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To freelance or not to freelance: From my experience.

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The world of freelance is incredibly tempting. I confess the idea of being your own boss, working in PJ’s, in the comfort of your home, without having to wake up to the shrill sound of an alarm clock, is a dream come true for most; however freelancing isn’t for every designer and definitely not recommended for newbies.

I have been one of the few lucky people who got to experience full time employment, freelance and self employment. Below pointers are directly taken from my own personal stint with freelancing. I must admit that, at the beginning it was very refreshing to freelance, especially after being employed for quite a while; however, slowly realization set in and the larger picture wasn’t as rosy as I had hoped it to be.

When you are fresh out of college or in between jobs, freelance may seem the ideal gig to make some quick buck, but it has its drawbacks. And some of these can be deal breakers for you. At Lollypop, we receive numerous enquiries for freelancing and I am appalled with the number of fresh graduates opting this route. Hence, through this blog, I am going to share my learning in the hope that it would be worthwhile for the budding designers.

Soft Skills takes a Hit

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Most design colleges in India and around the world do not emphasize on soft skills development as much as they do in teaching the technicalities. You can be a great designer, may be even one of the top in your design school, however, you can't rely solely on your technical skills to make that cut. Both employers and clients today, are increasingly on the lookout for creative professionals who demonstrate a well-rounded set of soft skills which includes presentation skills, communication skills and business etiquette.

While freelancing right after graduation, there is a huge chance of you missing out on important soft skills and grooming in general, which is nearly impossible to learn when you are at home sipping chai in your PJ’s.

Social Isolation

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Many of us love to work from the quietness of our homes, where the only sound you will hear are few chirping birds and daily hawkers, but as nice as these things are, they can cause loneliness and isolation. Many people may argue against it, saying that freelance gives you the opportunity to catch up with friends and families which a 9 to 5 job cannot provide. However, being a lone wolf, can make you miss out on many benefits that come from running with the pack, and those benefits aren't small or disposable.  

We humans are hardwired to need social interaction, and staying holed up for days isn’t a great feeling. Working all by yourself deprives you from the opportunity to ideate, interact, open yourself up to new possibilities, and get a ‘fresh pair of eyes’, which is as important as software tools.

Also, if you dig deeper, being a team player is an extremely important quality that one should strive for because you can definitely not survive as a single person army.

Working odd hours &  Lack of routine

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Depending on the client, freelancers might find that they have to work irregular hours to keep on top of their deadlines. Scoping a project accurately is one of the most difficult challenges a designer can face, especially when you are working on more than one project at a time.

Unfortunately creativity isn’t something that can be turned on like a tap. At one point, I realized that pretty much every freelance designer has found that they have to work through the night or at weekends to keep on top of projects. Being your own boss and working from home can seriously hinder work-life balance and you may find yourself having a hard time maintaining your personal life altogether.

At times, this kind of self sacrifice also happen to designers who are employed full time with a company, but the frequency is much less.

You are on your own to fend

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Freelancers are pretty much on their own - you need to stay on top of your taxes, provident fund and health insurance, which can be incredibly difficult for freshers to manage. Speaking from experience, freelances do get paid more than employees, however there are inevitable dry periods to consider, when work is lean. This constant ‘feast or famine’ situation creates a huge amount of uncertainty, since you don’t know from where your next paycheck is coming or when.  

As a freelancers your are not only responsible for the work the client has hired you to do, you will also need to do all the administrative work that’s required, such as billing, paying invoices and dealing with other accounting matters. You’ll also have to do your own sales, marketing and advertising. Unfortunately, these ‘non billable’ activities do take up considerable chunk of your time, leaving you with very little time concentrate on billable work.

Dealing with non paying clients
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This is one nasty bit which almost all of us hate to face. Unfortunately there is no escaping this. At some point in your freelancing career you will come across clients who do not pay on time or who do not pay at all.

Don’t be surprised since this is fairly common in the freelance world, and apart from managing your own finances, one more hat you’ll have to wear is that of a debt collector. There are ways to protect yourself from non-paying clients, but sometimes you won’t realize you’re at risk until it’s too late. Although I was a seasoned designer, I still found it immensely difficult to recover my dues, I shudder to think how difficult it can get for graduates who have zero real job experience.

 

Losing control over design

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On the face of it, it looks like you are your own boss, you have total control. Ultimately you get to choose what to work on and what not to. If a particular assignment doesn’t interest you, you can simply reject it. But the trouble is, bills do not understand this. Unless you’re in a very good position, more often than not, you will  have to take on some assignments that you’re not that happy about.

Furthermore, as a freelancer, you might have a little less creative freedom, which can make you feel like a hired help. No matter how bitter this sound, but it's the truth. Since you are not employed, you may get pushed over. As the project progresses you may find yourself doing as the client asks, instead of putting your own stamp on the project.

When you are employed full time, you have a strong pillar to lean on- your colleagues, your reporting manager etc. but when freelancing you are on your own. Hence, if a project is going south, there will be only two parties to blame, either you or your client. These situations can be extremely difficult to shake off and in the long run it may make you question your capabilities.

 

"You can definitely pursue freelancing if you have specialized skills which are not easily hired for full time employment."

 

In my personal opinion, although freelancing shouldn't be your ideal career choice right after graduation, but, you can definitely pursue freelancing if you have specialized skills which are not easily hired for full time employment. And, as for full time designers, here is a blog on what are the things you should not be doing.

If you have gained substantial amount of experience and skills after working in a company or studio, freelancing can be good choice where you can gain more creative freedom. Also another great career option for experienced designers who would like to be their own boss is consultation. Working as a consultant will give more control on your designs, and you will be more involved with your clients, which can give you an insane amount of exposure and opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

With this note, I would like to take my leave. Do ponder over these points if you are considering to freelance and feel free to leave your comments below.

 

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