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What Does Freelance Mean?

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Going It Alone: The Work of a Freelancer

Working for someone else doesn't always work. If the struggle to juggle multiple schedules is getting you and your family down, going freelance might be a good option. Freelance workers enjoy flexible schedules and can negotiate performance expectations with clients. Still, self-employment has its own set of hazards, so it's important to know what to expect before you quit your bricks-and-mortar job.

What Does It Mean to Be a Freelance Worker?

Freelance workers contract with other businesses and individuals to perform services. The relationship between a freelancer and a client is contractual, and the client doesn't have any of the responsibilities that an employer would have toward an employee. This means that the client isn't responsible for payroll taxes or providing benefits, such as worker's compensation in case of an accident, or unemployment compensation if the company goes out of business.

Instead, freelance workers set their own fees, hours and terms, though usually these are negotiable between freelancer and client. While freelancers don't have the protections that employees have, they do have a lot of control over their day-to-day work life. This can be particularly important for parents who have small children or kids with special needs. In two-parent families, freelance work allow a stay-at-home parent to contribute to the family income while still engaging in homemaking and child care duties.

How to Find Freelance Gigs

As a freelancer, it's on you to find your own clients. For many freelancers, this initial hurdle can be daunting. However, you can develop a roster of clients by doing one or all of the following:

  • Be accessible: Let people know that you are open for business by creating business cards, launching an online portfolio, posting an update on LinkedIn, and making it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you via email, text or phone.
  • Show off your work: Keep your website, portfolio or social media fan pages updated with your work. For example, if you are a musician, upload clips of songs or videos from your most recent shows. Writers should provide links to their latest publications.
  • Talk to previous employers: It's not unusual for companies to hire former employees as freelancers. In fact, some freelancers make the initial transition from employment to freelancing by quitting their current job and then doing the same or similar work for the same company on a freelance basis. 
  • Tap your social networks: Make sure your friends, family and professional colleagues know that you've gone freelance. They may not be able to hire you themselves, but they can refer you to people in their networks.
  • Search job ads: Set aside time each week to hunt for new clients. Traditional job boards often post ads for companies and individuals looking to hire freelancer workers. Blogs and websites specifically for freelancers as well as industry-specific publications often post job notices. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Freelancing

If you ask a freelancer what he or she likes and dislikes about self-employment, you're likely to get an earful. In the end, being a freelancer means that you're a business owner. While owning a business can offer great potential for professional development as well as financial success, there is also a great deal of risk involved. Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a freelance professional:

Advantages

  • Flexible schedule: For many people, particularly parents and caregivers, being able to set your own schedule is the most significant advantage of working for yourself. This is particularly true for parents of younger children who need careful supervision, yet who have changing schedules throughout the school year.
  • Increased earnings: As a freelancer, you may be able to command a higher hourly rate for your work. While you will have to make your own benefit contributions and pay your own taxes, you may still find that you are coming out ahead when you can negotiate directly with the client.
  • Project choice: When you work for somebody else, they get to tell you what to do. As a freelancer, you often have more freedom in choosing the projects that you want to work on. This is particularly true as you gain more experience and begin to develop a good reputation in your industry.
  • Choice of workplace: While some freelancers work on-site for their clients, many freelancers have the option of choosing their own work environment. Some possibilities include working from home or in local coffee shops or co-working environments. Being able to work from home often has some cost advantages as well: You won't need to spend as much money on work clothing, you can save money on gas or public transit, and you won't have to spend unpaid hours commuting to and from work.

Disadvantages

  • Increased responsibility: As a freelancer, you are 100 percent responsible for your own business. This means that it's up to you to sell yourself to clients, to handle all bookkeeping tasks, and make quarterly estimated tax payments to local, state and federal governments. You will also need to research and obtain relevant business permits and licenses.
  • Self-management: Having a boss can sometimes be frustrating, but you may be surprised to find yourself missing him or her after a day spent trying to keep yourself on schedule, placating multiple clients. Setting your own schedule means that it's up to you to keep yourself on track. You also won't have a buffer between yourself and clients: It's all up to you.
  • Minimal safety net: If you lose your clients or can't continue working for some reason, you won't be able to claim unemployment benefits. It's up to you to have enough savings to cover gaps between gigs or periods of time that you can't work due to illness, injury or family responsibilities.
  • Client non-payment: Unfortunately, many clients can be slow to pay their freelance workers. In fact, some clients may decline to pay you at all. If you have a slow or nonpaying client, you're responsible for trying to collect payment. This may mean having to go to court.