The Pros and Cons of Freelancing
As a recent journalism and marketing graduate, I’m pulled to freelancing more than full-time staff roles. I even had a job as a general assignment reporter up until two weeks ago, when I quit. The flexibility with time, desire to travel and feeling unsure about sticking to one beat have led me to freelancing.
Anyone in the media industry that spends a decent amount of time on Twitter often hears about the ups and downs of freelancing. It’s been one of my main concerns, too, as I only freelanced two articles last year. And by the time I was paid for those pieces, the money was already gone.
But as I enter this new stage in my career, I wanted to get a better picture of what the pros and cons of freelancing are. And why so many freelancers, of all kinds, are opting for this instead of staff positions. So I decided to reach out to veteran freelancers to see what the pros and cons of freelancing are.
Here’s what I learned from three freelancers who’ve stopped freelancing, started, and are still going.
Armon Sadler is a freelance writer and has had multiple starts and stops throughout the years, as he’s found it difficult to land a staff writer job. He said some of the biggest pros he’s experienced are being a free agent, not being tied to one place and having the freedom to expand his reach.
“Freelancing allows you to hone your abilities within all of those lanes of writing, network, and decide where you may be happiest if a staff writer job opens up,” Sadler said. “You aren’t beholden to a minimum daily or weekly requirement from an editor, there are no non-competes, and if you have a bad experience you can simply never pitch or accept a commission again.”
As a freelancer, you can diversify your streams of income, too — something most traditional industries won’t allow or offer. There are many ways you can charge for freelance work, too. Some freelancers charge per hour, per word or project-based, which opens the door to more opportunities across industries and businesses.
Jackie Bryant, a cannabis freelance writer for over seven years, said some of her biggest cons are what she calls a double-edge sword of being on her own in every way. She said she’s experienced everything from trying to be sued, buying her own health insurance and not having the same editorial support as staff writers.
But the cons don’t stop there.
Many publications are known not to pay well or on time. Bryant said freelance rates are also lower than they were more than a decade ago, making it especially hard to make a living off of editorial-style writing or journalism.
One year into freelancing full-time, Bryant went through a divorce, which threw her “into a tailspin, financially and otherwise.”
“Suddenly, I had to pay my own way for everything and had nobody splitting bills with me anymore on a freelancer’s salary.”
Her journey to freelancing is peculiar but she credits her perseverance with keeping her career intact. Bryant recommends freelancers have savings to weather the storm when waiting on payments or if gigs start to dry up.
Another unspoken con to freelancing for journalists or writers is stigma. Some freelancers often feel like less talented reporters end up in that position, she said.
Advice for freelancers
Bella Ross freelanced throughout college and full-time for about six months until landing a full-time staff position last November. Like many freelancers, she experienced financial ups and downs, consistency challenges and feeling unprepared for this year’s tax season.
But here is her best advice for freelancers at any stage to prepare for the pros and cons of freelancing:
- Don’t be afraid to get an “anchor” job for more financial stability. This doesn’t make you any less of a professional if work as a bartender, barista or waitress to make ends meet.
- If you’re an early career freelancer, use your internship networks and experiences to better establish yourself.
- Be open-minded. For example, although data journalism can feel like grunt work, it can open the door to working on bigger reporting projects with a more diverse skill-set.
- Start with small outlets. “My first gig was writing for a hyperlocal newspaper in Scripps Ranch that I found on a Craigslist ad, but it gave me a start and I was able to build up from there,” Ross said.
Take it from a newbie
Freelancing can be extremely rewarding and, sometimes, disheartening at the same time. But don’t think freelancing makes you any less of a valuable writer or professional.
As a relative newbie, it’s somewhat daunting to depend on freelance jobs. But I’ve also never felt so in control of my career. I’m excited to pitch all of the ideas I’ve put on the back burner, too.
I wouldn’t be in this position if I hadn’t done my research. In the last year, I’ve connected with other freelancers and started building a community. Now I can ask questions, get advice and get commissioned opportunities I wouldn’t have before.
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