In a time of economic recession, jobs are hard to find and competition for vacancies is fierce. So an increasing number of people are turning to freelancing as a way to earn money and resolve any employment gaps in their CV, with approximately 1.4 million freelancers in the UK.
It sounds great—work when you want to do, where you want to, and control your own workload. In fact, an estimated 72-78% of the UK public believe that freelancing improves work-life balance. But the reality can often be very different to what we imagine. Having freelanced full-time for several years now, I’ll let you in on what it’s really like in terms of homeworking, money, tax, and managing your own time/workload…
At some point when we’re stuck in an office missing the (short) British summer, or find that someone’s eaten our lunch from the communal fridge, most of us have professed “I wish I worked from home!” Some of us even get to work from home one or two days a week from our office jobs, and doesn’t it seem wonderful when we do?! But as a freelancer, you’ll most likely be working from home permanently. There are some major pros and cons to homeworking.
- Clothes: You don’t need to buy expensive (and often uncomfortable) office or work wear. You can sit in your PJs all day if you want to—though it’s not advisable for reasons I’ll mention later.
- Food: You can control your diet better as you’re able to cook proper meals and are less likely to resort to office snacking. It’s also cheaper to cook at home, rather than buying lunches for work.
- Time with loved ones: If you have pets, you can spend more time enjoying their company. If your loved ones work nonstandard hours, you can manage your time to see more of them. Or if you have caring commitments, you can balance your time to work and look after loved ones.
- Environment: You can control your environment to suit you. We’ve all worked in an office that’s freezing or sweltering, and trying to manage the temperature for multiple people can be very difficult. You can choose your ideal heat.
- Health: Not picking up office bugs. Especially working in open plan offices, the “office cold” quickly does its rounds, so you can avoid picking these up.
- Colleagues: Working in an office or job means you’re often stuck with annoying colleagues or trying to drown out background noise. As long as you have self-control to not switch on the television, it’s a lot less distracting than an office environment and it means no irritating coworkers.
- Unsociable: it can be very lonely and unsociable, especially if you live on your own or your loved ones work long hours. When deciding whether to home-work, you need to consider how much company you need and whether you can cope with spending so much time on your own. Though you can work in a “createspace” with other freelancers if you like company for a small monthly fee.
- Scenery: Likewise, you need to think how you’ll feel seeing the same vista every day. Physically going out somewhere to work means we get a change of scenery, which helps us separate our working life from our home life, ergo retain the work-life balance. If you don’t force yourself to leave the house, it can be isolating.
- Bills: The increased cost of your electric and heating bills needs to be taken into account as you’re likely to use more of both while working from home permanently (see the tax section).
- Exercise: Unless you hop straight into a car and park right outside your office door, most of us get some exercise on our way to work, even if it’s only walking to the train station. Working from home can lead to a lack of exercise, so make sure you’re still keeping fit and healthy while working at home. There are “homeworking exercises” available online.
- Furniture: Similarly, our home furniture is often not designed for permanent working, whereas our employers purchase office chairs that support our backs and desks that are at the ideal height for our computers. Ensure you buy furniture that means your health isn’t adversely affected by homeworking.
- Working from other locations
This brings us on to the big pro that you can work from other locations. I began freelancing because I was travelling the world—and it was a practical way to earn money without having to apply for visas to work in other countries. Plus I could use my existing skills to freelance, meaning the “gap” in my CV from travelling could actually be filled with a year’s self-employment instead.
Whether it’s working from your local coffee shop, a library, or further afield—being able to work from anywhere is a huge benefit of freelancing. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Consider the cost of drinks/food if you work from a local coffee shop as these can mount up.
- If you regularly work long hours in one location (such as a coffee shop or library), ensure the staff are happy with you spending so much time there!
- Choose places that have plug sockets available and free WiFi.
- Take headphones as the noise from other people can be distracting.
- Managing your own time
One of the biggest aspects of freelancing that people often fail to consider thoroughly is managing your own time. In an office environment, we manage our time to a degree—but we’re often steered by our managers and other people’s requirements. As a freelancer, you have to entirely manage your own time and schedule. Here’s the reality…
- Motivation: No one will motivate you but you! If you’re having a glum day and can’t be bothered, nobody is going to make you do the work. You need to learn to motivate yourself. Nobody will stop you perusing the internet or watching TV, so you’ll need to master self-control.
- Routine: There can be a lack of routine depending on when your work arrives. You need to impose a routine on yourself, for example, changing out of your PJs into other comfortable clothes.
- Work-life balance: There can be a lack of work-life balance. Keep a record of how many hours you’re working so you’re not over-doing it and ensure you give yourself regular breaks, both within the day and over the longer term. All work and no play makes freelancers no fun. Use an app to monitor your time such as the free app RescueTime.
- Set hours: There are no set hours. This means it can be tempting to turn your laptop on at any time of day, especially if you’re made aware of work because your phone pings every time you get an email. Keeping a separate work and personal email and only accessing your work emails during your self-imposed “working hours” can help. As much as you can, plan your “down time” and don’t work in this time unless it’s urgent.
- Planning ahead: Unless you’re lucky in finding regular work for one or more companies and know that the work will arrive on set days, it can be difficult to plan ahead because you simply don’t know when the work will roll in. It’s difficult to turn work down when you rely on the income it will create, but this doesn’t mean you can’t plan days off or holidays and tell your customers you’re unavailable that day.
