Recently I saw a tweet from Chris Langille about his post “Is the grass really greener?” wherein he asks if freelancing is really as awesome as some people make it out to be.

The answer is yes, if you’re prepared to be a freelancer. Otherwise the answer is that it sucks like crazy. So how do you know if you’re prepared?”

When I went 100% freelance I had been doing freelance client work for about 15 years. I was working evenings and weekends ALL the time. I was completely slammed with work for about 2 years before I quit my day job. I knew the work was there, it was steady, and it would cover the bills at least.

I also did a ton of research. I found out about things like insurance, taxes, incidental needs, expensable stuff etc.

I also had 2 months pay saved up, so that if I hit a dry spot, I’d be ok for at least that long.

All that and there were still hard times. I loved it, it was wonderful, you can read all my posts about it here. But there were still hard times, where I hated doing stuff like invoices, clients not paying, etc.

What you want to do as a freelancer matters as well. I did client work, and a week with 20 billable hours in it was $2000. A week with 4 billable hours in it was $400. If you instead want to sell products you’ll start off a lot slower, but could possibly have a more even income.

Selling products means you better either already have solid sales, or you better have a lot of money saved up to live on until you GET solid sales. it can work to do client work WHILE developing a product, but that’s a lot of work.

I got out of 100% freelancing for 2 reasons.

  1. I found myself working all the time. All day. All evening. All weekend. This was partly because I wasn’t awesome at setting boundaries, and partly because I spent everything I earned, which means I needed to keep working to keep up. Don’t do this if you can help it.
  2. I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to be. I worked in my basement, interfacing with clients all the time. Sure, I knew WordPress developers, but we never really talked deep code stuff.

I’m now with a WordPress agency, X-Team. We’re a distributed office, so I still work from home, still have a freelancer’s freedom, but I also have a great team of brilliant people around me. And a regular paycheck. 🙂 Check out my blog post on The Hybrid Freelancer.

So Chris, my advice is to decide what you really want. Is it time with your family? Is it money? Is it simply to be designing? Unless you already have a steady income from freelancing on the side, I recommend you either stay where you are for now and build that income, OR, get a design job at an agency. Depending on policy that may still let you build freelance income, so you could go freelance in a couple years.

To answer the question of whether the grass is really greener, the answer is sometimes. When everything is going right, it’s the greenest you’ll ever see. This will happen more often than where you are now. On the other hand, droughts really really suck, and this will happen more often than where you are now as well. My wife’s answer is “depends on how much you like roller coasters”. Because you’ll definitely have more ups and downs than where you are now.

2 thoughts on “How do you know when to freelance?

  1. Good thoughts, T. You’re a great “hybrid freelancer”, so finding that middle-earth seems to suit you fine. From a selfish standpoint, I’m just glad you’re still able to assist people like myself with projects in your “spare time”! 🙂

  2. There’s practical wisdom in this post, Topher. When I was getting ready to quit my job for full-time self-employment, you gave me a lot of pointers, and I really appreciate that.

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