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Freelancing in a Poor Economy

Someone told me recently about her son, a graphic designer who works full time for an agency and does freelance jobs on the side. She said he has considered leaving his full time job to freelance full-time, but worries about doing that in this poor economy.

Here’s my response to that:

Especially in this poor economy, I feel much more secure working for myself — my pay flowing in from many different clients — than being at the whim of only one employer. 

In these uncertain economic times, a full-time job can disappear at any moment. But if you’re good at what you do, work hard, and especially if you already have a stable of jobs going on, leaving the uncertainty of a full-time job for the freelance life seems like a no-brainer to me.

Spreading your work (and income) around to many clients is the smartest kind of diversification. You’re not relying on one employer, one company, one industry. Not putting all your eggs in one basket and all that.

I’m not suggesting anyone quit a steady job with some vague dreams about freelancing. It’s serious business. Learn what you’re doing first, and work up to it. Make sure you have what it takes.

But if you know what you’re doing, have clients lined up, and work hard, it’s very doable. Even in this economy. Especially in this economy.



  1. Alex August 5, 2008 9:08 am

    I totally agree with you — with some caveats. It is VERY HARD to make an equivalent salary freelancing as opposed to working at a steady job. Most people are not comfortable with the constant hustle required to do well as a freelancer. I myself felt much more comfortable knowing I had 15 sources of income as opposed to one. But I talked to many people in my line of work who confessed they would have great difficulty getting motivated enough to snag sufficient clients and make a decent living. Someone who is already freelancing on top of a full-time job is halfway there — because freelancing successfully is more than a full-time job in terms of a time commitment (unless you have extremely low cost of living or a wealthy significant other). If someone already feels compelled to freelance AND has a day job, yep, you’ll do fine. Otherwise, I’d say be very cautious, try to freelance seriously for a while before you bolt and only then consider taking the plunge. Also consider other key things such as setting up health insurance, retirement accounts, disability insurance. Health insurance for freelancers in Hawaii is extremely problematic.

  2. Leslie Lang August 5, 2008 1:16 pm

    Alex, you make excellent points about health insurance, retirement accounts and disability insurance. We sometimes take those benefits for granted when we receive them through a full-time job, and they are very important considerations for anyone considering freelancing.

    Yes, making a good salary as a freelancer is not easy. It’s a tremendous amount of work and not for the fainthearted. Not everybody is cut out for it and I don’t want to give that impression. I agree with your comments completely.

    Yet in spite of all that, I love freelancing and couldn’t imagine taking a “regular” job!

  3. Jackie Dishner August 7, 2008 5:52 am


    I don’t think I’d want to be starting out fresh right now, but I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from trying, either–especially not if they have connections and a really strong network.

    Freelancing is not easy. It’s not a quick path to success. It’s not glamorous. It’s as you both say above–hard work.

    As for me, I’ve been freelancing for so long, I just don’t worry about the economy too much. I’m still going to be doing what I always do–seek out new markets and avenues of possibility. For instance, I’m writing my first travel guide, now have a travel blog (along with my motivational blog), and I began teaching workshops and giving keynotes two years ago. This year, I’ve begun to coach writers and other self-employeds. Sometimes the money’s tight, and sometimes it’s flush. But that seems to be the way of the freelance life, in general–good economy or not.

    So, it’s as you say, diversify. The entire mix seems to be working for me. Plus, it makes life more interesting.

    Congratulations on making it work for you!


  4. Craig Guillot August 8, 2008 3:31 am

    I may not be easy but it is certainly possible to make far more money freelancing than you can working on staff for some publication. I lost my day job at a magazine three years ago and it has been the best thing to ever happen to me.

    Regardless of what the economic conditions may be, I get up every morning and market myself. We may be in an economic slump but I am having my best year ever. And, I do feel there is far more security in working for yourself than someone else because you can diversify and spread the risk. I lose a few clients every year but usually pick up some more shortly after and it often puts me in a better place than where I was before.

  5. Pingback: 2009: My Power Freelancing Year, In Spite of the Economic Disaster « Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer