How to know if freelancing is for you

Last updated on 
January 3, 2020

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Hype aside, packing up your 9–5 job to start freelancing can be downright scary. In romanticizing the idea of going it alone, we quickly forget the security and comfort of an office job’s steady stream of work, professional support and guaranteed monthly paycheck. And if you’ve never actually freelanced before, how do you know if it’s actually right for you? Before you dive in feet first, make sure you know where you stand against these essential freelancer traits.

Are you self-motivated?

While you might think of yourself as self-motivated, in freelancing you need to go the extra mile. Put bluntly, you are your own catalyst for success – your business rests on your shoulders alone. You’re the one who’ll be sourcing clients, finding work and ensuring you hit deadlines. There won’t be anyone to encourage you or put the pressure on.

Some people really thrive under the direction and encouragement of managers, and if you’re one of them, freelancing probably isn’t the best idea. Not everyone is cut out to be insanely self-motivated – and that’s absolutely fine.

Are you comfortable with instability?

This is a big one. If you’re someone who craves predictability and stability then you should probably give up the freelancing dream right now. The nature of freelancing is pure “feast or famine”. Your workload will fluctuate more than you imagine; some months you’ll be drowning in work, others will stagger by without a single job.

And the problems go beyond managing an inconsistent income; your confidence can take a serious hit. You might start panicking, questioning your own abilities and wondering why you ever left your beautifully unchanging 9–5 job. Think hard about how you’ll cope with the emotional and financial uncertainties of freelancing, and whether you have the nerves of steel it requires.

Are you good at managing your own time?

As well as being highly motivated, successful freelancers need to have time management down. Without set working hours, you need to completely own your schedule – hitting deadlines and managing multiple projects without overworking yourself. It’s much harder to strike the right work-life balance when your “office” never really closes for the night.

Obviously, a big draw of freelancing is that you can work whenever you want; if your creative juices don’t start flowing til late, you can work through the night if you wish. But you do need to create a schedule that works and stick to it. And since you’ll likely bill for the time you put in, you’ll need a faultless record that billable work – but thankfully that can be outsourced to an app.

Are you flexible?

"I want to freelance so I can pick what I work on.” Lovely thought; rarely the case. While you can develop your own specialist areas and try to get work in topics you’re passionate about, few freelancers are actually able to pick and choose projects on a whim – and certainly not off the bat.

Understand: there will be dry spells of work and during those times you need to take what you can get. That can mean taking jobs that don’t interest you – or worse, going against your principles. There are exceptions of course, but you can’t always afford to be picky. Some jobs are too lucrative to pass up, so you need to stay realistic and flexible. That job you weren’t sure about could end up being your main source of income.

Are you confident and communicative?

Freelancing can be one hell of a lonely place. But that doesn’t mean it’s better suited to introverts, and clearly, to find your own clients you need to be comfortable talking to people. Aside from being proactive, you need to be able to convince people you’re the right person for the job and talk clients through your more ambitious ideas clearly and assuredly.

That doesn’t require the cocky charm of a door-to-door salesman, but it does require confidence. You need to put yourself out there, speak with conviction and amiably soldier on when the client wants to continuing doing it the way they’ve always done it.

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