A couple of weeks ago, I got a DM on Instagram from a lovely mum asking me if going freelance was a good idea. She wanted to know whether, as a mum, it made your life easier? Whether I could spend more time with my kids? Whether it was more flexible than a PAYE job? “What where the pros and cons?”, she asked.
It’s a tricky question to answer. I’ve had PAYE jobs previously, but never as a mother. Since having children, I’ve always been freelance and while there are definite benefits to being your own boss, there are huge risks as well.
Let’s talk about the downsides first. If you’re risk averse, freelancing is not for you. There is never a moment in time when you sit down and think, “Wow, I’m earning enough money right now.” There will be times when you’re flush but they’re hard to enjoy because somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the voice that says, “But what if you don’t earn anything next month?” Rather than splashing out on a new Gucci crossover bag, you sensibly put the cash away for the rainy days.
And there are rainy days. There are days when the work simply doesn’t come in. Then there are the days when the boiler breaks. There are days when you’re so sick you can’t get out of bed, which would be fine if you were PAYE, but as you’re not there’s no such thing as sick pay. Or, while we’re at it maternity pay. I was back to work – albeit at home – within a couple of weeks of hoofing a human out of my love tunnel. And before you ask, I don’t recommend it. I ended up releasing a press release while it was embargoed for a major US beauty company. It didn’t go down well and I couldn’t blame the face that I’d just had a baby – it’s not their problem. There’s little protection when it comes to being freelance.
It can also be pretty lonely. Most freelancers end up working alone and craving grown up conversations. Of course, you interact with other people but if you like the social side to working – the Friday drinks, the water cooler chats, the Christmas parties – then it’s possible that freelancing isn’t for you.
It’s also hard to plan anything in advance. You’d love to go on holiday in the summer, but you don’t know what work you’ll have on at that time, or whether you’ll have made enough money to afford it. Christmas last year may have been made up of flowing champagne fountains and fancy presents under the tree, but this year, it’s more Lidl and Secret Santa. There’s nothing wrong with either option, but consistency is not a feature of the freelance lifestyle.
And then there’s your family life. Here’s where the waters get murky. One thing I know to be true is that it isn’t any easier. Yes you do get to spend more time with your kids but that time isn’t always quality time; in fact you spend most of it saying, “Please go and play while mummy does these emails.” When they don’t play, you end up putting them in front of the TV. Work calls come in while your pushing swings at the park or bouncing on the seesaw. You silently and apologetically ask another mum at playgroup to keep an eye on your kids while you pop outside to take a work call.
There are few boundaries and you can end up feeling like you’re not doing anything well. As a freelancer, my stress levels come from constantly managing everything at the same time. There’s no room to compartmentalise – there’s no office to go and hide in for 8 hours a day and no weekend to kick back on and forget about work for 48 hours.
You still need childcare too. Not as much – you don’t have to be in an office 5 days a week – but if you think you can work with a baby or a toddler around, you’re mistaken. Doing it every now and again is ok but constantly having to split your attention isn’t great for your work, your kids or your mental health. The problem with being freelance and childcare is that childcare is notoriously inflexible. When you’re freelance you only want to pay for childcare when you’re working. As you hardly know when you’re going to be working it’s almost impossible to manage and you end up committing to childcare that you may not need or have the money to pay for. It’s tricky.
Then there’s your accounting. This for me is the one thing I absolutely hate, hate, hate about being freelance. Having to do your own accounts is the bane of my existence. Accountants are expensive, so I tend to keep my costs down by organising my own paper work but it nearly kills me every year and even though I’m more or less all digital now – it’s still a pain in my freelancing ass.
But what about the good stuff? Well, it is flexible. You are in charge of your own calendar and you can choose how many days a week you work. I try and take one day off a week entirely – usually a Friday – and spend that time doing the school runs, spending time with Bo who isn’t yet at school – and cooking a proper meal for them. Working four days a week instead of five doesn’t affect my income either. Of course, I still get emails and work calls but anything that can wait until Monday does. As well as that, you’re able to fit all those irritating life admin bits and pieces in without having to book time off or ask permission. Dentists, smear tests, doctor’s appointments can all be slotted in easily without navigating corporate processes.
You can pretty much choose the work you do. After a while of freelancing, work will start to come to you and when you can pick and choose what you do, that’s a great position to be in. Feeling inspired and excited about work is absolutely vital and being freelance certainly lends itself to a more varied work load.
But the real reason us freelancers do what we do? Because the possibilities are endless. You have no idea what you’ll end up working on or who you’ll end up working with. Even more excitingly, you’re not constrained by a pay-check. You earning potential is endless, limited only by your own perception of what’s possible. There’s a huge mount of risk associated with being freelance, but there’s also a huge amount of potential.
So, not particularly helpful if you’re trying to make the decision to freelance or not – apologies for that. As with everything there are pros and cons. I think it takes a certain kind of person to freelance – you need to be able to juggle a million things, go out there and get yourself work, be a self-starter, an activator. You need to be good with money and ok with doing the boring admin that comes with running a business. If you can handle that, then the potential rewards from having autonomy over your working life are huge.