- Freedom! You get more freedom to work when you want, over the hours that suit you. If you’re a night owl, it’s perfect because you won’t be late for work every day. If you’re an early bird, you won’t be waiting for someone to unlock the office doors.
- Day-to-day tasks: Most doctors and dentists appointments are during the week, so you don’t need to arrange time off work to attend them. You can also do your shopping and other tasks during the week when it’s less busy. If you have children, it can be much easier to manage getting them to and from school as you’re not restricted to office hours.
- Environment: You can spend summer afternoons outside in the garden and work in the mornings and evenings instead to make the most of the day time. You can create the environment you want to work in, at the temperature you want. You can listen to music without distracting others, which can help you be more productive.
- Annual leave: You don’t need to request annual leave, be forced to take leave when it suits your employer, or balance your annual leave around other people in the office. You’re also not restricted to taking a set amount of annual leave. Instead, you can holiday as often as you can afford to! During big sporting competitions, such as the Euros or Wimbledon, you can schedule your work around watching sport rather than missing out or booking time off.
4. Managing your own workload
Similar to managing your time, as a freelancer you will also be managing your own workload. This means…
- Sourcing work: You’ll need to source your own work. Whether this is through emailing companies, advertising your services, or using freelancing websites such as PeoplePerHour, your wage will depend on you finding your own work.
- Interest level: It also means you can choose what you want to to work on and what interests you, rather than being lumbered with the boring work your employer sets you.
- Deadlines: You need to estimate how much work you can take on at any time and set clear deadlines for both yourself and your customers. Keeping a daily, weekly, and monthly to-do list really helps with this. Ensure you’re clear on when customers expect the work back and let them know if there’s going to be a delay.
- Reputation: Your reputation is at stake. When you work for a company, one bad review doesn’t reflect on you personally. As a freelancer, each piece of work you do reflects on you as an individual, so always do your best and communicate regularly with your customers.
5. Money matters
Aside from the tax issues discussed earlier, there are other money matters you need to consider:
- The uncertainty: Unless you work regularly for one or more companies, most freelancers don’t know what they’ll be earning from one month to the next—or indeed, whether they’ll be earning at all. Ensure you’re comfortable with this.
- Covering your bills: If you don’t know how much you’ll be earning, you need to ensure you can always pay your bills somehow. Have an “emergency money” savings pot in case you have slow or quiet months.
- Holidays and sick pay: Unlike when you work for a business and receive annual leave and sick pay, nobody will be paying you if you’re unable to work due to holidays or being ill. Equally, you need to ensure you’re getting a break, so set aside money for holidays and any unexpected illnesses. You can get income protection to cover you in case of illness.
- Mortgages: It’s worth noting that most mortgage companies consider freelancers and self-employed people to be a high risk due to the uncertainty of their income. When applying for a mortgage, they will usually request 3 years of self-assessment tax details. Bear this in mind if you’re not already on the property ladder. If your partner is employed, could they apply for the mortgage instead?
- Pensions: While working for an employer, we are automatically enrolled to pay pension contributions, and in some cases our employer matches them. As a freelancer, nobody is saving for your future but you. This means you should consider setting up a private pension plan that you pay into monthly, or investing in property for your retirement.
6. Self-assessment tax
According to the advert—“tax doesn’t have to be taxing”. It doesn’t have to be … if you hire an accountant. Bear in mind that as a freelancer, you are self-employed, so you need to set yourself up for self-assessment tax at the beginning and keep a record of all of your earnings and outgoings (including receipts). You’ll complete yearly self-assessment tax returns.
In my first year as a freelancer, I struggled through my own self-assessment tax forms and was utterly confused, not to mention I paid more tax than I should have! I can’t stress enough that an accountant is better placed to fill in your tax forms and tell you what you can and can’t claim. What an accountant costs is certainly outweighed by the time and money they’ll save you!
In general, you can deducting your business-related expenses from the tax you would pay, including:
- Your home office (£4 per week)
- A percentage of your phone/internet bills used for work purposes
- Office items such as laptops and stationary
- Advertising or marketing, such as business cards
- Financial costs such as your accountant (haha!)
- Educational material such as courses and books
- Travel costs for work
See the .Gov website for more details.
7. Work on your own dreams
This might all sound scary, but the reality is that by freelancing, you get to take control of and manage your own life. I can’t emphasise enough how amazing and freeing this is! You’re not working towards someone else’s goals, profit margins, or life dreams. You’re building your own business, working towards your own goals and dreams, and determining what you want to do with your life.
You’re doing what you want to do, working on what you want to work on. You’re not doing what someone else tells you, when they tell you to do it, and how they want you to do it. You have the freedom to develop your own working style and work the way you want to, instead of the way someone else tells you to.
And if you decide freelancing isn’t for you after a while, that’s fine. Just ensure you convey the skills gained when applying for jobs. For example, your self-motivation, time management, and workload management skills.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but for some, it’s an amazing way to gain freedom and control over your life.
- It’s ideal for those who are self-motivated and disciplined, are able to manage their own time and workload, and are confident enough to source their own work.
- It’s perfect for those who don’t enjoy the office environment or enjoy lone working.
- It’s brilliant for those who have young children or are caring for family members.
- And it’s handy if you live with someone on a stable wage who can provide some financial security, but if not, just keep an emergency pot of money.
- You can live and work the way you want to, managing your own time and environment, working the way you want to work.
- It means you can work towards your own life dreams and goals, rather than someone else’s.
If you’d like to talk more about freelancing, feel free to contact me… 🙂