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On being self-employed

I have been self-employed for most of my working life.

I was just 24 the first time I formed my first business from home. In those days in the late-1980s, this was unique enough that a local Phoenix-area business magazine wrote a brief article about it. [I was so young and naive!]

I’ve had a handful of full-time jobs in my career, but I seemed to always go back to working for myself at home. In my last stint as an employee, starting in 2004, I worked entirely from home. Later, my husband I formed a corporation and we’ve been entirely self-employed ever since.

The good and the bad

There are good things and bad things about working for yourself as a freelancer, but it’s definitely my preferred way to work. Any time I get overwhelmed by my work, I only have to think about it for a moment to realize that I am much happier working this way.

In this post I will list some of the pros and cons of being self-employed and working from home.

But first, a note about income: Some may argue that since the hourly rate charged by a freelancer is typically higher than what a salaried employee is paid, the freelancer is generally better off. But if you subtract the costs listed below (more details on those costs in this blog post), the net income often works out to be more comparable. This can of course vary greatly across industries, roles, and individual freelancers.


The positives

I don’t have to commute.
I have been working from home since 2004, although now that we’ve entered the world shaped by Covid, many employees work from home now too.

I answer to myself and nobody else.
Of course, I answer to my clients, but otherwise I’m in charge.  I find this to be an empowering way to work, requiring a high level of responsibility and accountability.

My husband and I get to be together.
We run our business at home together, so we get to be together all the time. We are each others’ favorite co-workers, and we joke often about office romance. The fact that we met at work in 1990 makes this slightly more amusing.

I have more control over what I do.
I pursue and take the work that I want and say no to what I don’t want. Of course, sometimes you need to say yes to whatever comes along, but the more you accumulate experience and build your reputation, the more options you generally have.

I take whatever time off that I want.
I don’t have to ask for anybody’s permission to take time off as long as I am moving my clients’ projects forward and I’m not behind on my work. Of course, my inner workaholic perhaps has me working more than I should, but that’s an entirely different issue.

No useless meetings and status reports.
Naturally, I have occasional meetings with my clients and I need to keep them informed of progress, but these emails and meetings are always to-the-point communications. Those interminable meetings that people like to joke about? I never have to deal with those.

No co-workers.
While some people might consider this a negative, I really enjoy being alone and not working with other people around [other than my husband].


The negatives

No employer benefits.
I have no employer benefits to subsidize my health and disability insurance costs, contribute to my 401(k), pay me for time off, or pay my Social Security tax. (More details in this blog post).

No tech equipment or support.
I have to provide my own computers, software subscriptions, internet access, server administration, and tech support. Luckily my husband is extremely tech-savvy and is able to provide most of what we need.

I have to keep up on sales.
Keeping busy means I must constantly be marketing our services to keep our schedule full. To help with this, I get some of our work by subcontracting through several local agencies. Of course we earn less on that work, but it’s a good way to avoid too much downtime.

No safety net.
If I lose a client, there is zero safety net: no unemployment benefits. It has happened only two times in my long self-employed career that a client dropped me with almost no notice and I found myself needing to scramble to get a new gig. The lesson here is to make sure you have a contract that spells out the terms of ending the relationship.

Unbillable time.
The time I spend marketing my business, invoicing, clearing out my inbox, and maintaining my computers is time nobody is paying for.

I am at work all the time.
This one is my fault: I work 7-day weeks and take very little time off each year. On good weekends I will work just a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but sometimes the weekend days are just as busy as any other day. I guess this deserves its own blog post someday!


Is freelancing for you?

The life of a freelancer has many benefits, but as you can see from this post, it’s not for everybody. Many people are switching to the full-time freelancing life, but if this is something you are considering, be sure you are prepared for the downsides that come along with the upsides!


Feature image, Pexels: Andrea Davis
Icons are from The Noun Project