Freelancing’s hardest part? That’s not as easy, say self-employed creatives

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Self-employed creatives are as varied as the sectors that they operate in when it comes to what they find hardest about freelancing.

So unlike the ‘best part’ of freelancing which freelancers are unanimous about (‘the autonomy’), the toughest aspect of self-employment tends to divide freelancers.

According to the self-employed folk who FreelanceUK quizzed, five big bugbears, or definite downsides, weigh on Marketing, Public Affairs, PR/Comms and Digital freelancers.

1. A good idea? Who knows?!

Twenty long minutes spent trying to work out if your idea is edgy enough or just plain-old ordinary could be just 20 seconds -- if you were in an office and had someone to ask! When you’re a single-person self-employed, observes freelance digital marketer Emilie Heaney, such a sounding board is a luxury you go without.

“The hardest part of being freelance is the potential for [mental] loneliness and not being able to bounce ideas off of a team,” says Heaney, the founder of Start-Up Marketeer.

“This is particularly true when you work in a creative industry like marketing, where nothing beats a brainstorming session to get some great ideas flowing.”

2. Working out your worth – and then getting it

How freelancers should work out how much to charge is one of the most often-posed queries on the FreelanceUK Forum. Do you charge just for your time and materials? Would a fixed-price be better? And ‘better’ for who; you or the customer?

For Heaney, whose clients include Cheeky Rascals -- a maker of clever products for parents, pricing can be a “contentious issue.”

The last thing the self-employed want, though, is to fall out with a customer over a few pounds and pennies. Nonetheless, “knowing your worth and asking your clients to pay it [is] my other hard bit,” she admits.

3. Letting your freelance business run you (instead of you running the business)

Having had his own freelance business, but now having stepped back to provide services to freelancers, Ed Molyneux has the first-hand experience of what he still witnesses all the time.

“When you start out, it’s easy to feel like you can’t turn down any freelance work and your work-life balance can quickly end up being heavily skewed towards…your business” says Molyneux, the chief executive of cloud accountant FreeAgent.

“And if you’re spending most of your time working, that means it’s difficult to find any time to relax and enjoy the ‘freedom’ that freelancing is meant to provide.Many freelancers find it hard to take a break during a typical day -- let alone find the time for a holiday -- so there’s also a real risk of burnout if you’re not careful.”

4. Never being ‘Out-Of-Office’

Despite probably turning some freelancers a shade of green with his account to FreelanceUK about flying to Barcelona just to have a change of scenery while he works, Benedict Smith doesn’t actually ‘do’ holidays. At least not in the way most people tend to do.

“I find it fairly easy to switch off at the weekend, but when it comes to taking a proper holiday…I’m not much good,” the communications guru confesses.

“I’ll usually find myself answering calls and working on the beach. It’s something I’ve come to accept as part and parcel of being self-employed. Yet occasionally, I find myself pining for a proper rest.”

Asked when his last ‘proper rest’ abroad probably was, Smith answered by pointing out that he’s been self-employed for about the last four years. “And in that time, I can’t recall taking what people who are employed would call a holiday ‘out of office,’” he said. “Aside from the Christmas holidays.”

5. Lining up ‘next’ when you’re focussed on ‘now’

Freelancers tend to have to become good multi-taskers. But maintaining your work pipeline when you’re already engaged at another coalface can be the trickiest juggling act of them all.

Even seasoned political operator Greg Mulholland, formerly a Lib Dem MP and now a campaigns consultant, finds it a tall order. And it’s not without its unsettling moments either.

“In my experience, the most challenging part of freelancing is the worry of where the next pieces of work will come from.”

He added: “It can be extra demanding of your resourcefulness and organisational skills when you’re spending all your time and energy on the work you currently have -- which is what you naturally want to do, to deliver the best work you can, in the knowledge that it won’t last forever.”

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