Rising costs and inflation, the threat of artificial intelligence, complications from Brexit and IR35, a global pandemic and more. It feels like a particularly challenging time to be self-employed, so why would you start freelancing in 2023?
I’m reminded of the comedian Bill Hicks, when he watches constant coverage of wars and disasters on cable news before opening his door to hear crickets chirping and watch the sun go down. While it’s easy to succumb to existential despair about the future of freelancing, when you step away from news websites and social media, the issues are often a lot easier to manage in day-to-day reality.
And many of the benefits of freelancing actually become more valuable in challenging times, especially if you’ve become frustrated with how your employer has handled the constantly changing environment over the last few years.
To borrow a popular quote from disputed origins, the best time to start freelancing was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
If you need more convincing, then here are some good reasons for choosing self-employment in 2023.
It’s possible to make a big career change when you’re employed, but it’s rare. If you’ve worked as the company account for a decade, moving into marketing or design will probably mean starting at the bottom again.
But as a freelancer you can add or drop services whenever you like. And if you want to switch from being a network engineer to becoming a personal trainer, you can make that change overnight. All it takes is finding your first paying client.
You’re also free to develop new skills without getting approval from management for courses, or finding out the training budget has been cut this year. Whether you decide you’d rather be a freelance WordPress developer or dog groomer, there’s never been more information available online, and much of it is free.
Want to start selling products alongside offering freelance services? You can have an eCommerce store up and running in less than a day. Diversifying your income also helps to protect you against sudden drops in client demand, and gives you practical experience in other areas of business.
The demand for employees to return to the office full time has been met with a lot of resistance. And that’s not surprising for most freelancers, as they’ve seen family and friends discover the benefits of hybrid working and home offices.
Whether you want to set your own schedule to suit your preferences, be available for the school run, or want to continue Covid precautions, then being self-employed allows you to do just that. And without needing negotiations with management.
You still need to ensure you deliver work reliably, and manage client communication and expectations appropriately. It’s no good deciding you’ll work from noon until midnight if clients think you’ll be answering your phone from 9am sharp every day. But if you deliver good results and set clear boundaries, you’ll find more than enough clients happy to accommodate your working routine.
Given that most people see self-employment as a risky venture, it may seem strange to suggest it actually increases your job security for the future. But when you run your own business, you know exactly what income and outgoings you have. And that means you can potentially spot issues in advance, or times when you might need to drum up extra work.
Compare that to sudden layoffs and redundancies at larger companies. Especially in challenging times, when even the largest corporations can announce large-scale cuts at short notice, or find themselves going into administration seemingly overnight.
Being self-employed doesn’t prevent you from also taking on full or part-time jobs as you need them, or jumping into agency work if required. And then going back to your business as your income allows, rather than waiting around between redundancy and finding a new job.
Most jobs and employers will tend to have a maximum salary range, and any pay raise tends to be tightly controlled. But when you start freelancing, you have control over your rates, whether you invoice for the hours worked or the tasks completed, and there’s no limit to your potential earnings.
Sadly, not every freelancer will become massively successful and wealthy. But a lot of people have discovered their time was much more valuable to clients than it was to their previous employers. And you’re able to control whether you get a pay rise by attracting more clients, increasing your fees, adding more services, or starting to outsource or employ your own staff. Rather than waiting for a manager to decide whether you deserve it.
There’s also no ceiling to your maximum income. The top freelancers in any industry will earn a lot more than the average for that role. And the skills that helped them achieve that status are typically transferable to other ventures, including marketing and promotion, business management and more. Which means you could end up with multiple businesses delivering you a financial reward.
Better work and life satisfaction
One impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and remote working has been a trend dubbed the Great Resignation. And one of the big reasons employees gave for voluntarily leaving their jobs was long-lasting dissatisfaction with their workplace and career.
For some, this will have been prompted by finding a better balance to work and life by ditching the commute, working from home, and spending more time with family and friends.
But other causes include wanting more interesting projects, getting away from office politics, and being able to choose the most personally fulfilling tasks to specialise in. And freelancing allows for all of that to be realised. And if you miss social interaction, you can potentially work anywhere with Wi-Fi, or visit a dedicated coworking space. Or you can even create your own community around work or other interests.
If you’ve always had an idea for a startup, side hustle or want to create a project for social good, freelancing lets you ringfence time and resources to make it happen. Or for it to become your main focus and career.
With many more people dealing with challenges to their physical and mental health, self-employment can also provide a valuable way to balance your need for a sustainable income with taking care of your own wellbeing.
It’s not a permanent commitment
While I think everyone can benefit from trying self-employment at least once during their careers, that doesn’t mean committing to working for yourself until retirement. Freelancing may be something that works at different stages of your career, or that you pause and come back to in the future.
You might decide that you prefer life as an employee, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that decision. But unless you’ve experienced self-employment, you might not realise what the alternative can look like for your individual situation.
And the skills you build can make you more attractive to potential employers, or you may find clients become keen to bring you in-house at various times during your freelance career.
Starting as a freelancer during a challenging period also means things are likely to get easier at some point in the future. Meaning you will have already developed resiliency and determination, which you can use for greater rewards during the next boom time for the self-employed.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, and that’s not a downside to running your own business. It brings different challenges to employment, and requires a level of commitment that may seem off putting to some. But there are ways to make it easier to freelance in a chaotic and stressful world, alongside organisations such as IPSE, who provide advice and membership services to support self-employed professionals across the UK, including a whole series of guides for anyone new to self-employment and a dedicated Incubator programme.
Why would you start freelancing in 2023? A better question might be why you haven’t tried it until now, and how you can get started today in the right way?