The words “freelancer” and “gig economy” get tossed around a lot in our modern economy. They aren’t exactly the same, though their meanings are often conflated. Someone in the gig economy might be someone who, a generation ago, did a lot of odd jobs.
A freelancer is more like a solopreneur, tends to be someone who considers themselves a business owner, who specializes in one skill or skill set and works with many different clients or customers in a B2B transaction. As a business innovator, a freelancer often has to juggle multiple roles, from content creation to business consulting, making them a one-stop solution for diverse client needs.
What does it mean to be a freelancer in the modern economy?
The word “freelancer” dates back to kings and knights. Some knights were beholden to their lords, while others were available to hire. Those freelancers have survived to modern times, selling their skills to the highest bidder. Running your own business as a freelancer is an ongoing balancing act between worker and business owner.
Accountable to yourself
As a freelancer, there’s no one standing behind you checking your time management or your email inbox. If you spend all day messing around on social media instead of getting your work done, you’re the one to blame. It takes discipline to be a freelancer, whether your business focuses on content creation, web design, or business consulting.
Hustling for jobs
While a freelancer may work in one particular market or skillset, they are running a business on their own, and must also wear the hat of a marketer. Because most freelancers are working short-term contracts for different employers – in fact, if they’re working longer term contracts, they start to run into difficulties with the IRS about whether or not they’re an employee – freelancers must always be pitching their next project. That can be a hard skill to master if you’re mostly in the game for the web design.
The good news about freelancing skills is that most of the time you already own all the equipment you need to do your job. Many freelancing jobs are done on computers, and most people own laptops and desktops at this point in time.
Getting your work done on your couch definitely keeps your overhead low – though it can cause increases in utilities and food bills that people don’t always expect.
One reason that many people begin freelancing is the ability to work whenever they need to work. For busy parents struggling to manage childcare, those caring for elderly loved ones without flex time available at their current job, or just those people who prefer a different schedule than the traditional nine-to-five, being able to get work done when the time is right is a valuable commodity.
The place where this can make freelancers struggle ties back to accountability; no one keeps a freelancer on a schedule other than themselves.
One truth of being a freelancer is that the workload comes and goes, especially in the early stages of building one’s business. One week might be incredibly slammed as a deadline approaches, then work can dry up for weeks on end.
One skill freelancers excel at is leveling out their deadlines so that work is more consistent. Many freelancers also face the challenge of securing health insurance on their own, which can be a complex and costly endeavor in the U.S. market
Time management skills are a must
Frankly, if you can’t figure out how to get off social media, turn off the TV, and get to work without someone standing over your shoulder and nagging you, you will not be successful as a freelancer. That doesn’t mean you have to do it through sheer willpower; apps that shut down your web browser, apps that create minimalist workspaces with few distractions, and task management apps that track the amount of time you spend doing various things can give you valuable insight into how you’re spending your time.
If you use the tools available to you, you can learn to manage yourself exceptionally well and build a solid career as a freelancer.
There are many benefits to being a freelancer. The hours can be hard, the managing a business aspect has a steep uphill curve, and the time management aspect really is harder than people think. But being your own boss, being able to follow your own ideals and do your work your way, and the ability to have the free time you need to take care of family matters can all be an incredible boon.
If you have a marketable skill and a current job, it’s a good idea to dip your toe into the freelancing world slowly. Try out a few different websites, connect with clients, and learn what your strengths are. Maybe freelancing is right for you; you’ll never know if you don’t try.