Career Change
10 Myths Of The Freelance Lifestyle (And What It's Really Like To Go Freelance)

10 Myths Of The Freelance Lifestyle (And What It's Really Like To Go Freelance)

Rosie Allabarton

What myths have you heard about freelancing? That you’ll make a fortune, have endless free time or that you have to survive on breadcrumbs? In this post we’re going to set some of the rumours straight and show you how you can make that freelance dream a reality.

Freelancing is surrounded by myths. Fuelled by deskjob daydreams of the frustrated office worker, freelancing can be perceived as little more than a routine of checking your emails from a riverside cafe in between sips of a frothy cappuccino.

Followed by a long afternoon nap in a suitably placed hammock.

Followed by gin o’clock.

You get the idea.

Over-cautious fear coupled with unrealistic expectation feeds these rumours about freelancing. What starts off as a grain of truth quickly becomes unrecognisable in the drama of the story.

And I’m sure we’ve all heard the rumours that are less positive. Long days that melt into long evenings at the computer, no one to talk to, late-paying clients with unreasonable demands fuelled by the notion that they know your job better than you do, bills to pay and a tax form to fill out that is longer than the last novel you read. Not that you can remember the last novel you read, [tweet_dis] you’ve had your head stuck in your Macbook since Spring 2013 [/tweet_dis]. The last time you saw your any of your friends they didn’t recognise the pasty, ashen-faced shadow of a person you’d become.

But is there a middle ground? Or a better-than-middle ground? Is it possible to make the reality live up to the myth (the good myth, that is!)? In this post I shall be writing about how to manage your freelance work / life balance so that it can more closely resemble that daydream that saw you quit your job in the first place. There was a reason you started freelancing, and it wasn’t just because of the gin.

You can throw that suit away once you’ve gone freelance.

1. Pajamas are your new office attire.

The myth:

The temptation to not get dressed can be huge when there’s no dress code to adhere to and no one to get dressed for. As a freelancer you can burn your suit, briefcase and even your shoes, all you need now is a laptop, an endless supply of coffee and the same pajamas you slept in last night. Casual friday in your old job is now casual everyday when working from home.

The reality:

Unfortunately not motivating yourself to get dressed in the morning has a seriously detrimental impact on your motivation levels. As Andrew Handley pointed out in his blogpost on the topic of working from home :

“Interestingly, the clothes we’re wearing have a huge impact on the way our brains perceive the role that we’re filling. It’s called enclothed cognition, and it causes our psychology to shift based on the way we dress. See, it doesn’t matter what you physically wear; it matters how you feel when you’re wearing it.”

As a freelancer image is everything , both online and off. You remember all those times we told you about personal branding? It was because when you’re working for yourself you are also selling an image and that image is YOU. If you don’t believe in yourself enough to get dressed in the morning, you can be damned sure your clients won’t either.

From myth to reality:

Although it’s important to wear fresh, clean clothes every day, no one is expecting you to wear a suit and tie and the occasional pajama day is certainly not forbidden. Just remember if you want people to respect you as a professional, then you have to behave like one, and yes, sometimes that means wearing proper clothes.

Top tip:

[tweet_dis] Don’t forget to shower, your cat will appreciate it [/tweet_dis].

Meet friends for lunch, do sport and join online communities of freelancers in your field. If you can’t find one, set up your own.

2. You’ll see your salary triple

The myth:

As you can charge your own hourly rates you’ll be raking it in as soon as you launch as a freelancer. Champagne cocktails on the terrace at 3pm? Certainly darling, just let me park the Rolls.

The reality:

You will need to build up your experience, your networks and your client base before you can think about breaking even as a freelancer. It’s hard work, and in the beginning it’ll use all the energy you’ve got to stay afloat and keep the work coming in while you get your name out there. When you start out you need to ensure you have savings to cover at least a few months’ living expenses as a safety net as no-one, and I mean no-one, starts making a profit from the get-go. And that’s before you’ve even thought about what you need to put aside for tax and insurances…..

From myth to reality:

Good negotiation skills coupled with an excellent reference-backed reputation (I’m talking 5 star testimonials from your previous clients) will enable you to charge what you are worth, and over time, with the right mix of clients you can end up earning a lot more money than you might have been when you were doing the same job as an in-house employee. In the beginning many freelancers choose to stay in their day jobs and freelance on the side until they have built up enough experience, a network and a client-base sufficient to support them as full-time freelancers.

Top tip:

Write a budget of your monthly living expenses and work out exactly how much / how little you need to live on, then decide if you can afford to quit your day job completely or if you need work part-time while you find your feet. Check out our blog post on staying in work while you begin your freelance career.

As a freelancer your meetings are more likely to take place in coffee shops than boardrooms.

