10 worst things about freelancing

Don’t get me wrong freelancing is great but there are some things that really ache about it.

1. Getting paid (on time)

The first fulltime freelance gig I did started towards the end of July 2008: my first freelance payment came two weeks ago (late September 2008). The job was two weeks long, so I started the job, invoiced after two weeks and patiently waited thirty days for payment like a good freelancer. Thirty days came and went with no payment so I got in touch with the accounts department and was greeted with a lie about about how one of my other invoices had the same reference number on it so my invoice would be paid only be paid that week.

Companies pay people to prevent people getting paid. Sound strange? A good accountant keeps as much money in the company as possible because they have to make sure wages and utility bills get paid first. For a relatively insignificant freelancer, getting paid can be an arduous task.

Solution: Make sure you contact the payment department before those thirty days are up and keep the relevant people on their toes.

2. Remembering people’s names / brew requirements

I work onsite (most of the time) and I really like getting to know other people, but it can be really hard remembering the names of the 30 people in each office of 10 clients – let alone trying to remember how they all like their tea/coffee.

Solution: Draw a little desk plan and write people’s name on it and where they sit. Yes, I am a nerd but this really does work.

3. Music (or a lack thereof)

The only thing worse than a musicless office is an office with awful music. I once listened to the soundtrack to karate kid at one place and I’ve spent the last three weeks near constantly listening to the Kings of Leon’s new album – not in itself awful but very tiresome after 3 plays a day.

Solution: This isn’t the 6th form common room so you can’t just commandeer the communal stereo and headphones make you look rude. This is something you have to live with until you feel more comfortable to suggest some musical rotation.

4. Different coding practices

I have a set way of doing things that has made me good at what I do so when you go to a different agency and find they want to you to completely change the way you code it can be a nightmare unless those coding practices make sense and are equally good, if not an improvement on your own.

Solution: If their coding is better than yours, soak it up but, if their code is awful and they force you to lower your standards – you need to educate them on best practice. If they won’t listen to reason, they can’t be helped.

5. A lack of trust

I’ve been refused FTP passwords before and had a Lead Web Developer stand over my shoulder and type in the password onto my machine.

Solution: Don’t work there again.

6. Not being allowed to use my own equipment

If you have good equipment, then I don’t mind if I have to use it – actually I’ll probably enjoy using it, but when you force me to use a 5 year old PC or worse a new PC running Vista with no applications installed then my work may suffer. I have a macBook, please let me use it – I’ve spent a lot of money setting it up so I know it gets the job done.

Solution: Make friends with the IT department and let them play on your macBook once they see you’re not a virus peddling fiend they may let you use your mac.

7. Isolation

Working from home (when I do) can be quite lonely. There’s no idle chit-chat between colleagues and the only way to get help on a coding problem is to Google for answers and no-one makes you brews.

Solution: Try to work onsite where possible

8. Trying to appear busy but not too busy

Here’s the big catch22 of freelancing – if you’re too busy (or appear too busy) no new clients can book you but if you don’t appear busy enough then no-one will want to book you either. Often clients want you to drop everything and work for them at a moment’s notice but if you already have bookings that can be really bad for your reputation to simply drop one client for another.

Solution: I haven’t found it yet.

9. A lack of instructions

Sometimes, it’s obvious what you’re supposed to be doing and other times you’ll be asked to get on with X with no clear instruction of what it is you’re actually supposed to be doing or how long it is supposed to take. I’ve finished jobs meant for a full week in under 2 days and I’ve laboured over for a few days that the client thought would only take a few.

Solution: Ask the client what they want exactly and when they want it completed by. You can potentially sound like broken record if you keep asking the same question but needs really must.

10. You don’t get sick pay

Last Friday, I was sick as a dog but I had to go to work. If I get sick in the middle of a freelance gig I’m screwed because I won’t get paid. Luckily, I don’t get ill that often. Although, in the past, I’ve had fulltime jobs that didn’t pay sick pay.

Solution: Don’t get sick

Do you freelance? What do you find are the worst things about it?

15 responses to “10 worst things about freelancing”

  1. @Kings of Leon: I’ll have you know the Phil Thompson album got a lot of critical acclaim.

    @Mark: Thanks, I’ve been lost without it. Did I also leave my Best of Nsync?

  2. Radio 1 all day. Even with the constant shuffle of music, it still gets annoying. Pink’s ‘So What’ song – it’s just too much.

