There are a ton of benefits to being a freelancer–I know because I’ve been one for the last eight years. I love the ability to set my own schedule and the freedom to choose only the projects I feel are interesting to work on. Being able to negotiate fees on a per-project basis is also a huge plus.
Then there are the social benefits. Just because freelancers work from home or in cafes doesn’t mean they don’t have the chance to meet new people and network. Matter of fact, I’ve found that the ability to work on multiple projects for multiple companies means I often meet a more diverse group of people than I would have the opportunity of meeting if I worked 9-5 in one office.
And I’m pretty sure 53 million people agree with me. That’s the number of freelancers currently working in America, according to a study by independent research firm Edelman Berland. That amounts to 34% of America’s workforce working freelance. That figure is only expected to grow, too. By 2020 estimates are there will be 60 million freelancers in America, totaling over 40% of the workforce. Freelancers, if trends continue, could account for over 50% of the workers in America by the mid-2020s.
Yet despite all its benefits, being a freelancer also has its drawbacks–and those drawbacks usually come in the form of assumptions about the life of a freelancer from a freelancer’s friends, family, and even their temporary bosses. Those people usually just don’t get what life is actually like for a freelancer. And if you’re one of those people, here’s what you need to understand about independent workers –because by 2025 chancers are half of the people in your life will be freelancers.
This is probably the #1 pet peeve among freelancers. It’s often hard getting our friends and family who don’t freelance to respect our work time. Just because we aren’t in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and because we work from home doesn’t mean we are always available. Yes, we love the benefit of being able to work on our own schedules–but we must keep to those self-imposed schedules if we want to finish our projects on time. That takes enough will power as it is, we don’t need others constantly tempting us to take off and “finish your work later.”
So please, when we say we are working, we are working. Respect our work time.
If a company’s employee doesn’t work for a month it probably means they have an unlimited vacation policy or they don’t work there anymore. Not so with freelancers, though many people assume that if we don’t work for a few weeks it means we are lazy.
That’s not the case. Matter of fact, that’s one of the main benefits of freelancing: being able to work insanely hard for a few weeks or months on one project, and making enough from it to support yourself twice as long. That means we can financially afford to take week-long breaks to unwind and get into a different mindset for the next project.
Freelancers don’t get a 401k. They don’t get sick days. They don’t get paid vacations. Which means that our future probably has more uncertainty than yours, financially.
This is also why it’s so hard for us to switch off from work at times. It’s why we sometimes work on weekends or in the evening. When work comes, we often feel we can’t say no, especially if we want to take that vacation this summer. We also need to budget better than you do because when you get paid, taxes are almost always already deducted. When we get paid we need to make sure we have the foresight and willpower to put a percentage of that payment away to pay Uncle Sam come April 15.
Okay (temporary) bosses, this one’s for you: you now understand how much more diligent a freelancer has to be in managing their cash flow–so please pay us on time. There are countless horror stories from freelancers in various fields who completed a project months ago and are still waiting to be paid. Now, most of the time, this late payment is not deliberate on the client’s part–-it’s just that their organization’s invoicing department is slow.
Yes, unfortunately freelancers don’t enjoy the same kind of legal protections under the law when it comes to getting paid in a reasonable amount of time. This is why advocacy groups like the Freelancers Union are pushing for legislative changes and protections for the 53 million+ freelancers in America. But changes to the law take time, so until then, bosses, if you want to keep your freelancers who keep putting out great work for your business happy, pay them on time: 30 days should be the maximum.
And freelancers: if you’re not already, work payment terms into your contract with specific penalties for late payments. Don’t worry about pissing off your client, either. Today more than ever, businesses need freelancers to scale and function–a trend that will only grow in the future, so only take repeated work from the businesses that treat you fairly and pay you on time.