3. It’s less stressful than working for someone else

The myth:

Having the time to focus on, and earn money from, your passion in life, you’ll no longer have to deal with office bureaucracy, form filling-out or pointless meetings spent playing footsie with Sue from Accounts.

The reality:

As a freelancer you are running your own small business. This means you are your company’s accountant, sales person, project manager and CEO on top of that thing you do that made you want to become a freelancer in the first place (which can seem like the last thing on your list of priorities when you start out). Oh and you’ll still have to attend meetings, with clients (though they might be in coffee shops rather than board rooms if you’re lucky).

From myth to reality:

As you become more experienced you will become better at managing projects, clients and your time. With project managing tools like Toggl and Asana it has never been easier for freelancers to organize themselves and with more and more collaborative tools like Google Docs and InVisionApp available both for free or for a small cost your clients can comment directly on the projects you’re working on without the hassle of email chains and phonecalls.

Top tip:

Once you’ve started making some money you might even consider hiring an accountant and you can stop having nightmares about your tax return.

4. You’re the boss, man.

The myth:

You’re freelance - you’re your own boss now, right? An Indiana Jones-themed Christmas party sounds like a great idea.

The reality :

You may not have one single boss anymore, but you’ll soon notice that instead you’ll have a handful of mini-bosses - your new clients - each with a very specific idea of how that project should be carried out.

From myth to reality :

Strictly speaking, you are your own boss, and if you have a particularly unreasonable client you have the absolute right to turn that project down. Picking the right projects and clients is something you’ll get better at as you go along; you’ll learn who pays on time, who trusts and respects you enough to let you use your expertise and who can stand back and let you get on with the job. You’ll spot the signs of a difficult client earlier on once you’ve had one bad experience.

Top tip:

Don’t be afraid to say no: a bad client can end up costing you more time and money in the longrun than knowing when to say enough is enough. This is a definite privilege of freelancing that can never be enjoyed when working as a regular employee (unless you like spending your days in the jobcentre).

Should you really be going to the beach this afternoon, or do you have a project to finish?

5. Your time is your own

The myth:

As a freelancer you can take your time back into your own hands, finish early on a friday and head to the beach while your former colleagues are sweating away in stuffy cubicles.

The reality:

When the work comes in you have to do it and that might be at 9am on a Monday morning, or 7pm on a Sunday night. Working for yourself can mean that you are never able to fully switch off from work (especially if you work from home), which could mean your work eats into a lot more of your personal time than an office job might without you even noticing it. Due to the uncertain nature of freelancing, if you get offered a lot of work all at once it can be tempting to accept it even if you don’t actually have the time to complete it all to the same high standard.

As top UK blogger and freelancer Kellie Hill told us:

“There is no going home at the end of the day, you can’t just work “normal hours”, it’s 24-7.”

From myth to reality:

Being organized is crucial to your success as a freelancer. By using project management tools and calendars you can get ahead of schedule and have more freedom than you ever enjoyed in that desk job. Try out the organisational tools we recommend in step two. Be realistic about what you can achieve and if you’re running late to meet a deadline let the client know before, not once you’ve missed it. Once you’ve got an idea of how long it takes you to complete projects you’ll be in a much better position to utilize your free time and enjoy that precious work/life balance that the freelance life is famous for.

Kellie put it like this:

“When it’s the school holidays, I get to enjoy a great balance of work and home life.“

Top tip:

As far as you can, build a routine into your working life. Although you can’t predict when work will arrive you can organise your time to incorporate a certain amount of networking, upgrading your skillset or research every week so that even when you’re not working on projects you have fixed hours of work dedicated to improving your freelancing business.

Write a budget of your monthly living expenses and work out exactly how much / how little you need to live on.

6. Work isn’t really ‘work’ anymore

The myth:

Breakfast meetings in pavement cafes, afternoon naps, working in your pyjamas, finishing for the week on a Wednesday afternoon.

The reality:

When you start off as a freelancer you’ll be working harder than you ever have before to get clients, make valuable contacts and manage projects. As well as actually doing the work itself. In reality, especially at the beginning, the busier you are the better you are doing. If when you start freelancing you can finish work for the week on a Wednesday afternoon that means you’re doing something wrong and you’ll soon be back in your day job wishing you’d worked a bit harder to kickstart your freelance career.

From myth to reality:

The hard work will pay off and there will definitely come a time when you can enjoy more leisure time than when you were working 9-5. However for this to happen you first have to put in the hours, be super organised, reliable and reachable (see our blogpost on learning how to code to build great website for your business) and be sure that this is what you want to do as going freelance takes a special kind of person and dedication.

Incorporating exercise into your routine can be a great way of staying fit and socializing when you’re not working.

7. You’ll have more time for your friends

The myth

With all that spare time you’ll become a social butterfly.

