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Freelancing vs Employment

The pandemic quickly re-shaped the employment landscape, making work from home more acceptable, accessible, and preferred choice for most. A new normal has emerged for the working population. Since the working model has changed quite drastically in such a short period, many new opportunities have been presented to employees. Opportunities that were previously unavailable or only reserved for those few in specific locations. The shift towards work from home has created unique possibilities for people who are after more flexibility to build their businesses, start-ups or focus on their creative projects. The hybrid working model is ideal for that.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

When I entered employment to have such flexibility, one had to choose self-employment/freelancer’s path. Because of my desire to be flexible with my own time, I decided to pursue the freelancer/self-employment route at the start of my career. Full-time jobs didn’t offer flexibility, and I always perceived them as soul and energy-sucking. Besides, commuting anywhere in London always takes at least an hour. In five working days, that adds up to about 10 hours of commute. As much as this time could be used productively, it hardly ever is.  

Unfortunately, freelancing/self-employment in my case, hasn’t proven to be as rosy as the gurus of freelancing and creating passive income make others believe. In my experience, freelancing/self-employment in the creative industry is an uphill battle, filled with lots of frustration and doubts about your skills, ability, and sanity.

Many freelancers in the creative industry are all pursuing not only the same jobs but are in constant search of new assignments, which in itself is a full-time job. Because all those jobs’ applications require a CV, cover letter, samples, some are even as cheeky as to ask applicants for free work samples such as writing a blog, or an article, designing something, writing a script, creating a storyboard… it’s endless.  

Many companies or individuals who hire creative freelancers don’t believe that paying the ongoing rate is fair. There is this notion in society that because people in the creative industry love doing what they do, they shouldn’t be paid fair or be paid just a fraction of what other professions are paid. I know many people in different industries who love their jobs and get paid their fair share. Why shouldn’t creatives be paid what they deserve?!

While setting up shop as a self-employed freelancer in the creative industry keep in mind that:

  • Chasing for the invoices to be paid is very common and can often be another job on top of everything else.
  • You don’t get sick or holiday pay, nor pension contribution, and you need to pay for your health insurance. In the UK, this doesn’t amount to massive expenses, but there are countries where most of your pay goes towards health insurance and mandatory pension contribution.
  • Often, the only way to secure jobs is to lower your pricing. However, you need to figure out if it’s worth working for small pay. I know people who end up earning £3-£4 an hour after calculating how much time went into securing the job and working on the assignment.  
  • Working simultaneously on developing your projects might be tricky because you have deadlines coming at you from every direction, while at the same time you are trying to secure other assignments.
  • If you built a supportive community on social media, you might be in a better position than freelancers who don’t have fans to turn to. However, not every freelancer can be that lucky, focused, or good at putting themselves out there. It’s doable, and many people have pathed a very successful career online. But it requires time, as well as safety net that will catch you, if you feel you are too wobbly or are falling behind.  

If you would like to learn from those who managed to turn their art into a business, check out this video, which I found really realistic (we, creatives need a reality check from time to time).

As you can see, I’m personally disheartened with freelancing and self-employment because of the amount of time it takes to secure jobs, chase people for pay, which you have to justify all the time and the fact that it leaves very little time to progress with your creative projects. A lot of energy goes into managing freelancing life while dealing with stress and anxiety on daily basis.

Traditional Employment 

I was very resistant to traditional employment for a long time, driven by the idea that I wouldn’t have enough time for my projects or the kids. However, with time and age, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my life working for well below the minimum wage, constantly fight for jobs and not be able to predict my income. The competitiveness of the freelancer’s job market and pay insecurity takes a toll on creativity and mental health and is not good at all for people in the long run. (Look how the creative industry suffered during the pandemic and what jobs many creatives had to take up just to pay their bills.)

So, a few years ago, I decided to find something in between, something that wouldn’t make me throw up just by thinking about it but would allow the flexibility that I was longing for. I found a weekend job. It’s not ideal to work weekends, but it’s a compromise and not a permanent solution. 

The massive perk is the security of the pay, less stress to find assignments and the brain space to develop my personal projects. For the first time in my life, I can plan my finances and invest money. This solution works for now and in my current circumstances but as I said it is not a permanent solution.

If I were entering the employment market right now, I wouldn’t opt for self-employment or freelancing. Since the opportunities to work from home or anywhere in the world really are countless, I would look for a part-time job I didn’t hate, move to a country with lower living costs (London/UK is way too expensive for mortal humans, who don’t have sacks of gold, I guess it has been reserved for the Superheroes only) and work on my projects simultaneously. That would have given me the peace of mind any creative/artist needs to do their best work.

As of this writing, I think employment has higher benefits in the long run than freelancing and currently offers more flexibility than self-employment. Of course, that can change in the next few years, but we creatives should definitely take advantage of that while it lasts.

How about you, what is your opinion? What has been your experience like working as a self-employed freelancer?

Filed under: Blog, entrepreneur

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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