    As for point 8; most times my clients lack responding in a timely manner so simply saying “yes, yes” to everything at the beginning makes them believe I’m available. There is the odd chance one client is raring to go though…

  3. Good list, I’ve had these exact same thoughts. Some other frustrations I’ve had are (although I’m not currently consulting):

    1. No vested interest in what your working on, besides maintaining your reputation. You don’t get stock options or additional pay or often have any interest\passion for what your working on. I really hated being a ‘mercenary’ on many freelance projects.

    2. No defined career path. Some people are fine with being a “consultant” and view this as a benefit – I’m sure I’ll feel like that when I have to do my first performance review in 5 years. But it’s nice to know that if complete this project succesfully that I may get some additional or different responsibility or maybe a better title or $$.

    3. Difficulty in getting team chemistry. Your always gonna be the “outsider” or “hired gun”. Sometimes as an employee you have more leverage in choosing your team and how well they work together.

    ** yes all of these can be present as an FTE, but are more of an issue as a consultant IMHO

  4. @Scott: I definitely agree with your third point but not so much with your second point. For me, the whole point of being a freelancing/consultant is to be able to set my own career path. As a freelancer, when you complete a project successfully after a while you up your rates and pitch to bigger clients.

  5. Country music day 2-3 days a week at my old place of employee… absolutely horrible environment to work. I’d much rather have no music than bad music.

  6. @Phil: I agree with in “theory” being self-employed provides you the option of defining your own career path. But in “practice”, that can be difficult. I understand that you have the ability of selecting your gigs, this is especially true if you want to always be a “hands on” developer and enjoy increasing your visibility to different technologies. I would say that’s more of a “horizontal” exposure. But if one desires to move “vertically”, such as lead, architect, or even manager roles, that can be more challenging as an independent. Often it’s in the best interest of a company to keep those roles “in house” and I mostly concur with that rationale. Fundamentally those roles are more strategic assets to a company, opposed to tactical.

    Again, I think many of the points are both pro & con.

    ** PS I totally agree about the music. I turned down several gigs because of no IM or music. It’s usually a good barometer of how boring a gig is too.

  7. Ahh waiting to get paid; has to be one of the worst elements of any new business, it’s pretty much industry practice to wait 30 days, as long and drawn out as that can be.

    You’ve simply got to have a solid work contract that you’re happy with – break those payments up into phases with a big job.

    #Contract Clause: No tunes, no work. ;)

  8. Nice post Phil.

    Getting paid is often a bollocks and isolation is lonely. I try to get to coffee shops when I can.

    Getting info/assets from clients can be awkward at times (although I suppose that’s not necessarily to do with freelancing) and potential clients looking (or expecting) you to do work for next to nothing (because you’re a freelancer).

  9. 8. Try to be honest with your time/availability – nothing worse than an electrician saying, “I can start tomorrow” , then they don’t turn up until a week later, then do 1 days work, disappear, when you call them they say they are just finishing another job off. Have a bit of an Agile approach, try not to commit too early to new work, try not to commit to too much work at one time and balance this against risk (including profitability) of the project and non-profitable time (paperwork, research, sickness, holidays).

    10. Factor in non-profitable time into your charges (on an annual basis). Allow time for research and development (Google allows employees 1 day a week for research projects which may or may not become products to earn them money), allow time for around 30 days holiday a year (don’t forget you won’t get paid for national holidays), allow time for at-least few weeks sickness (I seldom get ill, but a motorbike accident and laryngitis last tax year clocked me 3 weeks absence).
    Then do not forget to factor in time for doing admin work, phone calls, books, networking, conferences etc.
    Bonus point, factor in travelling time, if
    after all this I would not be surprised if you find you will spend as little as 30 weeks of your working year actually doing the bits of work that earn money.
    You can also help mitigate not working by sub-contracting, you may not make much or any money whilst you are sick, but at-least the project should get completed and earn you some money. Also hiring someone to help you out with paperwork, phone calls can free yourself more time to spend time on developing (and earning ££), of course if you start hiring, you need to have the demand for work in the first place, which is another topic…

    Cheers, Nick

  10. @Nick Rhodes A very thorough and useful comment there Nick.

    As I work on-site it can be very difficult sometimes to not commit to work too early – every now and again a client will want to book you there and then for a sizeable amount of time – saying no and explaining why can be a little tricky.

    Them: “Can you work everyday for the next 3 weeks?”
    Me: “No*, as much as I’d like the guaranteed income, I have to keep my options open because if you monopolise my time too much, I won’t get any new clients and I may lose my other existing clients who want spur of the moment bookings.”

    It’s all a balancing act and if you don’t have people skills you don’t succeed.

    * Disclaimer: I’ve said yes before and felt it the right answer