As huge fans of the freelance lifestyle, we tend to focus on the positives at HomeWorkingClub. However, there are some inevitable downsides of freelancing.
Since we’re a site that’s often complemented for an honest and down-to-earth take, I decided to produce an honest summary of the negatives of working freelance.
The downsides of freelancing listed here aren’t based on my own opinions, although I agree with them almost entirely. Instead, I made use of data gathered from our recent survey. After all, why go solely on my opinions when I know what hundreds of freelancers think?!
As well as the downsides themselves, you’ll find below some tips to mitigate them. Before we start, I should emphasise that NONE of these things would ever be enough to tempt me towards having a boss again.
Table of Contents
The Downsides of Freelancing
1. Inconsistent Income
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know we talk a lot about the “feast and famine” of freelancing, so it’s vindicating to see it highlighted as the number one disadvantage.
Some freelancing “influencers” are rather vocal on this subject, claiming that if you have peaks and troughs in income, you’re somehow not doing it right. This is nonsense. As a freelancer you have no control over your clients’ needs, business patterns, or simple good or bad fortune.
Over time, you do generally get to smooth over the peaks and troughs by ensuring you have a diversified client base. The idea here is that you might lose one or two clients but it’s unlikely you’ll lose all of them at once.
That said, nearly 20 years of freelancing has taught me that it’s common to be either swamped with work or scratching around for some more. That just seems to be the way it goes.
TIP! Never put all your eggs in one basket. Having a full schedule thanks to one client might seem like a fabulous result, but it actually means you’re in a rather risky and precarious position.
2. Sales and Marketing
Another disadvantage of freelancing that I’m not surprised to see at the top of the list, sales and marketing is no more than a necessary evil for many freelancers. After all, we’re not all born salespeople.
Marketing is unavoidable though, and there are times you do have to go looking for clients, whether that means tapping up your LinkedIn network or sending out pitches on Upwork.
TIP! If you don’t enjoy the marketing side of freelancing, do it “little and often.” It’s all about keeping that sales pipeline stocked with opportunities.
3. Admin Tasks
There’s a simple reason many of us freelancers don’t enjoy admin tasks: We don’t get paid for them!
It can come as quite a surprise to new freelancers how much time can be lost to admin – everything from chasing up invoices to compiling annual accounts to arranging insurance policies.
TIP! The more organised you are on a daily basis, the fewer laborious admin tasks you will have to do. For example, if you keep all your receipts and scan them into something like FreshBooks, you won’t then have to set aside an entire day to go through a box full at the end of the year.
4. Lack of Sick Pay
There’s not much I can say to put a positive slant on this one. In fact I’ve previously written this article about how much it sucks being ill when you’re a freelancer.
TIPS! You can’t do anything about the lack of sick pay. However, you could look for freelance insurance that could potentially cover you if you have a prolonged period of ill health.
Another tip I would suggest is allowing yourself to give in at the first signs of a bug. A day in bed can sometimes see it off, and is often preferable to ten days of struggling through and not giving your body a chance to fight off the illness.
5. Lack of Work / Life Balance
This is an interesting downside of freelancing because better work / life balance is a big freelancing plus for many of us! It appeared mid table in our survey.
Boundaries can certainly blur, and freelancers have to work hard set and maintain them. For example, I don’t do evenings and weekends, and that’s a rather strict rule. That’s not to say I never work on evenings and weekends, but only on my own projects and not on client work. If I make an exception I expect the client to pay accordingly.
TIP! Your boundaries will be unique to you – this article will help you get your work/life balance right.
6. Social Isolation
As we move down our list of the downsides of freelancing, it’s worth noting that we’re getting into factors that fewer freelancers have an issue with.
Social isolation is often mentioned as a disadvantage of freelancing (and remote working), but it’s telling that it only bothers about 50% of people. It seems feasible that where you fall on the extrovert / introvert scale is a significant factor here.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoy an existence that I’m sure some other people would see as lonely. My wife and I both freelance and we love working independently but in the same place. (I should mention that plenty of married friends say that they would hate to do the same thing!)
Social isolation is a very real thing, however, and I always advise new freelancers to do some soul-searching about how it would affect them.
TIP! If you do miss out of social interactions due to not having a formal workplace, make sure you fill in the gaps in other areas of your life. This can mean in non-work activities, or with more business-focussed things like networking groups and co-working spaces.
7. Technical Issues
I’m very fortunate that I’m a techie myself, so I can be very self-sufficient when it comes to tech issues. However, non-technical freelancers don’t have an IT department to help them and are left at the mercy of phone support lines or live chat functions.
I don’t envy them!
TIP! If you’re “technically challenged,” own it, and do some training and learning to become more competent. This article provides a good starting point.
8. Lack of Holiday Pay
This one’s much the same as the “lack of sick pay” point. Interestingly it appears further down the list, perhaps accurately reflecting that being unwell feels much more unjust than taking a planned holiday!
This isn’t an issue I can sugarcoat. It can also be made even harder by the fact your employed counterparts won’t understand that a holiday for you can be way more expensive. You don’t just have to cover the holiday costs, but also provide for the loss of earnings.
TIP! I suggest taking one of two approaches. The first is to carefully plan your schedule so you can get all of your work squeezed into the week before and the week after some time off. It’s a hectic option, but at least you don’t have to feel that you’re losing money due to being on holiday.
The other is to simply do your budgeting around the fact that you will have x weeks per year with zero income.
Both options are better than trying to “just keep up” and work while you are away. It can work on occasion, but you’re flirting with burn-out if you do it all the time.
9. Paying for your Own Training and Development
I suspect many freelancers look back on their employed days and suddenly realise the value of the training courses past employers sent them on.
It’s easy to neglect training and learning as a freelancer, but it’s a really bad idea. You can soon end up with outdated skills. Learning new things helps keep your working life interesting too.
But, yes, the need to cough up your own money is one of the downsides of freelancing. Thankfully, there’s so much free and inexpensive training out there these days that you should be spoiled for choice.
TIP! Take a good look at Coursera’s Professional Certificates. Delivered by companies including Facebook, Google and IBM, they have strong credibility and are much more affordable than formal college courses.
10. Insufficient Time Off
This was right at the bottom of the list, so it’s not a huge issue for many freelancers.
In fact, in one way it’s not a bad problem to have! If you don’t have enough time off, you clearly have plenty of work.
TIP! Take advantage of quieter times of year. When you do have one of those inevitable “lulls,” relax and enjoy it, rather than spend it fretting about where the next contract is coming from.
As we said at the start, these downsides of freelancing certainly aren’t enough to put us off, but they’re well worth being aware of. If you’re new to freelancing, but still like the idea of it after reading about all the disadvantages(!) check out my Freelance Kickstarter course.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.