Freelancer or Employee: Which Life is Better?

A person peeking over the edge and thinking this or that

I’ll be up front and let you know that this isn’t really a cut and dry question. However, both have their benefits and pitfalls, and honestly, it comes down to what you value most as a person today. We’ll dive into each and allow you to make your own choice.

Freelance Life

The trend of moving from your traditional 9 to 5 job to a more flexible and remote freelance environment is on the rise. In fact, freelancers are predicted to make up more than half of the workforce across all industries by 2020, according to Forbes. So what exactly is a freelancer? According to Merriam-Webster, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

So, what’s so great about being a freelancer? Well, for starters, you get to set your own hours, wear whatever you want (or nothing at all, if that suits you), and work in pretty much any environment you choose (depending on your industry of course).

I know what you’re thinking… this all comes with a price, right? Yes, of course. You’re not likely to have a routine of one hour workdays followed by poolside cocktails the rest of the day. Freelancing is hard work, and in most cases you’ll be working more than a standard work week. The tradeoff being a larger potential for rewards.

I’ve lived the freelancer life for a little over 10 years, and the employee life for just under 10 as well. During the freelancer timeframe, just having a choice turned out to be the most meaningful aspect for me. It allowed for maximum flexibility in all aspects of my life, but this wasn’t without its challenges. With limitless choices, what ultimately kept me on my toes was the fact that there’s nowhere to hide. I was accountable for everything. No guarantees. No promises. Just me, my values and my ambition – it was a beautiful thing, and scary as hell.

It takes diligence, discernment and lots of patience

Having shared some common misconceptions above, let’s dive into some of the perks of being a freelancer in today’s workforce:

  1. You set your own hours. Although most freelancers tend to maintain a fairly normal schedule (9-5) based on client needs, you still have the flexibility of establishing expectations according to the hours you prefer to work. If you want your mornings to yourself, go for it. It just comes down to communication and being true to your word.

  2. Your skill sets will be ever-expanding. Being a freelancer typically requires you to wear multiple hats, sometimes unexpectedly, which means you tend to learn things quickly in order to keep up with demand. Adapting to your market(s) needs and continually learning new skills will put you in a much better position to support a broader range of clients. There’s typically a much larger variety of projects and challenges you have an opportunity to work on as well.

  3. You can work in your underwear. This is somewhat cliche, but true nonetheless. You have complete control over your work environment if you so choose. Personally, I prefer co-working at places like Nucleus – collaborating with other like-minded folks leads to more opportunities, and sometimes even a mutually beneficial partnership. I still find myself working in my skivvies at home every once in awhile though 🙂

  4. You set your rates. Freelance rates are typically higher than most traditional day job rates, but you’ll want to make sure to price yourself competitively within your market. Here’s a helpful article on helping price yourself as a freelancer.

  5. Tax benefits. If you’re diligent at tracking all the relevant information, there are some definite tax benefits of owning your own business. Here’s a list of the top 500 deductions you may be eligible for, and there are a number of apps out there to help with tracking many of these.
    Gratitude. Last, but not least, is just the pure and simple appreciation that comes with being a freelancer. There’s no better feeling than being chosen time and time again by the same client because of the results you’ve delivered in the past. That’s all you – just be sure to reciprocate that appreciation back to your clients!

When it’s all said and done, freelance life isn’t for everyone. You have to be willing to lead yourself, let alone others. It takes diligence, discernment and lots of patience, but the rewards can be infinitely more meaningful, if you ask me. Let’s take a look at the other side of the fence to round out the perspective, then we’ll hone in on making the decision.

Employee Life

Traditions have their place, and being an employee has been a fairly stable one for the past 75+ years. Although keeping a job is far from guaranteed, I can say that the overall spectrum of ups and downs is typically much more minimalistic compared to that of a freelancer. There’s rarely a feast or famine scenario when it comes to employee life, assuming you have a job of course, and for the most part you can expect to get paid for the time you put forth.

There are quite a few limitations that come with being an employee, but again, it depends on what you value most as an individual. For starters, most employers require you to arrive at a specific time (usually 8-8:30am), and stay until the end of the work day (5pm). While this isn’t much different than what a freelancer might work, the option for flexibility is pretty much out the window. If you have to shift your schedule or take care of something outside of work within that block of time, that will typically eat away at your paid time off (PTO). Things like income, growth potential, education and skill set can also be very limited as an employee. On the flip side, these can also be benefits depending on what you consider most meaningful.

Some employers offer training and certification reimbursement programs

Here are a few of the factors that I appreciated most as an employee:

  1. Benefits. This was the biggest one for me. 401k, healthcare, and paid vacation time, these can all have a major cost (and time) impact on your life, especially if you have a family to take care of. Out-of-pocket healthcare can be outrageously expensive!

  2. Steady Income. While the income may not always be as much as you would like, or may even deserve in some cases, there’s still a great deal of value in being able to count on a paycheck every two weeks.

  3. Team bonding. One of the biggest challenges for me was not having anyone around sometimes to bounce ideas off of, and just feeling lonely to some degree. Co-workers, while quirky and downright obnoxious at times, can make a big impact on your performance, potential and well-being.

  4. Professional Growth. Some employers offer training and certification reimbursement programs, which can allow you to increase your skill set without it coming out of your own pocket. Depending on your industry, this can require a fairly large investment at times.

Much like freelancing, any traditional day job will have plenty of benefits as well, but it’s really a matter of what’s most meaningful to you. If I were to boil everything down to the one differentiating factor between freelance life and employee life, it comes down to choice. As a freelancer, there are almost no limitations on your choices, whereas most jobs tend to dictate your day-to-day efforts for the most part. If this is of utmost importance to you, then I think you know the answer. If you value stability most, then maybe being an employee is your cup of tea. Either way, the ultimate decision of which one is better falls on your shoulders.

My Hot Take

I’ve actually preferred both at different times in my life, and both served me very well for what was needed. No matter which life you feel is best for you, being grateful for the current opportunity is the only way it will feel meaningful. If you’re dreading going to work every day, then maybe it’s time to consider a shift in your career. Don’t just jump ship to another job without considering what is so difficult about your current workplace. Many times you’ll find the blame to be a result of your mindset, not your actual job, client or employer. Whatever it is you choose to do, do it with purpose and don’t look back. And be confident in your decision, otherwise you’re just going to end up wasting your time, or your employer’s time. For now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the life of a freelancer and business owner!

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