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Freelance or Full-Time: The Career Debate

On 17 March 2020, the children at my son’s pre-school were lining up to wash their hands before carpet time and welcome songs. Nobody wore masks. As parents, we awkwardly mumbled our personal concerns about what we were hearing on the news about “this coronavirus” whilst helping our little ones use soap and water without flooding the tiny bathrooms or spreading something horribly contagious. My phone pinged. It was a message from a fitted wardrobe company cancelling their forthcoming job, issuing me with a full refund and apologies for any inconvenience. On my way home, I told my husband. His response was something I’ll never forget, and so unexpected.

“Good job,” he said. “Because I’ve just been made redundant.”

Within days, the UK went into a National Lockdown, coinciding with Dubai’s 11-day sterilisation campaign in the hope of containing COVID-19. Night curfew was imposed four days later. The industry my husband worked in was hit hard by this unprecedented pandemic. But he lost his job before the announcement of any government schemes and before words like furlough became part of our everyday vocabulary. He’d also been at the company just short of two years, meaning no redundancy pay. And yet, only the week before, the CEO had called a company meeting to discuss the impending threat of this virus, informing all employees that their jobs were safe and they had enough work to cover the next year at least. My husband went from feeling valued to insignificant in a heartbeat. Our world, like so many others, was shattered.

Prior to working for a company, my husband had been freelance for a few years. He took the permanent role because it felt like the right thing to do. We got a mortgage. We have young children. He believed it would give us “security”, a word that I put into quotation marks because of its irony. My dad had been made redundant twice during the Thatcher years in the UK, and although I was brought up to get myself a “proper job” because hopping from job to job in the arts wouldn’t give me any “security”, the struggles my family went through in the 1980s created a self-starter in me, determined to always chase and find work. In almost 20 years, the majority of my professional career has been self-employed, with harsh lessons being learnt during permanent stints of how not to do business. So once the post-pandemic world began to rebuild itself, I had every faith that my husband could return to freelance and be okay.

So far, so good (mops brow).

But he isn’t sitting smug, admiring his new logo to his own company. He’s working hard, with ultimate focus, more than aware that when the job he’s working on ends, he needs to have another one lined up, and so on. Unlike me, he hasn’t grown accustomed to the nail-biting stop-start nature of being self-employed. Certain times can be all or nothing. A lull can come around as quickly as a stint of 18-hour days. I have to practically force him into taking a day’s holiday because he’s worried about not getting paid.

Never say never, but I find it difficult to envision myself working solely for one company. However, the need to endlessly be putting myself “out there” can be exhausting. When I’m not working on something specific that I’ve been contracted for or asked to do as a one-off, I’m making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones. I spend too much time worried about my presence on social media. Is it right? Is it necessary? Is it enough? Is it too much? And I always wonder if the grass truly is greener. Would I have a better work/life balance getting a permanent salary-paid job?

The big debate - freelance vs full-time - is a hot topic right now. For every pro there is a con. Whatever feels fabulous about being self-employed can have the opposite effect for somebody in a permanent role. There are opportunities and drawbacks for both. In an ideal world, we would all work flexible hours and get paid for every holiday we fancy taking. Plus, we’d happily take advantage of private health and dental care and a decent pension. Oh, I did I mention how much we would also LOVE our job? Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to assume all of this can happen simultaneously.

The flame of the Great Resignation was ignited by COVID-19, and since then, a record number of employees globally have quit their jobs. Patrecia Ming Buckley told CNN Business, ‘Whatever the situation is, I want better.’ People have had enough and are finally speaking out about poor working conditions, uninspiring jobs and bad management. If they aren’t leaving to set up on their own, they are seeking a better deal from companies short on staff. So while the freelance market becomes increasingly more competitive, those keen to stay in permanent roles are demanding more incentives.

Are you wondering about making the switch? Can’t decide which way to sway? Here are some things to carefully consider…

1. CONTROL - It might seem obvious that being a freelancer puts you in control, compared to being placed within the hierarchy of a company. Yes, you are your own boss. But you will still have to deal with people who employ you for your services and at times, it can feel like you’re at their mercy, not the other way around. Being in a permanent role can give you the control of planning ahead. You won’t have that ongoing anxiety about job possibilities, allowing you to feel more at ease taking time off and spending your hard-earned cash. Then again, for those who are self-employed, you make the final call. With the right mindset - and a little luck - the control is all yours. You can’t - and won’t - make yourself redundant.

2. HOLIDAYS - It can be frustrating for freelancers to take forced bank holidays when it feels like the rest of the working world is enjoying a fully paid day off. But take into consideration that your day rate is likely to be higher than if you were in a permanent role, so although it feels like you’re wasting a day not earning your fee, overall you’re probably still in a better financial position. However, freelancers find it hard to switch off and give themselves a break. When you see that person on holiday checking their emails and getting panicky about the lack of WiFi, you can bet your bottom dollar, they’re self-employed.

3. WORKLOAD - What’s the lesser of two evils? An endless flow or the constant hustle? Both can be drowning. A good company should respect an employee’s personal time, whereas somebody who works for themselves can mix business with pleasure too often. Shutting down the laptop might be easier when you’re getting paid to work a certain amount of hours ongoing. If you run your own business, the fear of logging out eats into your private life. You get into the mindset that if you want the job done, you might feel that you cannot rely on anybody else to do it but yourself. Then again, in a permanent role, the pressure to impress your boss can be ever-present, eating into job satisfaction.

4. GOALS - In a company, you can achieve your own personal career goals, but they will always be benefiting your employer. Your dreams are their big dreams. This might seem like a negative way of looking at it, but it’s not at all. If your job makes you happy and you’re working for a company that aligns with your own core values, then it’s awesome being part of the bigger picture. However, if your ambition steers into a different direction, being in a permanent role might make you feel trapped. When you work for yourself, you set the goal posts. You’re in the driving seat. You’ll need bucket loads of motivation and resilience to keep going, but it’s not impossible.

5. TEAM SPIRIT - Okay, so Carol from Accounts gets on your nerves. Steve, the IT Guy, makes your blood boil. Alex in Marketing speaks too loud you want to shove the stapler in their mouth. But, hey! Don’t underestimate the power of human connection. While it suits some people to work alone, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing more and more laptops in cafes and the popularity of shared workspaces swiftly rising. That chit-chat as the kettle boils, the cake and candles for the birthday girl, all create a sense of team spirit and belonging. A freelancer’s life can be lonely, especially when you need to bounce an idea or two off somebody who’s a little like-minded. So bear this in mind before flying solo. Or, perhaps for you, a solitary work environment sounds like paradise?

If you’re on the fence about which way to go next, ask yourself this; what is truly going to benefit you and your goals? Don’t be enticed by fancy permanent packages. On the other hand, don’t fall down the rabbit hole of watching endless reels vomiting toxic positivity about being your own boss. Listen to your gut. Do what you believe is best for your chosen career and for your overall well-being.


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