you think you will be coining it in, you are mistaken says Howard: “I wouldn’t go freelance if the expectation is to earn more money than you do now. It takes time to build up your network and your billable hours. That’s not to say you won’t end up outstripping your current salary, but don’t depend on it happening quickly – it will put too much pressure on you and those that employ you. You’ll end up padding your hours, which is not a good look.”
Am I just fed up? Don’t just become a freelancer because you hate your present job, you need to be going alone for the right reasons says Ebony Gayle, independent consultant and author of How to become a Consultant – a guide to free yourself from the 9-5: "If you’re serious about becoming a freelancer you should ask yourself why? knowing your reason why will help to focus your mind and help drive you forward. Are you thinking of freelancing for work-life balance, to spend more time doing other things you love, or is it because you’re peed off with your boss?

“I’ve been in the peed off position – dealing with depression due to my employer being unreasonable around childcare. I wanted out for my sanity and so handed in my notice without a job, but I did have a plan!”

Do I have enough contacts? If you are not sure, then develop them says Claire Delplancq, freelance digital communications and PR manager and a member of The Difference Collective: “Going freelance requires a lot of work, discipline and a solid network. Chances are your first contract will come from people you know. Go to events, join agencies, meet like-minded people, tell them how you can help and hopefully they will think of you in the future!”
  1. Do I really want the stress? Be honest with yourself about how well you will handle the bad times says Delplancq:Freelancing has also a significant impact on mental health. You will doubt yourself pretty badly on the quiet months and you will burst with confidence on the good ones. Being aware of this is essential to know if you are emotionally ready to do it.”
  1. Can I react quickly enough to the unexpected? Martin Dyan, freelance consultant and media specialist, says you have to be prepared to deal with situations completely out of your comfort zone: “You must be flexible and quick-footed; working by yourself or dropped into a team, so you need experience to help to guide your clients with the day-to-day and deal with unforeseen events. It is the daunting, yet exciting, element of freelancing that means confidence in your ability is crucial, at any time.”
Do I have a plan? Don’t take a leap into the dark warns Liz Gadd, co-founder of recruitment agency Moxie and Mettle: “Whenever you decide to go freelance, make sure it’s with a plan! I never fail to be amazed at how many people take the leap into freelance PR without having a plan; no terms of business prepared, no plan of how they are going to generate new business, no website, no business email address (working off a Gmail account is just not good!), no idea of market rates – an endless list.

“People literally seem to just decide one day they are going to be a "freelance PRO” and that’s as far as the plan goes. Also, people need a strong why as well as a strong will to work independently and it’s not for everyone, so I suggest you talk to lots of people who are already working freelance and get as much feedback and hints, tips as you can and THEN take the plunge!”

If you are happy with all your answers to all the above, the next step is deciding whether now is the best time. Below the answer seems to be a resounding “Yes! “.

Is now the best time?

It’s as good as any. Elspeth Massey, freelance communications and PR consultant and an associate of The Difference Collective, says: ““I don’t think there’s a particular time in your career when it’s best to go freelance – I’ve seen junior PROs make it work just as well as senior consultants. You just need confidence and good people behind you to give you moral support.”

Don’t be put off by the economy says Martin Dyan: “If you’re considering freelancing, you may want to think about current uncertainty, positively. Ever since 2008’s economic woes, businesses – and I include PR agencies – of all sizes have been pursuing more high-quality consultancy at a lower budget. That means that work may not always be consistent, but that it is time to go all-in when it comes.

“Any time can be the right time – and the benefits of autonomy and choosing your path are great – as long as you build your experience, stay motivated and be confident in the work you do.”

There is no perfect time says Ebony Gayle: “The big question is always: when is the right or perfect time to take the leap into the freelance pool? Truth is there is no perfect time, like going to the gym, freelancing takes dedication and commitment, it’s about being prepared and understanding the realities of freelancing so having a transition plan is important.”

As long as your are prepared. That’s the only timing issue that really matters says Deb Sharratt, independent practitioner: "I don’t think there is a ‘right time’ to go freelance in terms of the economy and working environments, but it is more about you as a professional and what service and counsel you can offer as an independent practitioner to your clients.”

If you are ready for a lifestyle change, then go for it! Says Clare Pope, an independent consultant trading as hoot & holler PR: “I took the plunge to go freelance 10 years ago. After the birth of my first child, I wanted increased flexibility to combine working with being a parent. It also coincided with a move to France. So, a good time to go freelance might be when you’re looking for a lifestyle change, a change of pace or to enable you to make a physical move. On the other hand, you may simply be in need of the new challenges that being your own boss brings.”

So you know you are ready to freelance and the timing seems perfect. But before you hand in your notice, maybe consider the pros and cons of freelancing listed in the panel below.

The highs and lows of freelancing  

The highs

Suggested by Ebony Gayle, Deb Sharratt and Clare Pope:

  • More money
  • Less work stress
  • No office politics
  • You can choose the clients you work wit
  • You can choose when and where you work
  • You can work with some amazing people and clients.
  • There are more options to grow and develop as a person and as a professional 
  • You have immense flexibility
  • You can cherry pick the parts of the job you enjoy, from business consulting to copywriting

The lows

Suggested by Ebony Gayle and Clare Pope:

  • Uncertainty – fluctuating income – you can earn more, but have to balance work demand
  • Chasing up clients for late or non-payment 
  • You have to pay your own way – media database access, industry training – no cushy corporate to pick up your bill
  • You are on your own which can be lonely
  • You have no back-office support. From fixing the PC to doing your accounts, it’s all up to you

No one can make the decision for you, going out on your own means thinking for yourself right from the start. But if you think it’s right for you, then go for it! And good luck!

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