I recently wrote that I've stopped doing design work for clients, which basically means I'm no longer a freelance designer. Since writing that post I've received a couple of emails asking if that means I've given up accepting all freelance work.
The short answer is no, but the longer answer is a bit more complicated. It also involves going into the pros and cons of being freelance, which is what one of the emails asked about.
Please bear in mind this is just from my perspective and experience. If you've had a much different experience you'd like to share, get in touch or leave a comment.
Instead of going through pros and cons separately, I'll mention a few of the things that stood out to me when I was exclusively freelance.
You set your own hours
This was great for me at first, because I don't like being stuck in one place for a long time. Fancy writing something while sitting on a riverbank in the sun? No problem! Need to go for a walk/run/bike ride halfway through a project to clear your head? Go for it!
The downside to this is that it's very easy to become lazy and do just enough work to get by. That's not an option when you're working for somebody because your schedule is set.
Right now I have a happy medium with set hours from university work and flexibility to take on freelance jobs. So far, it's working great.
You set your own prices
This immediately appealed to me. Everybody was telling me I could get paid what I was worth, not some random figure decided by a company.
The trouble was, I didn't really know how much I was worth. Turns out that I was worth different amounts to different people, so sticking to a rigid pricing system soon fell into problems.
Plus there's always the temptation to start off with low prices and raise them later, which is hard to do for repeat clients. It's also hard for referrals. Start off too high, however, and you might price yourself out of the market.
Basically, I found an hourly figure I'd be happy with and worked out project costs based roughly around that. Once I'd done a few projects and noted the time spent on research, refinements, communication and other aspects, I quickly realised that I was both vastly undercharging and also being naively unclear about the scope of some projects.
Right now I only accept writing and editing jobs that are clearly defined both in scope, responsibilities, and price.
You're your own boss
This is the thing that seems to appeal to most people, including me when I went freelance. No more boss moaning and telling you what to do.
It also means you have nobody telling you when to work, and nobody offering training or advice. As I wrote above, that could lead to laziness and, in some cases, could lead to you stagnating or overestimating how good your work is.
Both happened to me, and led me to eating a few large slices of humble pie. Just because I was freelance didn't mean I was better than those who weren't. It also meant that although I wasn't technically employed by a client, I was still working for them. Sometimes that's easy to forget. You might want to tell your boss to piss off, but don't because you don't want to be fired. Telling a client to piss off is easier, but it could lead to you getting a bad reputation and, consequently, not much work.
I learnt to take criticism positively, and endeavoured to be as positive and diplomatic as possible. I accepted that I still have a great deal to learn, and I could learn a great deal from clients.
I've found the best freelance relationships (for me) are those when I work as a subcontractor (and therefore never have direct interaction with the client) or when I work with a big, well-established company on a specific, well-considered project with one or two contacts.
You're responsible for everything
Marketing, accounting, writing, meeting clients, tax, correspondence, and more. This became too much for me, especially when I rented a studio to work out of.
Be aware that you might have to spend more time on tasks you might not enjoy than spending time on the work you like. You could hire an accountant and other assistants, and that means you need to earn enough to pay them.
If, on the other hand, being in total control appeals to you (and it did to me) then none of this will bother you too much.
It can be unstable
Unless you have regular clients - and even if you do - your income can vary drastically from month to month, so some careful planning is recommended. It's also good to keep some money just in case work is slow.
With two young kids and a mortgage, that instability was becoming too much for me. Now that I have a stable income with the freedom to pursue other things, the balance is much better.
I don't want to ramble on incessantly, so I'll leave it at that for now.
In short, being purely freelance proved to be too stressful and unstable for me. I know other people who are successful and happy being freelance. In the end, it comes down to your own personal circumstances, desires, and personality.