What are the biggest challenges of a freelance career?


By The Drum Team | Editorial

April 3, 2012 | 5 min read

In a quest to identify the top UK freelancers across the creative industries, The Drum asked its readers to nominate their top three freelancers. We then whittled down the list and caught up with some of our recommended freelancers to find out what drives them, what challenges they’ve faced and what advice they’d give to others considering the career.

What would ever drive someone to become a freelancer… other than the whole working from home, choosing your own hours, being your own boss thing? Okay, so maybe there are some benefits, but for most of us it conjures up images of a life not knowing where your next pay cheque is coming from, endless filling out of tax forms and chasing people for payment. But there must be more to it than that. Surely.

Well, recent research by recruitment company Major Players found that freedom of choice is much more important to freelancers than greater financial reward. 44% of integrated freelancers and 35% in creative & design, it found, rate greater choice over projects as the most appealing aspect of freelancing, while 29% of integrated and 31% of creative & design freelancers were chiefly motivated by gaining greater creative experience and opportunity.

The research also found that the least appealing aspect was periods of inactivity between assignments, with 39% of design & creative and 37% of integrated stating this reason, followed by 22% most concerned with the comparative insecurity of freelancing.

Major Players’ survey also noted that freelancers expressed opinions that the everyday life of a freelancer was among their motivations, with “flexible working times around children” and “freedom from the stink of internal politics” given as reasons.

In a series of online articles, we talk to a few of our 2012 recommended freelancers to find out why they ditched the nine-to-five and some of the benefits of a freelance career. Today’s question is:

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced as a freelancer?

Matthew Connors-Jones

Making initial client contact and getting a foot in the door takes time, love and attention, especially if you are unknown by the client. It can be frustrating just waiting, sending copious mails and making phone call after phone call, but when it finally comes off, the sense of achievement totally outweighs the effort.

Alan Black

Managing deadlines. I took the decision to jettison some clients because I couldn’t deliver quality work to their schedules. Now, I seek out bigger projects with longer deadlines. If I need to bring in an associate writer, I can plan for that.

Darren Langley

Managing schedules to ensure all the work meets the necessary milestones and deadlines. Often as a freelancer I’m working on five or six projects concurrently and I’m the one responsible for delivering the work on time and to the highest standard possible. Fortunately managing my time has always been one of my greatest strengths, but I know it isn’t every freelancer’s forte.

Tom Ward

The biggest challenge I find is anchoring yourself to a task, as my time sheet clocks up and the to do list becomes longer than the A1 my mind starts to wonder on to new tasks. The thing that stops me from doing this is the end product, seeing a happy client, the proud owners of a campaign.

Laurence Winram

Managing the schedule when you’re booked up and don’t want to let that trusted client down can be a challenge. And then of course the quiet times, but that's not so bad these days.

Luan Wise

Freelancing is not a 9-5 job… but I’m not a 9-5 person, so that’s OK! Managing time efficiently is always going to be the biggest challenge.

Pearse O’Halloran

Finding work and staying motivated. The first year was really hard. Most of my time was spent trying to market myself with many dead ends and knock backs deflating my enthusiasm... But, in the subsequent years as the client base, portfolio and reputation grows, it’s getting easier and more enjoyable.

Ross McCulloch

Our wee girl was born nine months ago, at first it was daunting trying to balance work and family life but that’s something that’s got much easier with time. Ultimately, managing your time is tricky for any freelancer; you need to know when to say ‘no’ to a project – there’s nothing worse than leaving a client in the lurch because you’ve taken on too much.

Laptop image via Shutterstock

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