Is it the American dream to be self-employed? To be your own boss is often a life goal. Often, however, people are not really sure what owning their own business entails. There are, indeed, many benefits, but there are drawbacks as well. Venturing into self-employment, especially freelance self-employment, requires careful consideration.
In the publishing field, many positions are outsourced these days. So most of the time, if you want to be an indexer (as I am), then you need to be prepared for self-employment. Not all indexers are freelancers, but the majority are.
The perks of self-employment are many, and personally, I would be hard-pressed to return to an office. First of all, the commute is terrific – walk from your kitchen to your office space (whether that be an actual office in your home or a corner of your living room), and you are at work. No long hours spent fighting traffic or looking for parking; no hundreds of dollars spent on gas money or subway tickets; just you in your slippers in your home office. The downside, of course, is that work is always there, a constant presence in your home, and learning to distinguish between work-time and home-time definitely takes practice. Finding that life-work balance is a challenge for everyone, and finding it when work is at your fingertips 24/7 adds a unique twist.
Wasting time is another issue for freelancers. Being side-tracked from work with phone calls from friends, or a dishwasher full of dishes, or a newspaper on the table that you are dying to read makes carving out enough work hours in the day difficult. Setting some guidelines for yourself seems to do the trick for many of us. Perhaps it’s that you set certain hours of the day aside for work only and tell friends and family to act as though you are away from home during those hours. Or perhaps it’s that you set yourself a goal of completing a certain amount of work in a given day, no matter when you do it. So if it’s a day that you want to have coffee with a friend or go to an event at your child’s school, go ahead, but remember that that work must be completed at some point before the day is done. Again, it’s a balancing act. All freelancers tackle the work scheduling differently depending upon their life circumstances and their personal preferences. That is both the challenge and the bonus of self-employment, creating a balance that suits you personally.
Financially, self-employment can be hazardous. There is no safety net. No employer guarantees that you will receive a paycheck every week; no employer pays you for days you are on vacation or out sick; no employer contributes to your retirement, to your tax obligations, nor to your health insurance. You and you alone are responsible. So before jumping into the world of freelancing, be certain to have thought through all these obstacles. The irregularity of income makes budgeting a necessity. Be aware of your expected income, and especially be aware of your expenses for health insurance, tax obligations, living expenses, and create a plan that allows you to make ends meet (and hopefully still have some for vacation as well).
Earlier I mentioned that the beauty of self-employment is working within a style that suits your preferences. Freelancers need to really assess their personality and ascertain whether or not working independently is attractive. There is a lot of alone-time. Colleagues tend to be available online but not with you for a cup of coffee or lunch. There are no meetings (a plus), but there is also no togetherness with other staff. Being an introvert, this actually suits me very well, but it’s not the right fit for everyone.
I wouldn’t trade the luxury of working from home with a relatively flexible schedule. For me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks now that my learning curve of finding balance is in hand. However, anyone considering moving into self-employment or freelancing needs to really look at all the pros and cons before taking the plunge.