Some people will tell you that freelance careers are the ultimate dream for one reason: you can work on your own terms. The flexibility to choose your own hours and the people you work with is a privilege those of us stuck in dull, full-time jobs can only dream of. It’s also a huge concern in terms of stability. However, freelance work is likely to be an attractive employment option for many graduates entering the workforce in the coming years. We need to anticipate and proactively manage what may very well become career norms in years to come.
Creative career paths, such as writing and graphic design, have followed the freelance model for years. Other careers are beginning to follow suite. Insurance inspection, web development, law, accounting and business project management are among those tipped to transform into freelance work over the coming years. Employers are realising that contracting freelancers is an effective way to keep down costs, remain competitive and attract fresh creativity.
There are times in life when freelance work is desirable. Are you a fulltime uni student or a stay-at-home-mum looking for some extra cash? It’s the perfect arrangement. Advocators of the freelance model point out that nowadays even full-time work is not a secure as it once was. Redundancies are becoming increasingly common as the dynamic of the workplace changes. For example, artificial intelligence is being developed to perform ‘human’ tasks in the workforce.
Sara Sutton, CEO of FlexJobs, spoke to Forbes Magazine about job security:
“The perception that the traditional job is secure has been busted. Just because you’re full-time doesn’t give you guaranteed security, and in a way, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Having only one source of income is, in some circles, considered riskier than freelancing to multiple organisations.
However, just because fulltime work is becoming less secure, there are still issues with freelancing that need to be considered. If you need to work full-time to support yourself, freelancing may not be an easy path. Here is a list of issues we’ve compiled about the risks of freelance employment:
Exposure as Payment
Some freelance creatives find themselves paid with ‘exposure’ rather than actual capital. Yes, gaining exposure to new and potentially large audiences may benefit that person’s career, but it also feeds a dangerous cycle of expectation for corporations to expect creative work for free.
Recently, the indie pop band Sheppard made headlines after refusing to perform for “peanuts” at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Band member George Sheppard spoke of his experience in a radio interview:
“The production company . . . was getting a lot of money – we’re talking in the tens of millions. Asking us to perform for peanuts, it didn’t sit right with us . . . the age old problem of artists not getting paid what they’re worth.”
Sheppard said that accepting the offer to perform would have set the precedent for future artists.
A Potential Lack of Empathy
Most workplaces have a code of conduct in place that guides how its internal stakeholders treat one another. Although this courtesy should, in theory, extend to freelanced workers, a potential lack of face-to-face communication (particularly so with writers, graphic designers and other work undertaken primarily online) could compromise the respectful relationship necessary for both parties to flourish.
Many organisations are outsourcing various business functions and employing freelancers at multiple levels. This means that an entire business system can be constructed from isolated puzzle pieces communicating over distance via the internet. This can make it hard to remember you’re dealing with actual human beings who are busy, tired and stressed just like you, on the other end of that communication.
In competing against other freelancers, a primary indicator of employability is the number of social media followers you have. This is primarily the case for those in creative industries. From the perspective of the employer, it’s logical. Hiring a freelancer with an extensive Instagram following, or one who’s active on Twitter is an attractive deal. The article they write for your website will probably be shared across all those thousands of followers. But does having 30 000 followers on Twitter make a good writer? Is a graphic designer with heavy traffic across their own webpage better than one with a more modest persona? The answer is maybe, but not necessarily.
Just in case it wasn’t hard enough to crack Sydney’s housing market already, we’ll probably never have secure enough employment to acquire a mortgage unless we can contract regular freelance work – which can be hard to guarantee. In saying that, some have argued that it’s more secure to finance a home through freelance employment, because losing one client is of far less financial detriment than losing a fulltime job.
Freelancing is clearly a scary world to venture into. But, once you’ve established an assortment of clients, it can be the perfect career for creatives and business people to operate in. It’s been predicted that there will be a time when freelancing is the predominant business model, so we need to be having this conversation now.