This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.
Ask someone with a 9 to 5 office job what they think about freelancing, and you’ll probably get this kind of answer: “Ah, it must be pure joy! No working hours! You are the boss of your own time, and you don’t actually have a boss!” That’s not too far from the truth.
A freelancing career does come with its benefits. For example, you can take your laptop, go to the Maldives and just work on the heavenly beaches. You don’t have to take a break from work, so you can live anywhere you want and still support yourself with great income.
But, let’s take those rose-tinted glasses off for a moment…
This may be the career of your dreams if you only see the pleasant parts of it, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s 15 challenges almost every freelancer faces:
1. The requirements of the clients change… constantly!
Your skills and knowledge may be the perfect match for a particular client. You’ll get tons of praise, good bonuses, and nice feedback. Then, the project will come to an end and you’ll have to work for other people.
The strategies you used for a particular client won’t work for the other one. On the other hand, a variety of experiences makes you more competitive in the long run.
2. Time difference
Working for a client in a distant time zone is not pleasant at all. You have to adjust to their schedule. If they need extremely urgent work, you might need to complete it in the middle of the night.
You'll have to master the art of time management to deal with this problem. This post provides some valuable insights on things to focus on if you want to be more productive.
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3. You might face unpleasant clients
This is the sad reality of freelancing: sometimes you’ll face unclear guidelines, unrealistic deadlines, requirements for endless revisions, changes of instructions in the middle of the process, cancellation of the projects… you name it.
Some customers don’t pay even when they get what they’ve been looking for. Experienced freelancers have inner radars; they know how to sense a scam. However, most of us fall into at least one trap during the beginning of our careers.
4. Financial management
Your main expenses stay the same every month: credit installments, bills, food supplies, etc.
Sometimes you’ll make good money and you’ll have extra, but income flow isn’t constant. There might be months when you earn less than you have to spend.
To avoid such situations, it's good to determine the average income you plan to receive each month based on expenses such as rent, utilities, food and entertainment.
It's important that you stash away at least 10% of your monthly income to create a comfortable buffer. Track every cent you spend, so that in the end of the month you have valuable information on your average expenses and find ways to make some cuts.
5. It’s not that easy to achieve work-life balance
Freelancers are tied down to deadlines. We can’t organize our time quite as consistently as other people. This is a problem, since friends and family might have a hard time understanding or taking us seriously. They think that because their freelance friend is home during the day that it means they’re always available.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If you don’t have some sort of structure to your schedule, you’ll never succeed in this type of career. It's important that you have at least one day off a week when you can completely forget about your job and concentrate on spending quality time with family and friends.
It will help you to avoid burnout as well as give you a chance to recharge and become more productive.
6. You have to hunt for clients!
This is definitely the hardest part of the job. If you don’t have one or few regular clients, you’ll need to work on short-term projects that won’t always be pleasant.
It’s not easy to find a good client in such a competitive market, so freelancers go through stressful periods when they are on the hunt. In the beginning, it's critical for you to build a great portfolio, that's why you have to be ready to work almost for free the first couple of months.
Once your work is recognized, you can count on generous rewards as customers are ready to pay more for outstanding quality.
7. You have to be Jack of all trades.
You need to have great time-management and personal finance skills, as well as do the best work in writing, programming, design, or whatever your calling is. However, you also need to understand different industries and niches.
For example, if you’re a freelance writer, you’ll cover all types of topics and you’ll need to sound like an expert in every single one of them.
8. You will miss some deadlines!
It happens. Sometimes you overestimate your potential and promise to deliver the work by a certain deadline. Then you become sick or face a personal issue that prevents you from committing to the schedule.
Remember to set realistic goals. Don't chase every job, since getting a reputation as an unreliable freelancer may hurt you in the future. Make baby steps at a time, do several not really big projects so you can have a realistic picture of your performance at a certain period of time.
9. Laziness and procrastination
These are the curses of a freelance writer. When you’re not committed to an office, you spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter, even if you promise yourself to be as productive as possible.
There are several rules you have to follow to win a duel against procrastination. My first rule is no social networks until 12 p.m.! Morning is my most productive time of the day, so I don't waste a second doing non-work related things.
Consequently, my second rule says that I have to “eat my frogs first,” which means that I have to do the things I’m most reluctant to accomplish before I do anything else.
Finally, you might find the Pomodoro Technique™ quite effective. Work for a 25-minute period without any distractions and have a 5-minute break. Have a 15-minute break after 4 working periods. Try it, it truly works wonders!
10. Ineffective time management
Freelancers do have a lot of flexibility regarding time management. It’s both the biggest boon and the biggest problem for most of us: we don’t plan our time effectively.
We don’t make proper estimations of the time needed to complete a particular project, so we end up wrapping everything up when the deadline approaches.
To avoid this, break bigger projects into small tasks and schedule the time when you're going to complete them. Take a look at some really cool apps that can help you do that like Todoist, Wunderlist or Any.Do.
11. Different methods of payment
PayPal is cool, but it’s not available in all countries and it’s not always an option. You’ll need e-wallets on different platforms. Sometimes your payments will go through a bank wire.
With time, you'll get a lot of e-wallets accumulated, just make sure you have all the information organized in some file so that you can perform operations easily.
12. High level of flexibility is a must!
This is not necessarily a good thing. Every client has different requirements, and it’s sometimes difficult for a freelancer to make the needed adjustments. If you lack adaptability, freelancing may not be for you.
But you can’t be too flexible either! It's also important to set priorities for your business. You have to be able to say no in situations which won't pan out well for you.
13. Blank portfolio
The most respectable clients in the freelancing industry play it safe: they hire freelancers with great experience and proper recommendations. That’s why so many beginners give up before they land a nice job. No one will hire you with a blank portfolio, and you can’t get experience if no one hires you.
It’s a vicious circle. Start by doing some free work for a friend or an NGO. In the beginning, positive feedback is more valuable then any currency.
14. Tough competition
This is an international industry. Hundreds of people from all around the world will be competing for the same jobs that caught your eye. If your hourly fee is $50, you can rest assured that someone from a third-world country will appear more attractive when they charge $10 per hour. But don't fear that all your jobs will be stolen, maintain high standards and in no time you'll have a lot of projects to choose from.
15. Lack of real communication in the workplace
You don’t have colleagues. No internal company jokes and after-work drinks. You have only your clients to talk to, and that’s not how you would imagine the perfect day at work.
One solution is to find a coworking space that both motivates you to focus on work as well as provides opportunities to meet and socialize with other freelancers.
All these difficulties are real, but does that mean you shouldn’t make an attempt in the freelancing industry? Absolutely not; it may be the chance you’ve always been waiting for!
Antonio is a hopeless optimist who enjoys basking in the world's brightest colors. He loves biking to distant places and occasionally he gets lost. When not doing that he's blogging and teaching ESL. He will be happy to meet you on Facebook and Twitter.