Freelancing sounds like an exciting alternative to full-time employment.
Whilst "freelancing" doesn't define any one way of working, it often conjures up an idea of a person working with multiple clients at once, on projects they're a deep specialist in, often on a schedule which they define, and no shortage of posts on LinkedIn suggest that working for yourself is a road to fewer hours, bigger paychecks and projects you're passionate about. There are also lots of doomsayers about freelancing - that there's no security, its isolating, its competitive, and you'll endlessly be chasing invoices.
In this series of articles, we're going to try and bust some of the myths around freelancing, so you're better prepared for what the reality is actually like.
You don't have to deal with having a boss or office politics.
There's a saying: "you don't quit a job, you quit a boss".
Although some studies show this is far from true, your boss or manager can often play a large part in the culture of your working environment, and frustrations with office politics,
having to 'play the game', and navigate the corporate ladder to achieve success are often cited as a benefit of going solo.
Much of this comes down again to control, a common reason behind people wanting to move to self-employment. Without a boss, or being your own boss, allows you to make decisions you feel are right for the business, and there's no-one standing in the
way of that promotion, expecting you in late, stopping you from charging your business trip to expenses, or giving the best projects to their buddies, right?
Well, not quite - whilst you might no longer have a direct manager to report to - you might just be stepping away from having one boss, and moving towards multiple bosses, many of whom have little or no responsibility for making sure you do a good job,
or away from someone who has your back and is supportively encouraging you to grow. Let's break it down.
From one boss, to multiple bosses.
When you're self-employed - you no longer have a direct manager, you have a client or customer. And in fact, if you're doing well, you'll have multiple customers. That's right, you've switched from having a single person calling the
shots to multiple people who are making demands on your time and judging your work.
In many instances, working with clients is like a partnership - hopefully they're bringing you in because they value your expertise and specialism, and you're working towards a clear goal that needs resolving, with respect for your time and experience.
This is the ideal, and just like with any good boss, it's a relationship built upon mutual trust and respect.
However, there are plenty of times where freelancers can be treated like third-class employees, told where and when and how to work, given little or no support, and seen as not much more than a 'resource'.
In most cases, your client is the individual you'll be working for, and they'll be approving the work, however you can often find multiple people within the business might also have input or feedback. As you're most likely at arms length or
working outside of the business, you might not understand who these stakeholders are, and even here, office politics can come into force. Whilst you might not be part of it, you're still being affected by it.
And most frustratingly, those decisions can put a whole project on the back foot - no few examples of where projects change direction or get cancelled because of some decision internally. When you're an employee, you're getting paid to be there.
When you're self-employed, you're generally only getting paid if you deliver the project.
On the positive side, freelancers are able (and absolutely should aim) to define how they work with their clients - setting ways of working, terms, boundaries, and even communication preferences and red lines that you're not willing to cross. Even
poorly behaving clients can be dealt with professionally, and in the worst instances, you're able to finish up the job and move on to the next project much more easily than being forced to deal with a bad employer for months, if not years.
There's an important mindset shift though - and perhaps something to unlearn as you move into self-employment. Clients are not your bosses, and the customer is not always right. Seeing client relationships as partnerships, where they're looking
for your support and input, and they're providing you with opportunities to deliver great work, helps both sides recognise the value of working together - and ensures the power dynamic is more balanced. Establishing how you want to work and a two-way
relationship between client and you as a freelancer, is an important way to ensure that you can do your best work, and protect your own wellbeing.
From one boss, to no boss.
The flip-side of having no boss is that you're also stepping away from perhaps having someone in your court, providing support and pushing you to go that little further. The very best bosses work really hard to ensure their people have the right environment
for success, create pathways for development and professional growth, and are brilliant mentors and coaches. Having someone to open doors, to give you a nudge forward, to offer an objective point of view and years of experience, is a huge benefit. Having
someone senior to learn from can really provide a huge amount of benefit.
Even mediocre bosses will be providing some structure for people, such as setting and communicating objectives and goals, providing feedback and performance reviews, and helping to make sure you're delivering on the work required.
When you're working for yourself, this can often be a gap for people - and that means those objectives might be less clear or entirely lacking. It might mean that you're left entirely to your own decision making process without the input of others
or advice of those with experience. It can mean you don't have a supportive structure to help you develop, or check-in on your own progress.
That's not to say it isn't possible to have these things in place - freelancers will often create their own 'board of advisors' or seek out mentors. They will put support structures in place to help them check-in and maintain accountability
and productivity. They will find others to collaborative with for input and learn from fellow freelancers or clients they're working alongside. They will have processes in place for their own performance reviews and even promotions and pay increases.
Our experience with good and bad bosses will naturally colour how we feel about having a 'boss' and not having a boss when you're self-employed. And whilst it's absolutely right, you no longer have a boss, it can come with positives and
VERDICT: TRUE BUT ...
At times, you may feel like you've got multiple bosses, as having many clients can feel like lots of people telling you what to do. But, you are now your own boss, and that means taking on all of the responsibility and behaviours of what a good
boss does for their people: setting goals, clearing roadblocks and supporting growth.
But don't just take our word for it!
One of the most valuable things to do before going freelance is chatting with as many other freelancers as possible, to get their experiences of things. Join some freelance communities, find others in your sector, or use our AskAnythingpage to bust the myths for yourself too!