In the South, you don’t talk about politics and religion. “You don’t want to make anyone mad at you,” that’s what my parents used to say. In much the same manner, many people avoid talking about the issues deep within the freelancing industry. I have avoided talking about these issues myself. Saying this like, “I don’t want to lose clients.”
However, that time has passed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the only way to grow and change is to talk about dirty topics. How can you compromise and learn about other beliefs and views when you avoid two of the biggest factors in America? How can we improve our growing industry without talking about how it sucks?
So there it is freelancing sucks. It’s ripe with scams, gurus, underpay, and overwork. Bad clients will treat you like an intern rather than another business owner and expert. The government doesn’t have any regulation on it like they do regular business. Finally, unlike an employee, we have to pay for our own business expenses, business takes, and other business costs with almost the same pay per hour an employee gets.
Yet, there are things that we can do. It could be worse and there are great clients (such as all my current clients!) Let’s dive in with the Instagram post that prompted this whole post.
View this post on Instagram
When I post photos of skylines and talk about how happy I am to have my job, I avoid one topic. ⠀ ⠀ How much being a freelancer sucks.⠀ So, why talk about it now? ⠀ Because things need to change. ⠀ ⠀ There have been more times than I can count a client has been rude because I respond right away. ⠀ ⠀ Each time I was sleeping when the message came through and not over 24 hours passed. ⠀ ⠀ When talking about money, many clients balk that I charge at least $35 an hour. ⠀ ⠀ A normal response is along the lines of "I only pay an intern $15 an hour!" ⠀ ⠀ I am an expert with six years of experience, a degree, and hundreds of happy clients. ⠀ ⠀ I am a business owner. ⠀ Not an intern. ⠀ We need to change. ⠀ ⠀ All the bad parts said I love seeing new places and traveling around the world. ⠀ ⠀ Through bootstrapping I was able to build a business that is positive each and every month.⠀ ⠀ I just hope that as my business grows, our mindset of freelancers as intern-replacement changes. ⠀ ⠀ Look out for a blog, I have to mush to say for a simple post.
I’ve thought that statement at least once a week for the past year. However, until this month, I’ve never said it on a public forum. Why? Because I was afraid that it would hurt my chances for getting clients. While I still think telling my opinions could cause me to loose a potential client, I now believe that the only potential clients I will loose are those not willing to talk and the clients that are part of the “freelance sucks” problem. So, why exactly do I think freelancing sucks?
Scams & Gurus
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been approached with a scam from a bad client, and more often, Guru. Businesses and business owners that fall into this category take advantage of new freelancers each and every day. From bad contracts to broken verbal agreements, they are hard to stop and even harder to prosecute and stop. Sometimes they want you to do a test for free and other times they promise to pay you in total at the end. Even worse, “work for exposure.”
What’s an even bigger issue is the pay issue. As a professional business owner, I have to pay both employee and employer tax, health care, insurance, and regular business expenses all myself. As such, I have started charging a base hourly rate of at least $35 an hour. If I were to work full-time, that’s roughly $70,000 a year before paying two types of taxes and business expenses. Not nearly as much as the average business owner makes each year.
This year, I will make roughly $20,000 after taxes. Why? Because I worked most of my hours at $15 an hour before expenses. I thought I had to. I thought working for less than I made as a marketing intern was something that just had to be done. That’s not true! I (and most other freelancers) are degree-holding experts with years of experience in their field. No business owner and expert freelancer should have to worry about working over 40 hours a week to make a decent salary (or even making bills.)
There are more times than I can count where last-minute work has been given to me with the expectation I would be able to get it done within hours, whether on the weekend, at night, or even when I’m on vacation! It makes me angry to see business owners treating freelancers like a computer that can take in tasks 24/7.
Just like employees, we have lives outside of work. In addition, we often have more than one client. That’s not to say that I don’t take short-turn around work, just that constantly expecting a freelancer to pull last-minute work on the weekends and at night isn’t good business practice, especially if you and your employees aren’t doing so as well.
Freelancers are Business Owners
The last issue that I often see in our industry is treating freelancers as employees rather than equals. Freelancing is a business to business service in which a business owner offers a product or service to another business owner. It is not an employee/employer relationship. This dynamic is very important in making sure that the freelancer can work on their own terms to get the agreed-upon work completed. It also ensures that the freelancer can speak their mind about changes that should happen to grow the business further. Finally, it is directly related to all the above issues.
What Can We Do to Help Freelancing Get Better?
In general, work on the things from above! Pay the freelancer by the hour 1.5 times what you would pay an employee at the same level of experience working on the same job. They will finish a job faster and only get paid when they are working on your specific project, so while this might sound like a lot of money, it’s generally cheaper than having an employee would be.
Also, respect their schedules! Freelancers should tell you when they can respond to you, how fast their turnaround time is, and what to expect from them (if they don’t, then your freelancer might be the problem!) When they tell you this, then make sure that you respect that. Send them information and acknowledge that you understand when to expect something back. Respect when they tell you they can’t do your work at the moment.
Finally, keep an equal relationship! Freelancers are business owners and experts, not employees. Out position and role allow for better control of your project and better results. However, if you begin to treat a freelancer as an employee, then you will see a drop in work quality and increased tensions. Not to mention, you will often see freelancers leave as they look for better clients!
I Still Love Freelancing
As a freelancer and business owner, I have multiple clients all over the world. These clients are business owners themselves, and it is their businesses that I work to grow each day. Freelancing gives me the independence I need while traveling the world. It also allows me to help more than one business at a time, set my own hours, and reach my eventual goals with greater ease. My clients are the best clients I could ask for.
I started freelancing when after I graduated from college because I couldn’t find a job. However, it’s turned into something that I wouldn’t leave even if I received a full-time job offer. Though Helianthus Advising, I am able to work with multiple businesses and people each day. Each month, I am able to see the business grow and celebrate new milestones with them. While there are things that need to change in the industry, this burgeoning field is a great place to be.