Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Freelance Envy

When you walk into a design agency you can spot the freelancers straight away. They have nice clothes, expensive shoes, sun-kissed skin and, most distinctively, a beaming grin. They're the ones offering to make the tea, constantly chatting small-talk throughout the day - eager to get to know everyone and eager to be liked. They are upbeat and everyone loves them. They are unbearable.

Having done freelancing for a very small amount of time, I know its drawbacks all too well. In total I freelanced for 6 months, but if you follow my blog you'll see I was unemployed and penniless for 2 and a half of those months, so whilst I was drowning in my overdraft and my overwhelming self-doubt, I found it hard to enjoy it.

But as freelancers chat away about their holidays, time off, lazing around, it is hard not to get envious of them - especially when you know they are paid way more than you are, and taxed significantly less. (But there are two types of freelancers: ones who freelance because they can, and others, because they have to. I was the latter, but I tend to see this as underemployed and awaiting a permanent role, rather than working freelance.)

At our agency we have a regular flow of freelancers. This works out well for us to cover both holidays, sickness and to always have a fresh pair of eyes on a project, especially one you are sick of the sight of. However, we often find they always get the good jobs. Good jobs can take many forms, but for me it's a design for a product I like, or can relate to - something that will not only function - but has the budget to be beautiful. I like to make things look good and I am always jealous when a freelancer gets to do it.

After working now for a few months in one place, which is unusual for me, I have also become envious that freelancers have no sense of office politics. They don't know the history of the office, who hates who, and which clients and projects are unbearable. They don't live in the same world of dread as the rest of us. They don't have a least favourite artworker, designer or project manager to work with - they have no worries and no fears. They work knowing that if it is unbearable, at least it will end.

But -- and this is a big one. I don't envy freelancers because of the sense of stability I get from my job - (at least until my probation review) - the fear of not getting any work was too much for me. I hated the constant struggle to find work, to be hassled by recruitment agencies with work I wasn't suitable for, or constantly disappointed by work they didn't 'win' me. It is important to note, though, that I was freelancing as a junior, and it is hard for agencies to find work for a junior, and their commission is much less too - so they don't really put their heart into it. Freelancing after 5+ years experience in the industry, with a few contacts in place, would be a doddle, so I look forward to trying that out when the time is right.

What attracted me to a job in graphic design was its flexibility. I wanted to be able to work from home and work flexibly to allow me to travel, have a family - do everything I want to do. Whilst part of me doesn't envy the horrors of freelancing, I do see it more of a future goal. So when I'm sick of office politics, miniscule pay rises and obligatory Christmas parties, I'll know what to do.

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