10 Ways Freelance Life Is Different Than a Day Job

04/07/2015 05:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

Wouldn't it be grand if you could trade in the tedious predictability of the 9-to-5 grind for 100 percent control of your efforts and the resulting profits, plus the authority to give yourself as much vacation time as you need?

It's really not so far-fetched, I promise. Flexible, on-demand work arrangements are now ubiquitous in a wide variety of industries, from creative to technology, HR, and everything in-between. And they're becoming increasingly sought-after by companies large and small as an avenue to integrate diverse talent into their operations without the commitment of adding a full-time, salaried employee.

The 34 percent of today's workforce with independent contractor status is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020, says Forbes Magazine, which means the time is ripe for jumping into the freelance game. As Forbes reported in "5 Predictions for the Freelance Economy in 2015," the "seismic market shift in the labor force" not only involves dramatically more contractors, but is also being embraced by the major players in the business world. CEOs are adding freelance management systems, strategizing on ways to attract the best freelance talent, and creating dedicated budgets strictly for contract hires.


What I'm trying to say is, the work is out there, so cross that excuse off your list. That being said, there are no guarantees that you'll get clients to take a chance on you, or that you'll retain their loyalty after the first hire. But that's exactly the kind of danger that keeps you on your toes. There's no autopilot setting in the freelance world, but you will enjoy a distinct sense of pride knowing that you're being chosen again and again for the values you embody and the results you deliver.

The attractiveness of a flexible schedule and the lure of calling your own shots is enough to coax some people away from the comfort of a day job, but life as a freelancer is quite a different picture than the fantasy of working for an hour or so a day on the beach, especially in places like Hawaii where the cost of living demands you hustle even harder. (Plus it's really hard to get sand out from under your keys, believe me I've tried it.)

Here's an abridged version of what life tends to look like when you're your own boss.

1. You're never really off duty.
Forget the sweet relief of punching out when five o'clock comes. You are your business, so wherever you go, whatever you do, you've always got to keep one foot in "on-the-clock" mode. That may involve answering emails on your phone at the gym, getting up before the sun for a conference call with a client in another time zone, or taking a time-out from Christmas dinner to pop open your laptop. But then again, it all means investing time in yourself, so it never feels like an inconvenience.

2. You may or may not get paid.
This is a difficult one to accept, but I've found that keeping a fear of not having checks roll in top-of-mind actually keeps me from picking the beach over my laptop many days. I've had some clients settle invoices within a few days, and others take three months, where I've had to use the phrase "legal action" to motivate them to pay attention to my invoice. It's crucial to keep your savings well stocked to cover the "check is in the mail" clients as well as periods of slow work.

3. You have complete control of your work environment.
Yes, working in your pajamas is amazing. But it also makes it way too easy to crawl back into bed after a few emails are sent off. I make it a point to shower and get ready as if I were heading to an office, and sometimes I'll set a start time for myself and hustle to get to a coffee shop so it feels a little more like I'm showing up for my business.

4. You can set your own hours.
If it's a particularly beautiful day, I will rearrange my schedule to make sure I'm on the beach for a few solid hours. This may mean I'm on my laptop writing at night exhausted and sufficiently sun-kissed, but it's still a hundred times better than spending my evening flipping channels.

5. No water cooler talk.
Oh how great it is not to have to engage in canned chit-chat with office cohorts in attempt to help speed up the flow of a 9-hour day. Even though there are times when I miss having colleagues around to bounce ideas off of, I get a distinct joy from the fact that I don't have to hear "think outside of the box," "case of the Mondays," or "threw me under the bus" ever again.

6. You have to constantly market yourself.
There simply is no such thing as resting on your laurels when all of your eggs are in your own business basket. You start to view everyone you meet as a potential client or channel for word-of-mouth marketing. This doesn't mean to drop a hard sell message at church or bother your librarian, but you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to get to know others and wait for the opening to share your story.

7. No more wishing you were doing something else.
Once you shift from dreaming to doing, you'll find the headspace once occupied by fantasizing is now freed up for creative strategies on how to move your business forward. Ideas become action and you build momentum with every effort you undertake, from ordering business cards to telling your barista about your services.

8. You will inspire others.
There's a general understanding that freelance life is a high-risk/high-reward endeavor, and you may feel an instant wave of respect and envy as soon as you mention what you do. Just by telling people my story of how I came to be freelance, I put a face to the fantasy and help others see how attainable it really is.

9. You set your work-life balance.
I love to write, but if I did it every day nonstop, I would hate to write. In order to stay fresh and engaged, I need a yin to my yang, a play to my work. On a perfect day, I write for the first half and do two or three "me" activities during the second half--jiu-jitsu, swimming, hiking, baking, lunch with a friend, volunteering, etc.

10. You will wear many hats.
When first starting out, you are your admin, your sales dept., your accounting staff, and your labor force. It's somewhat overwhelming, but you'll get more efficient at all of these tasks and hopefully at some point be able to hire part-time people who can take care of the aspects you'd rather not so you can focus on what you do best.

If there were to be a number 11, it would read something like, "You'll be happier and more challenged than you've ever imagined." So take the leap, start by pulling a thread and see what happens. Talk to other freelancers and be a sponge. Immerse yourself in all things related to your industry and network like crazy. Believe in yourself and your abilities, put all of your energy into it, and enjoy the sublime rewards.