Potential Problems with Freelancing
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It can be feast or famine.
Even though the very thought of being a freelance anything is exciting and somehow even a little romantic, there are some pitfalls to this way of life that should be considered.
1. Your income
Your income (if you are doing this as more than just a hobby or extra pocket money) is dependent on the vagaries of the market. At times there may be so much work that you don’t know how to get it all done. Other days (or weeks or months) there is just nothing in your line of work.
There can be a seasonality attached to the work you do; ski resorts generally don’t need summer-time shots of ski-lifts. Empty winter seaside resorts don’t make for good copy.
Unless you have a lot of permanent and repeating assignments or contracts, you could be in for some lean times.
2. There are always opportunities for disputes and non-payment.
You are an independent contractor, and you generally do not have a vast legal department behind you should you and your Employer get into a dispute. Reputable companies such as Freelancer or Elance have dispute resolution centers, but that means that your funds will be held up until the matter is settled.
“Lack of clarification or “scope creep” can mean that you type your little fingers to the bone, or spend weeks camping an ice flow to get the perfect picture, only to be denied payment in the end”
You might, in good faith, hike miles to take a requested photograph, only to find that you have captured the wrong mountain peak. At that point, you have not fulfilled your contract and there is nothing you can do about it.
In addition, some contacts are so narrowly written that one single punctuation error or misspelled word allows them to deny payment. Of course, that does not mean that they won’t use your work. It just means that you won’t get paid, won’t get a by-line, and might even get a bad review.
3. Bad reviews
Speaking of bad reviews…When using websites to procure leads, the Freelancer relies on reviews to indicate professionalism and to enhance their reputations.
Reviews are basically the currency of a Freelancer.
A bad review, left by an unhappy or petty Employer, can be extremely damaging.
Once again, unjust reviews can be removed from your profile, but it takes time. In the meantime, you have lost work – possibly even lucrative contracts.
4. Work schedule
Freelancing means, you are your own boss, you are responsible for scheduling your work. Sometimes this can be a nearly impossible task. If you don’t have any work, you might not eat. On the other hand, there just might not be enough hours in the day to write three articles, post to five blogs and proofread 300 pages of a really boring treatise on the benefits of neti pots.
You will also need to pay your own taxes, keep track of your expenses (most are deductible) and make travel arrangements.
Sometimes you need to be in two places at once, or you cannot find an internet connection to send off the article that is due at noon today. Assignments are not always as easy to fulfill as they seem to be on paper:
“Take a picture of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker” (small print: last seen in Louisiana – probably extinct).
If an assignment takes three or four times longer to compete than you originally thought, it quickly becomes unprofitable. Sometimes, by the time you add up your expenses, you have lost money on a contract. While the loss can be taken off your taxes, it does not help you very much when your rent is due and your car needs a new head gasket.
5. No benefits
Meaning, of course, that you will not get healthcare, overtime, retirement pay, a coffee break, sick pay, or any of the other perks of being employed by a “real” company. You will be the only one taking care of yourself. If you are married or have children, the benefits afforded any ordinary employee will also not be available to them.
If you travel a lot, there will be no relocation assistance or cost-of-living upgrades.
If you are lucky enough to have a spouse who works and has benefits, then some of these worries are alleviated. But you still are working alone, generally with no co-workers, no support group and no corporate support, no profit sharing and no end-of-the-year holiday parties.