Before taking on a freelance or contractor lifestyle, decide whether it’s a way of life that will work for you. Here are some tips to help you figure that out.
In today’s job market, more workers are putting together careers that are made up of multiple projects and gigs instead of one full-time job.
Beth Miller, a career coach at the tech-education company General Assembly’s Seattle campus, says many of their grads in the tech and design industry will take a freelance or contractor role as a stepping stone to full-time work.
But for some, Miller says, “the freelancer/contractor lifestyle is much more conducive to where they’re at.”
Workers with young children or millennials seeking a flexible work environment, for example, are often attracted to this type of work. But juggling multiple jobs can also be tough. How do you keep all the balls in the air?
Set-up for success
First things first, before taking on a freelance or contractor lifestyle, Miller says she coaches students to decide whether it’s a way of life that will work for them.
“I think those who are naturally organized and good communicators make good freelancers,” she says. So ask yourself if you’re comfortable not just doing the work you are taking on, but managing yourself, your projects and all the business work as well.
Then, when deciding which projects or gigs to take on, Miller suggests getting as much information as possible upfront. She says good questions to ask are about the rate of pay, the deliverables, your responsibility and how frequently they want you in communication. This way, you can decide whether the rate will be worth the amount of work expected of you.
And remember to always be clear about your available time when taking on a new project, says Karen Altus, associate director at Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Career and Calling. “Don’t say yes to two or three contract roles and then say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m doing these other things, too,’” says Altus. “If it’s your plan to put multiple things together, you owe it to yourself and your employer to let them know that early on so you don’t waste anyone’s time.”
Structure your time
Once you get multiple projects on your plate, track your work time. Maggie Karshner, who runs her own entrepreneurial coaching business, says counting up how much time you spend doing each job, including all prep work, helps you not take on too much. “Keeping track of the actual time you’re putting into each job can allow you to see where your time is going. Too often people underestimate how much they’re working and start getting burned out and don’t know why,” Karshner says.
Altus, at SPU, suggests planning a serious schedule for work and downtime, and sticking to it. “When you work from home or have your own business, work can bleed into your life and you can feel like you’re always working,” she says. “Recreation, relaxation, social life and sleep are things you need for your well-being, so put those boundaries on the calendar so you can take care of yourself and get everything done.”
Check in with yourself — and your bank account
A key to making the freelance and contractor lifestyle work for you is to make sure the projects you’re taking on are worth it for you, from a financial perspective and in terms of personal fulfillment.
In terms of financial goals, freelancing and contract work can be very different from full-time, which is why Karshner suggests shooting for a rate three times as much as you’d expect to make in a full-time job. “You have way more overhead [when you work for yourself],” Karshner says. “You pay your taxes, your own 401(k), your own health care … so three times is the rubric I use with my clients, because it really does kind of shake out after you pay all your expenses.”
Karshner recommends giving yourself a freelance/contracting trial period. “You can try stuff out and make mistakes and learn about yourself and what you can do in the world and what suits you,” she says. “Try AirBnB or driving for Lyft or whatever gig you’re considering for three to six months.” If after that time you are making money and still enjoying it, you know it’s a good fit, she says. But if not? Move on to the next thing.
Miller, at General Assembly, says one of the best ways to avoid burnout is to pick up at least one project that you’re passionate about.
“You need to pay your bills and some of those roles might not be that exciting, but we often suggest taking on a passion project, something that feeds your soul and supports the causes or companies or products you really care about,” she says.
If you can devote 10 hours a week to your passion project, Miller says you’ll see benefits. “That’s the kind of work that will keep you going — plus you’ll have more work for your portfolio.”