Many people have an idyllic vision of what it means to freelance. These images often involve working in pyjamas, brainstorming on beaches and having meetings in trendy cafés.
Working for yourself obviously means that you live in a very different working world without the fixed office, hours and holidays associated with more traditional jobs.
But, how far does the reality live up to the ideal? Just how free are freelancers?
To get to the bottom of the question, I’ve measured 3 common freelancing myths against the unyielding yardstick of real life.
1.) You are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want
The myth: people often ask me what it’s like to work in my PJs. They seem to think that I can pick and choose my working hours, get up at noon and swan off on holiday at any moment.
The reality: no, I don’t work in my PJs, although I do often munch my breakfast as I check my email. This notion of freedom is both real and misleading. Yes, you can adapt your working hours to fit around your commitments and choose when to take time off. However, if you are never available when your clients are (i.e. 9am-6pm), you won’t get very far and your bank manager won’t be very happy. What’s more, if you work weird hours, you’ll be out of synch with your friends and family (with the exception of childcare, for which flexible hours are godsend).
Reality check: 7/10
2.) Your working world is a boss-free world
The myth: with no boss hovering over you, you are free to work how you, on your own terms. You are accountable to no one and make all the important decisions.
The reality: once again, myth and reality mix. No, you don’t have a boss telling you exactly what to do and the important decisions are yours to make. If you’ve had enough, you simply tell the client that you are no longer able to work for them. But when it comes down to it, the client is still king. After all, they are the ones paying a high day rate for you to be available and flexible. If the client decides that their idea is a good one, you often have to go along with.
Reality check: 6/10
3.) It’s easy to earn bags of money working only a few hours a week
The myth: books like Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-work working week” have spread the idea that by working very little you can earn a lot. People think that by breaking the shackles of regular hours and a fixed salary, you can dedicate your time to your hobbies, travel and family, while working every now and then on the side.
The reality: In most case, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The first years of freelancing are spend laboriously creating a network of clients and working as hard as possible to prove yourself. Yes, you can have a great idea for a company or service, but to make it work, you have to put in the hours. What’s more, from the money paid to you by your client, you have to deduct taxes and charges (almost 50% of what you earn) and put money aside for rainy days (you just don’t know when those project will arrive).
One of the big advantages is that you can decide how much you want to work and for what price. If all goes well, the more you work, the more earn!
Reality check: 4/10
So, all things considered, the myths about freelancing contain more than a grain of truth, but also a lot idealisation. The freedom of being your own boss and choosing when to work are counterbalanced by the power of your clients and the need to fit in with other people’s working patterns. Potentially you can earn a lot of money, but this is not automatic and involves a lot of hard graft, especially at the beginning.