The Price Of Freedom

The Price Of Freedom

Freelance is a trade off: autonomy, satisfaction, variety and freedom in return for an equally compelling list of downsides. Immense insecurity and little opportunity to switch off from work are just two of the problems faced by freelance workers in all walks of industry.

Famines and feasts

Money worries. Financial risk and instability are part and parcel of working for yourself. But choosing to freelance is a calculated decision so you will have worked out that your contract rates of pay will normally make up for periods when business is slow.

But what if you're busy working and simply not getting paid? This is a problem that you should learn to prevent rather than solve. When you first begin or agree to a new contract, ask straight up about the company's pay procedures. Who signs off contracts? Should you complete timesheets? What expenses, if any, are reimbursed? When will you receive your cheque? If you're still sceptical about getting paid, it's worth asking for half of your fee up front. You'll be surprised how many clients are willing to oblige.

Chasing up payment for a project you've already done is frustrating. You can't turn to the person who brought you in on the project. It won't be their job to worry about finances and you don't want to appear such a pest that they won't relish the hassle of hiring you again.

Instead, you must make direct contact with the company's accounts payable team. Talk to them early and often. Long before you'd expect to see your cheque in the post, call them up to find out their standard payment terms for contractors. If it's 60 or 90 days, you might be able to change this to 30 or 45 days by simply having spoken to the right person at the end of the phone. Don't wait for a problem to arise. And if you do have a problem, don't be shy about saying so. Accounts people are used to being pursued by suppliers and contractors. You've fulfilled your service to their company and you're entitled to their attention. So do what you can to get it.

Highs and lows

An infuriating client . The work is fine. It's the person you work for that's driving you crazy. This is a personality clash like orange and pink.

Remember who's boss and learn to say no. Part of your decision to go freelance will have included less stress and the choice to work with who you like. But how do you spot a potentially troublesome client before a project's begun? Some of the telltale signs are a client who negotiates overly hard on your fee, demands an extensive written proposal or asks you to do a lot of preliminary work for no charge. If you sense any niggling doubt, go with it. If you're already committed to the contract from hell, finish the job, do it well, and then fire your client.

Ups and downs

No time to market yourself. When you're busy juggling jobs for and meetings with a number of clients, there's often no time to do that essential freelance task of marketing yourself to potential new ones.

If this is your problem, it needn't be. You're probably thinking about marketing as if you still worked for a large corporation. Break out of the old mindset. Promoting yourself as a freelancer is not about responding to newspaper ads or dropping flyers through people's doors. But it's about almost everything else, including the quality of your work, the reliability you demonstrate, the look of your website, the articles you write, the networks you join, the conferences you attend and the conversations you have with the people sitting next to you.

Peaks and troughs

All work and no play. Even if you do find time to update your website or revamp your business cards, freelance life can make Jack a very dull boy. If you are your own business then there's a natural reluctance to close the business for even one second of the day for fear of missing an opportunity. Time to fix some boundaries. Set a daily quitting time, designate an hour for the gym and arrange a date to play squash. Schedule days off, and not necessarily at the weekends. You dictate your own timetable so treat yourself to a weekday away from your computer. The shops will be less crowded and you can enjoy a stroll in a relatively empty park. And the joy of being off work in the middle of the week, while everyone else is at their desks, will give you an added sense of appreciation and empowerment.

Swings and roundabouts

Feeling lonely. Having longed to escape all those corporate annoyances like time wasting meetings, political promotions, back stabbing gossip and obligatory socials, there are moments when every freelancer feels out on a limb. And if you do most of your work from home, you can go quite stir crazy.

Even the most hardened of loners crave personal interaction. But as a freelance worker, other people won't come to you – you have to go to them. So call an old colleague. Call a new one too. Then call a friend who has nothing whatever to do with your work. Read magazines outside of your field. Surf websites on new topics of interest. Check out the latest film releases.

In short, stimulate yourself by whatever means are needed to keep your intellectual curiosity on its toes, while achieving a healthy balance between your professional life and the personal and social lives that keep you sane. It's important to love what you do, but remember to work to live and not live to work.