7 Reasons Not To Freelance

By Michael Jones

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These are 7 reasons you shouldn’t freelance and should consider seeking a full-time position in a studio or agency.

When artists are ready to put their skills to work they have two main options; a full-time job or freelancing. There are pros and cons to both working situations and in a short series on the blog, we want to explore both sides.

1. Professional Growth

One big reason that a studio or agency gig is better for many artists is professional development. Witnessing how a studio is run is valuable insight. Seeing the way that new clients are recruited and served shows an artist how their skills interact with the economy at large. If you’ve never worked in a studio or agency you may miss a lot of subtle professional development that comes from simply being in those environments.

You’ll get a bigger picture view of how teams work together and what various roles look like. You might be a motion designer today, but perhaps being a producer would best use your skills. If you’ve never worked in close proximity to a producer, how would you know what that role looks like day today?

Everyday people skills in a professional environment are not something you can gain from Art School or online education, it only comes from spending time in those environments and picking up on all the subtle nuances of that world. Spending a few years in a studio or agency can provide valuable professional development for many artists.

2. Mental Health

I can attest to this personally. Being a full-time freelancer from your own home office or even co-working space can take a negative mental toll on you. There is a lot more stress that comes with being a freelancer related to finding work, serving clients and paying your bills. The peaks and valleys of freelance are faced alone. You are an agency of one and all success or failure is on you.

This can be very difficult for people and I know many freelancers who have expressed angst about all the pressure and stress that comes from being a freelancer. Being an agency of one brings a unique pressure to each project.

There is also the issue of a 24/7 work mindset. I’ve struggled with this since I started freelancing in 2012. For the last 7 years, I’ve struggled to turn off my brain even after hours. When you have clients all over the world emails come in at all hours. When you work from home, “The Office,” is always waiting for you just a few feet away. It can be hard to escape the feeling that you’re always at work, even when you’re not working.

7 reasons not to do freelance - mental health

3. Healthcare Benefits (US Based)

This is specific to those working in the United States, the one advanced nation without a basic health insurance plan that covers all citizens. We buy our own health insurance and the individual market is particularly expensive. The Affordable Care Act was designed to help people in the individual market by pooling them together into exchanges (and in theory giving them collective purchasing power) but the results so far have been bad. Buying insurance for yourself or your family, as an individual outside of a group/business plan, is extremely expensive.

For a family of 4, the monthly premium (for a silver plan, not great but not bad) is just under $2,000, while the deductible is still $6,000. So roughly $24,000 per year in premiums, assuming you don’t get sick or injured for that year. This makes having a family and being a freelancer quite difficult financially.

Having a full-time job with health care benefits becomes especially attractive if you have a family. Employers can buy plans that allow for more purchasing leverage and typically get better rates. Cost-sharing between employers and employees makes the burden of health insurance a bit lighter. It’s no doubt still expensive in the US, but having a full-time job makes this easier.

4. Stability

By this, I mean stability of a routine. Heading to the office each day creates a rhythm that can be difficult to achieve as a freelancer. Having a set schedule can seem like a negative, but the older I get the more I realize I am only as good as my habits, and having a structure that forces stability can be a real positive.

Of course, there is also income stability in the sense that you get paid every two weeks in the same amount. Freelancers can make lump sums all at once, then go a while before getting paid again. This can put stress on your long term financial goals. Having a more stable paycheck makes it easier to create a budget you can stick to. You won’t have lump sums burning a hole in your pocket or create a challenge to budget your spending when you’re not sure when the next payment will come.

Freelancing brings freedom, but for some people, stability and structure are better than freedom.

5. Taxes & Accounting

Freelancers pay more in taxes and they must keep proper accounting of all money in and out. This creates another job to worry about to avoid being audited and penalized by the IRS (or insert your own government’s tax authority). If you’re not organized, and many artists are not, this can be a problem.

You’ll need to keep your books in order, tracking your own tax obligations and sending in money each quarter. If you don’t you pay penalties. You’ll need to track your expenses properly, something that can get murky when you’re working from home and the internet bill is for work and life. Many expenses for a freelancer can fall into a grey area and you’ll likely need a tax professional to stay in full compliance with tax laws.

Also, tax law changes. It’s on you to understand these changes or spend money on a professional who does. For full-time employee’s this is not an issue. Your taxes are deducted automatically by your employer and it’s likely you’ll get a small refund check at tax time each year. So while full times employee’s can go out with that check and celebrate, freelancers are often stressed out about getting their final returns in order by the deadline. It’s another job the freelancer must take on.

7 reasons not to freelance - accounting and taxes

6. Isolation & Loneliness

This is similar to the mental health issue but I felt it deserved its own point because I think it’s worth mentioning in more detail. Mental health can be affected by the stress of the job, but freelancers also have the challenge of being isolated, a lot.

It’s often a funny twitter trope to see freelancers joke about not leaving their house or talking to other humans for days at a time. But it takes a real toll on a person to spend so much time alone. The science is pretty clear that isolation is terrible for human beings. In a study on mice who were pulled out of their groups and held alone, showed they developed brain damage.

Other studies have compared loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It’s that bad for your health to spend time in isolation. From an article on the study.

Researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships. Stress will also affect you more if you’re lonely. Financial trouble, health problems, and everyday obstacles may take a bigger emotional toll on individuals who lack social and emotional support.

This is particularly troubling science for freelancers. Not only do we often experience more stress than others, but we are often isolated much more than those working in a studio or agency setting. This is a big deal because freelancing from the spare bedroom is a very new phenomenon in the world. We are literally the first generation of humans to run this experiment and we shouldn’t assume that what we’re doing is ok.

If in 20-30 years we see studies that freelancers have shorter lifespans due to stress and isolation, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

7 reasons not to freelance - isolation and health

7. Artistic Development

The most successful freelancers are those who spent years in a studio environment honing their skills and reaching a level of mastery in their craft. Being in a creative environment, around more talented artists than you, is the quickest path to growing as an artist. I think it’s easy for freelancers without a lot of experience to become stagnant in their artistic development.

We actually see many people join the MoGraph Mentor program to remedy this exact problem. When you’re working in isolation, sure you get client feedback, but it’s not the same as being around a team of artists who push you in a million subtle ways. There is something magical about the environment of a studio of talented artists all working to make something great.

As Nick Campbell of GreyScaleGorrilla likes to say, “If you’re the most talented person in the room, it’s time to find a different room.” I think this is 100% true. As a freelancer, you’re often the only person in the room so becoming stagnant is all too easy to do.

If you’re a young artist and have never worked in a dynamic creative environment, then going directly to freelance can be a bad choice.

Conclusion

There are pro’s and con’s to both full time and freelance situations, but I hope this article can illuminate why a full-time job might be the right fit for you. If you’re an experienced artist, with a huge network of contacts and are disciplined and organized, then freelancing can be a great way to achieve more freedom in your life. But if you’re not those things, then freelancing might be more trouble than it’s worth.

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