Are You Prepared to Run a Business?
by Taylor Slattery | October 11, 2022
Read the title again and really think about it. If the answer is no, then venturing out on your own as a freelancer may not be for you. There are many pros to the life of a freelancer that make it appealing. Working from the comfort of your bedroom makes it an easy transition for students just starting off in their careers, especially those already accustomed to attending school online. Having the freedom to set your own schedule—not only when your work day starts and ends but the structure of your week and where you work from, sounds great.
It stands to reason that working in a less-rigid manner feels more in alignment with the natural ebbs and flows of creativity and seems like it would be more conducive to generating great work. On top of that, as a freelancer, not only do you have complete control over when and how you work, but who you work with as well. Being able to select the clients and projects you work on prevents you from finding yourself in a situation where you’re not interested in the project or invested in its success, both of which might lead to you putting out work that isn’t the best it could be or worse—work you don’t even like.
Being in complete control of your creative career sounds like a fast track to award-winning work, recognition, and a long list of major clients, but in reality, working as a freelancer means running a business, and running a business is stressful. Working as a freelancer, you’re exposed to an entirely new set of problems you would never encounter working a regular 9–5. For those unversed in the specifics of running a business, and especially so for those fresh out of school without any work experience or steady income, it can be a lot to take on. Jumping into things blindly will quickly reveal that the freelancer life isn’t nearly as easy as you may have been led to believe by YouTubers and influencers.
The first challenge and a potential dead end for many would-be freelancers is finding work. As a freelancer, and especially a new freelancer, a significant portion of your time is spent generating leads and tracking down work. Success in this area requires you to become proficient at both marketing and sales, and unless you’re already a master in both of these realms, building up a base of clients to provide a reliable, steady stream of work can take a long time to achieve.
Even for experienced freelancers with a network of satisfied clients sending them referrals, there are often still periods of drought where you may find yourself in between jobs without any promising signs of work on the horizon. These periods may last for weeks, or even months, depending on the field. As a freelancer, work is never guaranteed, no matter the caliber of your work. It can be a very feast or famine way of life and requires financial discipline to ensure you’re taken care of when the work dries up.
During those feast periods, where the work seems to be pouring in—you can say goodbye to any semblance of work-life balance. After experiencing your first drought, you’ll jump on any and every opportunity that comes your way, and soon what once felt like the freedom to choose when to work will quickly become your prison. Like a squirrel stockpiling nuts for the winter, your work days and weeks grow longer to accommodate all of the work you’ve accepted in preparation for, or out of fear of, the next drought.
Additionally, as a freelancer, your tax situation becomes a bit more complicated than it would be for a regular 9–5. Granted, there are some deductions you can take advantage of, but you’ll likely need to consult a professional to best navigate your forms come tax season. While I recommend any student prioritize finding a full-time role over jumping into freelancing, if only just to gain some experience, build savings, and better understand the business side of things, if all the above sounds more like an adventure than a headache, then, by all means, have at it.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.
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