Weigh Pros and Cons of Freelance Career

Over the past year, I’ve talked with several individuals who gave up full-time job searches to focus on freelance opportunities.  Some are doing this until the job market improves, while others are committed to becoming full-time “career contractors”. 

Several PR veteran friends have staked claims in this new career business model.  However, for entry-level and early-stage careers, I urge finding internships and full-time positions to gain experience before considering this career option.   

Online work marketplace oDesk is betting on continued growth of freelancing, especially with small to mid-size businesses that can’t afford to hire full-time PR talent.  According to an oDesk report, contractors with management experience have grown by 489% since 2008, and the number of “highly-paid” contracting assignments paying at least $20 an hour has grown 162%.  (As someone who has a lot of freelancing friends, I’m thrilled by the volume of work headed their way, but I expect most assignments are considerably more than $20 an hour).  

I asked two friends for their points of view — pro and con — regarding the rapid growth of freelance careers. 

“The benefits of a freelancer work-style are flexible schedule along with a choice of clients,” states career mentor Tim Conway, who operates Ignite Young Adults.  “However, the downsides are lack of stability as well as periodic isolation.”

“Today mid-sized companies continue to control expenses, so freelancers are an ideal solution,” Tim claims.  “In fact, independent contractors offer quick access to project experts without a commitment to full-time labor.”

Veteran freelancer Sylvie Sadarnac observes that freelance assignments have shifted from retainers to projects for businesses of all sizes, and there might be more volume as a result.  But, she says this is a bittersweet accomplishment, because the work tends to be tactical.

“There are many career contractors these days, and more and more we are massively underpaid, Sylvie warns.  “Since when does making $20/hour puts someone in the highly paid category, as the oDesk study claims.  What we do has lost value for a number of reasons; but the main one is that clients tend to buy based on cost control rather than quality.” 

Criticizing  the American Idolization of PR and related communication services, Sylvie warns:  “The ability to think strategically, to develop messaging before launching into social media, and to know how to write, has been cheapened by the proliferation of Internet-based content farms who will do the work, or so they say, for next to nothing.”

Bottom line:  Before switching gears to a freelance career, talk to those who have done so for a few years.   They’ll provide a realistic view of the benefits and challenges you’ll face.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Stephen Hoshaw:

    I love your advice on establishing yourself before jumping into independent PR work and developing messages before heading into the social media realm. I was just wondering how would one go about becoming a freelance practitioner? When working for clients you choose should you be pitching ideas to attract their business?

  2. Ron Culp:

    Stephen: One of the reasons to get as much experience as possible before embarking on a freelance career is the need for a well-established network. Referrals are important sources of work. Most freelance projects come via non-stop networking–including your suggesting relevant ideas to busy clients, who hopefully tap you to do the work.

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