Is Freelancing a Viable Option?

by Vault Careers | October 18, 2011

A recent Daily News article shined a spotlight on freelancers in New York who face increasingly difficult situations to collect paychecks on time, if at all, during the current economy.  The whole point of freelancing is the ability to be your own boss and control your own destiny, so when they have trouble getting paid, it begs the question of whether or not freelancing is even a real consideration these days.    

I, personally, know the rewards of freelancing during the economic downturn.  When I was out of work and looking for a job, I knew I couldn’t live off unemployment alone.  Freelancing allowed me to work around my own schedule, providing me with the flexibility I needed to look for a new full-time job, while allowing me a security blanket of additional funds. 

My first freelance assignment involved putting together a calendar of community events for the old community newspaper I had worked for.  That resulted in a similar freelance assignment for a quarterly magazine that offered up a calendar of cultural events to tourists in the Bronx.  Before long, I was putting together large-scale publications together for my old paper, writing freelance articles for a college website and working on public relations assignments for a small boutique agency.  In addition to the assignments earning me additional money that allowed me to live a normal life and think about my future without the stresses of unemployment deflating my ego, freelancing allowed me the ability to stay sharp in my chosen professions while I sought out a full-time job.  Freelancing also allowed me to network and pick up additional freelance jobs, while also giving me something new to put on my resume, erasing the gap of employment that plagues may jobseekers.  Freelancing also kept me sane when I thought I was destined for a life of sitting in my living room watching old reruns of Saved by the Bell. 

Is freelancing still a viable option? I think so, but you need to make sure you freelance smart.  Here are some tips:

Determine if freelancing is worth the time and effort.  I gave up on a freelance assignment I continued to perform, because I felt a sense of obligation to the company.  Now that I was back to working full-time, I saw that the freelance project was eating too much into my personal life and the pay was not worth the time I was putting into the work.  If you are in need of money fast, sometimes you have to take anything that might come your way, but if you have the ability to be picky, choose wisely.  How long will the freelance project take?  How much are you being paid for your services?  What’s the breakdown in terms of dollars per hour?  Is it something you enjoyed working on?  These are questions to take into consideration. 

Sign a contract if possible.  Contracts could affect you in a negative way, but they are important to guarantee you don’t get used and abused on the job.  While, you may have to sign a non-compete clause, hurting your options of working with similar companies on a freelance basis and a confidentiality clause that will keep you from discussing the work you perform to some degree, contracts also lay out exactly what is expected of you in terms of the work you need to perform, and how much you are to be paid for said work.  When it is clearly stated in a contract, you can refer to it when a company asks you to do more than it originally requested, and when a company doesn’t pay you in a timely manner. 

Research companies.  The latest Daily News story discusses situations where freelance workers weren’t paid on time or not paid at all.  There are situations where a formerly reliable company becomes unreliable due to new financial difficulties, but you can’t really do anything to counter that unless you are able to get paid upfront before you start the work.  However, you can research companies and find out what other freelancers are saying about them.  If freelancers are complaining that a company doesn’t pay on time…ever, then maybe you should move to the next offer.  Learn all you can before accepting a job you end up doing for free. 

Be diligent.  Depending on the terms of your work, you need to maintain communication with the company you are working for.  Don’t expect them to just pay you on time.  Make sure you send that invoice in as soon as the work is complete and then if they do not pay you in a timely manner, continue to call them when warranted to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve. 

Be careful of court.  The article offers the opinion that taking a company to small claims court could have detrimental affect on your freelance career.  It can.  If you come out looking like a troublemaker, other companies might choose not to employ your services.  You deserve to get paid, but always try to solve disputes diplomatically before using court as a last resort. 

--Jon Minners, Vault.com

Further Reading:

Freelancers in New York face increasingly difficult situations to collect paychecks on time, at all

Filed Under: Job Search | Networking | Resumes & Cover Letters


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