The reality

You’ve forgotten one crucial detail, you may be freelance, but your friends are still in their office jobs. You’re most likely only going to hear from them during the day if they want you to do a favour for them, like pick up a parcel or check on their dog. Chances are if they’ve got a day off it’ll be on a day when you are trying to work. [tweet_dis] Freelancing can get lonely with no one to talk to all day except the cat. [/tweet_dis]And that’s only if you’ve got a cat.

From myth to reality:

Go to as many events as you can (MeetUp is a great place to find likeminded people), try to connect with and meet other freelancers and use the opportunity to collaborate on projects where possible. Meet friends for lunch, do sport and join online communities of freelancers in your field. If you can’t find one, set up your own.

8. You have to charge less to win over clients

The myth

As a freelancer you’ll be competing against other freelancers for jobs. In order to win jobs you’ll have to lower your rates. In order to survive you’ll be living off a diet of breadcrumbs and water. You’ll even have to buy own-brand teabags. God forbid.

The reality

Once you are an established freelancer it can actually do you a disservice to price your services too low. Customers pay for and look for quality. If you price yourself too low you can put people off who assume you won’t be up to the job or provide a valuable service.

As freelancer Jo Gifford told us:

“[tweet_dis] Don’t charge less than you are worth because you worry about money.[/tweet_dis] Be the pro that you are from the get go, charge accordingly and the sales will come in.”

From myth to reality:

When you are starting out, and probably still working your day job part or fulltime it can be a good idea to do work for friends of friends, former employers or colleagues - who perhaps don’t have a big budget for the service you’re offering - to build up experience, references and contacts. They may not be able to pay you the going rate, but they are providing you with something that is even more valuable to you at this stage, testimonials. The more work you have on your CV before you make the break from the 9-5 the better position you’ll be in when you do. Make sure you treat these jobs professionally, they are your key to a sucessful freelancing future.

As Sara Horowitz of the Freelancer’s Union recently said in an interview with Fortune magazine in April:

“People who employ freelancers are starting to realize cheaper’s not always better. I’m hearing that a ton lately.[tweet_dis] You could do it cheap or you could do it well. [/tweet_dis]”

Top tip:

If you don’t know anyone who is looking for the service you are providing, contact small businesses, charities or local schools. These kind of places might not have the budgets of conglomerates, but they’ll appreciate your work and recommend you if you do a good job, which, when you’re starting out is more valuable than any paycheck.

Don’t be afraid to say no: a bad client can end up costing you more time and money in the longrun.

9. As a freelancer, you can focus entirely on what you want to do

Myth:

I’m an artist / writer / designer / developer, as a freelancer I can earn money doing what I love to do.

Reality:

You are your company’s CEO, accountant, salesperson and project manager. Setting up your own business can mean focusing on talents aside from the ones that prompted you to become freelance in the first place. If you can’t sell yourself, find clients or organise your time it won’t matter how good you are at designing, writing or developing as you won’t have anyone to do it for.

From myth to reality:

Get advice from other freelancers, do your research before you start and hire a tax advisor or accountant if you’re not good with numbers as this will take the headache out of the financial side of things.

Evan Tan, Regional Director for SouthEast Asia at Freelancer.com, passed on this great piece of advice to our readers:

“The most practical tips I could offer for those starting in the field would be connecting with successful ones in your industry (asking for advice), using Freelancer.com as a platform to find more clients and expanding your network (along the way making a name for yourself), and basically doing the work. As you go along the way, you need to constantly learn trends to keep yourself up to date. “

Our final myth about working from home is from Jayne Robinson, longterm freelancer and blogger.

10. Myth:

Working from home is awesome.

Reality:

Yes, it is awesome to work from home sometimes, in your own environment and to your own time schedule, but on the other hand it can also be incredibly difficult. If you’re working at home by yourself you’ll soon find yourself feeling a bit odd from the deprivation of social interaction normally found in your workplace, that’s why it’s important to make sure you still get out and see people face to face whether that be in a social environment, meeting clients in person or going to a class.

From myth to reality:

I’ve taken on a part time retail job, which forces me out of the house each week so that I keep social and stay positive. I can still enjoy the freedom of my freelance work but I am interacting with people regularly which keeps me inspired and social.

Top tip:

Going freelance is a great opportunity to find a work/life balance and to lead a happier life. Make sure you only take on the work that you need to or want to, to ensure that you still have time for yourself.


So, now you know the truth about freelancing! Think you need some more advice on getting that career off the ground? Sign up to CareerFoundry for information on our courses that will leave you prepped and ready for a freelance tech career in Web Development or UX Design - you can even do the first day of your course for free! By learning with us you will be job- ready with skills in the most in-demand fields in tech and in only 3 months you’ll be ready to take back control of your working life and career.

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Rosie Allabarton

Rosie Allabarton

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog