To Freelance or Not to Freelance: Pros & Cons

26 June 2018 Mark Abbott

Surreal Photo Manipulations By Erik Johansson 15

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What does it mean to be a creative freelancer?

How does one become a freelancer? Quite easily: keep doing what you’re good at, and then ask people if they might see a reason to give you some money for the thing that you’re good at.

That’s a stupidly simple formula, and it can be stupidly difficult to make this formula work. And therein lies the dilemma that every single creative deals with at least once in their career: “Should I unshackle myself? Should I freelance?”.

Australia’s job market is transitioning. Global market pressures plus recent rumblings from the ATO regarding the employer/freelancer relationship have combined to make freelancing more appealing. Or at least it has in some ways...

The employment laws for freelancers are worthy of their own blog post, and fortunately, someone else has already done just that. But allow us to summarise:

As far as the law is concerned, a “freelancer” is a contractor under any other name. Dependant on a range of variables, in the eyes of the law you’ll be treated either as an independent contractor or as one of your client’s employees.

There are pros and cons to both scenarios. Crucially; when, under the eyes of the law, your situation deems you to be the company's employee, they will need your TFN to withhold tax and super. You’ll also likely be covered under their insurance policies. But as a freelancer, you’ll be required to cover all of these yourself.

It’s extremely important that you clarify your status as a freelancer or employee prior to agreeing to any work or signing any contracts.

With a number of factors to consider before determining whether you’re classified as an employee or freelancer, it’s not always a simple thing to work out. However, there’s a great guide for independent contractors available for download through the federal government's website for business - “The Essential Handbook

We strongly recommend that you download this guide and use it to not only help determine your employment status but to gain a number of useful tips and important bits of information at the same time

Summary finished! So, depending on how you go about gaining freelance work you’ll either be treated like an employee or like a contractor. For example, if you were to land a job through Interactiveinc, you would be treated as our casual employee (as part of a “labour hire” relationship). This can work well, and not only for the obvious reasons.

We have a positive vested interest in every person who we hire - a vested interest in your success. This means that there’s someone from Interactiveinc who’s in your corner readily available to bounce ideas or concerns off!

And perhaps even more importantly, Interactiveinc will sort out the contracts between yourself and your client to ensure your employment status is clear and nobody upsets the grumbly ATO.

Don’t worry if all of this contractor/employee/ATO talk is getting confusing. At any rate, as with all major life decisions, if you do decide to become a freelancer you really should seek independent advice before making any final decisions.

Based on the information so far, it seems that freelancing is a pretty good choice for many people.

So what’s the catch?

If you’re not earning money it’s called a hobby. And as is the way in the free market, when more people turn to freelance to make a living, the market becomes saturated. And with that comes competition.

Without any doubt, there’s money to be made as a freelancer. And, if you play your cards right it can become a seriously lucrative venture. However, just like any profession in any industry, freelancing is not without its pitfalls and controversy.

One study shows that mid-level freelance graphic designers are, on average, earning $45 an hour, with mid-level freelance writers and journalists earning a similar $44 an hour. Another article reports that Australian freelancers are collectively earning $51 billion dollars per year.

That’s not a bad hourly rate, and it’s an impressive figure.

Whilst both of these articles should be viewed with a healthy level of skepticism (the research methodology could be improved to provide a more accurate representation of the industry) sometimes reality is far different from your expectations.

Remember that as a freelancer you will need to withhold your own tax, superannuation, and income and workers compensation insurance and probably need to register as a company. So you will have to work hard to either match or beat the competition. Expect a lot of hard work before clients are willing to pay you not only for what you’re worth but simply for what you need.

But what successful career doesn’t involve hard work? Creatives do what they do because they love to create. The hard work and challenges are half the fun. The reward is not just the dollars at the end of the day - it’s also crafting something beautiful and original that not only impresses your client but forms part of a successful project that has a little bit of you in it as well.

With that said do not sell yourself short. It can be tempting to accept a low paying job when times are tough, but if you believe you’re worth more than they’re offering, stick to your guns and kindly decline the offer.

As more organisations recognise the value a freelancer brings, both with their broad experience and niche specialisations, employers are regularly handpicking the best person for the project.

Freelancing might not always be easy (if almost never). But it is liberating. We can’t tell you if you should freelance or not. But we can tell you to avoid thinking about it for too long otherwise you will always find a reason to say no.

If you really want to freelance, do it. There’s no harm in trying. There’s no reason to put it off without at least giving it a go. And there’s nothing stopping you from becoming a wonderfully successful freelancer.