There are times when freelancing's tough and when the work's not flowing you question whether it's something you should be doing. In good times, however, it really is the best type of profession you can do. So we asked the content publishing giant, Contently, what the future looks like and when it comes to freelancing do we still need to choose between freedom and security?
Guest post by Jordan Teicher, Associate Editor at Contently.
During my time in high school and college, my dad always told me: “Make sure you control your own destiny.” He meant it in a traditional sense—get good grades so employers will want you. Have choices rather than only one option.
For traditional career paths, my dad is right. But when I quit a full-time position to become a freelance writer eight months after graduating college, his words took on a new meaning. I made the move to control my own destiny at the expense of a steady paycheck from a job in TV production that didn’t have much upside.
Surprisingly, even though I sacrificed job security, my dad was supportive of my freelance career. He echoed the idea of controlling one’s destiny, but with a twist: As a self-employed writer, I could elude the bureaucracy and politicking many full-time employees face in an office culture—as long as I found a way to earn enough money to support myself.
Historically, freelancers faced the unavoidable tradeoff of choosing freedom over security. Sure, there were ways to balance the two concepts, for example, by diversifying your workload even if it meant keeping a few uninspiring clients around for the money. But for the most part, freedom and security were mutually exclusive. I believed that when I began my own career, and when the work flowed I loved the freedom, but when it ebbed, trust me, I second-guessed my move to freelance. Hunting for rent money every day will make even the most confident person feel vulnerable at times.
I remained a full-time freelancer for one year before taking an editorial job at Contently. During that period, I built up my portfolio with clips from Slate, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, and a few smaller publications. Graduating to a more stable position was always part of my long-term plan because freelancing, despite its liberties, never felt truly sustainable. And even though I landed bylines with some of today’s most popular publishers, I constantly felt like I was struggling uphill.
The dawn of a new era
But to me, there’s reason to be very optimistic about the future of freelancing. According to a recent survey commissioned by Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans identify themselves as freelancers, and the number is only supposed to increase over time. Now that self-employed creatives account for such a significant chunk of the workforce, we’re starting to see the foundation of an important element that’s been missing from freelance culture: infrastructure.
By nature, a lot of freelancers work in solitary conditions, and it’s hard to control your destiny without any support. But now there are a number of networks on the rise providing freedom and security. At Contently, where I’m associate editor, we help freelancers find work with brands and media companies. Thrive gives creatives easy-to-use work management software. Freelancers Union just launched their National Benefits Platform for freelancers who need comprehensive health insurance. Meetup lets freelancers connect and coordinate group meetings around the world. The resources are available, and they’re only getting better.
The one area that still needs improvement, though, is financial security. Freelancers with enough experience and the right contacts can earn healthy incomes that top six-figures, but regardless of how much money you make, getting paid in a reasonable timeframe is always difficult. Workers often have to wait for client approval before compensation gets cleared, and then there’s usually some accounting lag that lasts 30 to 60 days. Therefore, as the freelance economy grows, I believe we’ll start to see more innovation aimed at giving self-employed workers more control over when they’re paid.
At Contently, we think of it like this: Salaried workers don’t have their checks withheld by bosses until approval, so why should it be any different for freelancers? We decided earlier this year to pay people upon submission. The relatively simple gesture is one way to help our writers and multimedia creatives focus on their work rather than overdue invoices.
Other companies have also been empowering the self-employed with financial initiatives. Fundbox is a service that solves cash-flow problems by issuing money upfront to freelancers who can pay back the short-term loans over time (with minimal clearing fees). And Deca, a new journalism cooperative, compensates writers and editors with a unique revenue-sharing system based on profits per story. Most importantly, technology has made it easier for these types of startups to let freelancers work, connect, and get paid all around the world.
Looking to the future
Right now, a lot of these resources are still developing. The market will take time to adapt, but when it does, we’ll be able to drop the archaic practices that made it difficult for freelancers to succeed in the past. One point of emphasis, at least in America, will be tax assistance for the self-employed. Sometimes, without a company deducting taxes automatically from each paycheck, understanding tax nuances can lead to freelance headaches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an innovative startup provide simple accounting services to freelancers in the near future.
Controlling your destiny is all about having the right options at your disposal. And with all these resources at our disposal (and with more innovation coming in the future), it’s a lot easier for freelancers to look on the professional bright side. When I started my own freelance career about two years ago, the infrastructure wasn’t quite in place. But now, freelancers don’t have to choose between freedom or security. As long as they know where to look, they can have both.
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