When NOT to go freelance

When NOT to go freelance…

The media industry offers great opportunities for freelancers. But freelancing isn’t for everyone and even if it does turn out to be right for you, there is a right time and a wrong time to try it out. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, ask yourself is it the right time for you? Here, we give you some things to consider…

When NOT to go freelance
Freelancing offers freedom but isn't for everyone...

Do you have enough experience to go it alone?

With the benefits of freelancing – working your own hours for yourself and not someone else – comes responsiblity. When you’re on your own there’s no boss to tell you what to do and no colleagues to bounce ideas off. It’s best to have at least a few years under your belt of working at a paper, a magazine or within a PR company before you go it alone.

Will you miss the office?

It’s tempting when it’s great weather outside and a freelancer mentions they are sat writing in their garden to want to chuck your job in and join them. But be honest with yourself about how you work. Will you be able to cope without the office banter? Will you feel cut off at home away from colleagues. When you’re at an editorial conference and the editor praises your idea, will you miss that? Unfortunately it’s a fact – simply because they are not in the office meeting regularly with editors – that freelancers rarely get praised however good their ideas and copy are…! And lunch for a freelancer is usually spent eating it alone…

How do you see your personal life within the next few years?

If you plan to have a family, you might be better taking advantage of any paternity or maternity leave from your company. There is no holiday pay or maternity leave (or payment) when you work for yourself. As there is no sick pay either, you need to be physically fit to go freelance. Similarly if you plan a house move or major building work to your home, it’s going to be best to get this over and done with first. If you plan to work from home, there is nothing more nightmarish than trying to sort a feature in the middle of a building site.

Do you have enough savings to go it alone?

Obviously as a freelancer you won’t be able to guarantee your income. Yes, you might do very well for the first few weeks but sooner or later you will hit a quiet patch. Do you have enough saved in the bank to see you over the first six months? As a freelancer you are not only less established but may have to wait for money to come in. It’s therefore imperative to have a financial cushion so your mortgage or rent and basic bills are covered, whatever happens. Don’t forget as well that not all the money that goes into your account belongs to you. Not paying tax can make you feel rich at first but at least 25% of it will need to be paid to the taxman. Be very realistic too about your earnings – it is better to err on the side of caution than over estimate how much you’ll earn, especially in the first 18 months.

Do you have the right temperament?

As a freelancer, it’s a given you are self-starter and very motivated. Ideally you are the sort of person who is brimming with ideas and who has endless energy. You also need to be able to pick yourself up after a rejection and carry on. If you’re the sort that does a job well but needs to be instructed to do it then freelancing might not be for you after all. You must also accept the sort of drudgery as a freelancer you must do yourself such as raising invoices, chasing any unpaid money and keeping expenses accounts will be down to you.

Have you prepared to be a freelancer?

You need to have worked out where you will be based – will you work from home or hire a seat in a shared office? If it’s at home, do you have a suitable place for your office? It might be best to put your plans on hold if you share a house for example and rarely get any peace and quiet to make a phone call at the best of times. Ideally before going freelance you have already put in a business phone line (or have a dedicated business mobile), you have a website, reliable business broadband, a business bank account, a name for your company and an accountant on board.

What competition do you have?

Is the niche you plan to freelance in already overcrowded? And do you know who your clients will be? People often make the mistake of believing the company they’ve worked for will commission work from them. They might well do but old habits die hard. Sometimes your old company – while promising you work – might well still stick to the freelancers they usually use. And even if your old colleagues do commission work from you, there is unlikely to be enough commissions to pay all your bills. So before you go freelance you need to consider which other clients might commission work from you and what you can offer that they don’t currently get from their usual freelance pool.

What will you do if freelancing isn’t for you?

Unfortunately no-one is indispensible. However wonderful an asset you have been to your company and however sad they are to see you leave to go freelance, that company will get on without you. They might even find things are better once you’ve gone. If it all goes wrong, you might hopefully be able to go back but there simply might not be a job available. Accept if freelancing doesn’t work out, you might end up in a position lower to the one you left or you could end up doing shifts. Bear in mind it’s an unspoken taboo but some employers might also take a dim view of someone who’s clearly made a hash of going it alone.

So …when should you go freelance?

* You can’t get a job and the only job on offer is taking on any freelance work you can find for now.
* Circumstances dictate nothing else. For example, you have had a baby and it works out cheaper and much easier for you to freelance than pay childcare costs/travel to work.
* You’ve taken volunary redundancy – you have managed to reduce overheads such as your mortgage repayments and could survive on less money. Or you’ve downsized so don’t have so many overheads.
* You are lucky enough to have a partner who can support both of you financially while you get your freelancing business under control.
* You find despite having a job, you are constantly approached by other companies to do work on the side for them. It might even be you are constantly sought after as a consultant. If you are coming home from your job and starting work on your freelancing, you know you have enough work to ditch the day job…
* You have felt for a long time you are unhappy in your job. You fulfil all the above criteria on temperament, savings and have a home office/office in place. You accept the risks but feel there is a gap in the market you can fill. You are willing to take all the risks…but you still can’t wait…

You might like: Working for yourself – top tips and Setting up a media business for free.


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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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