Words on a Page Writings about writing

Freelance or full time?

A woman trying to make a decision

There comes a time when many a writer has to make a choice: to enter the freelance world or to jump into a full-time job.

In the 20+ years I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve been both a full-time employee and a freelancer. Both options have their benefits, but they also have their drawbacks.

Let’s take a look at how you can decide whether to go freelance or full time.

Ask yourself a question or two

The first question you need to ask is Which option has the strongest pull?

The answer to that question will probably come quite easily. But then you need to ask yourself a second question: Why does the option have such a strong pull?

Is it the romance of being your own boss and writing whatever you want for whomever you want? Is it the stability that comes from working 9 to 5? Or is it something different?

Regardless, think about your answer to the second question objectively. If you’re leaping into freelancing because of some idealized notion, then your idealism will fade quite quickly when the realities of the freelance life hit. On the other hand, if you dream of collecting a steady pay cheque while revolutionizing some aspect of corporate writing, you might be disappointed.

To help you better make your choice, let’s look at the pros and cons of both the full-time job and the freelance writing life.

The corporate reality

While I don’t believe that any corporate job is secure these days, working full time can offer you some stability and consistency. You’ll collect that bi-weekly or monthly pay packet, and you’ll have a steady stream of work.

A full time job can offer you a variety of writing tasks to tackle. There are several corporate writing niches — like corporate communications and technical writing — which are not only challenging but which also can pay a good wage.

On the other hand, working full time also means having to deal with politics. You never know who you might inadvertently piss off with an off-hand comment or with your competence. Or, you could be close to or working for the wrong person in the hierarchy. Dealing with the politics will wear you down and will diminish the quality of your work.

On top of that, the work can get quite repetitive. Doing the same kind of writing about the same things week after week, month after month can sap your enthusiasm. When that happens, you’ll be going through the motions and not producing your best work.

In today’s environment, there’s the ever-present fear of not only being laid off, but also whether or not you’ll be able to get a comparable or similar position elsewhere. You might go months, or longer, without a job. That, too, can sap your confidence and your belief in your abilities.

Walking the freelance path

I know a number of writers for whom a full-time job isn’t the right fit. Freelancing offers them quite a bit of flexibility.

I don’t know any freelance writers who make their living exclusively by penning articles anymore. That kind of work forms part of their income, but they also type away at one-off projects and at short- and longer-term contracts.

Freelancing can offer you variety. Depending on your skills, experience, and interests you might be doing ghost blogging one week, then writing a report or a whitepaper the next. Later, you could be writing copy for a catalogue or annual report.

It’s possible to pull in more income as a freelancer than with a full-time job. It’s not easy, though, and you’ll need to hustle. Not all of us are born hustlers (and I mean hustler in a positive sense). We find it difficult to constantly do marketing and pitches and cold calling.

Some freelance gigs, especially in the corporate sphere, can go on longer than you expect them to. My first contract gig in the early 1990s was supposed to last six months. In the end, it lasted a little over two years. A few years ago, I worked as a contract technical writer at the Toronto Stock Exchange for three years. That contract could probably have gone longer if I wanted it to.

On the downside, freelancing can be feast or famine at times. There have been times where I’ve gone months without a steady gig, while at other times I had too many assignments to juggle.

Remember that as a freelance writer you’re responsible for your own taxes, insurance, deductions, and other expenses. You have to be sure you can make enough money to not only cover all of that, but to pay yourself as well. You might need to enlist the help of an accountant to make sure all that gets done.

Which option to choose?

That’s a tough question to answer. I can’t make that decision for you.

If you need some semblance of stability, then you should consider going full time. Otherwise, you should research the market and how your skills fit into it before making the move into freelancing.

Even if you choose to go full time and decide it’s not quite for you try slipping through the side door into freelancing while working. A side hustle on your own time can help you determine whether or not freelancing really is for you.

No matter which option you choose, there’s no reason why you can’t make your living with your keyboard.

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