Don’t believe what they tell you about freelancers

Posted on Dec 11th, 2014 | Becoming self-employed

Freelancing is not a real profession.

This is a common opinion and, to some extent, it’s correct. Freelancing is, in fact, a lifestyle choice, a method of working that can be applied to any number of professions.

Freelancers often find themselves taken less seriously, explaining their chosen method of working to their bewildered family over Sunday roast, shunning the term ‘freelancer’ altogether because the word comes with sticky assumptions that could stand in their way when pitching for a job. Many large companies refuse to work with freelancers altogether, instead preferring the perceived safety that comes from working with contractors, agencies and limited companies.

The truth is, freelancing is an important method of employment in the UK, it acts as a valuable option in times of financial difficulty and gives people the opportunity to go it alone, to follow their passions and take control of their workload.

According to IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, there has been a 63% rise in the number of people going freelance in the past decade. This brings the number to around 1.72 million, contributing £95 billion to the UK economy each year. The self employed make up 15% of the UK’s workforce, this figure continues to rise.

It is now more important than ever for us to understand the realities of freelancing and to blow apart well trodden myths. We took to Twitter to discover what you believe these myths to be:

Myth #1 – Freelancers take lots of holidays

Many become beguiled by the use of the word ‘free’ in freelancer, believing that leaving the daily grind will suddenly free you up for never ending fun and whimsical pursuits. Sadly, travelling costs money and, unlike those in traditional employment, freelancers don’t receive holiday pay – any time they take a break, they will lose out financially.

Of course, one of the greatest benefits of freelancing is flexibility, and many professions, particularly those within the digital sector, allow you to work from pretty much anywhere. This means that freelancers could, in theory, spend half of their time living and working in the UK and the other half living abroad, so long as they comply with the tax regulations of their chosen country.

This doesn’t mean they’re on holiday, however. In fact, statistically freelancers take less holidays than those in employment because they are afraid they will lose clients if they take a break. It’s also harder to draw the line between work and life, and even when on holiday, it is not uncommon for freelancers to continue working.

Myth # 2 – It’s easier than having a full time job

The whole cowboy in pajamas stereotype quickly wears thin after a year of twelve hour days.

Freelancing means running a business by yourself, which comes with a lot of responsibility, including tax compliance, marketing, project management, invoicing, customer service etc. Many choose freelancing because it is rewarding and gives them the freedom to explore their passions, no one chooses freelancing because it’s easy.

Myth #3 – Freelancers invariably earn more

Research by the RSA has found that people are choosing to go self employed due to a desire to have more control over their working hours, despite the fact that the majority actually earn less. The pay cut is particularly pertinent for self-employed women, who take home an average of £9,800 per year, 40% less than their male counterparts.

Maternity leave is also considerably less for freelancers at just £138 for the first six weeks, compared to £458 for employees. The myth that freelancers earn more could be more destructive than just an irritating discussion over the Sunday roast. Without government incentives to increase financial support for the self-employed, many will struggle to have a family and may give up on their business altogether.

Recently, the powers that be have started to take note and have appointed a freelancer Tsar to champion the needs of freelancers. They have also pledged to look into better maternity and pension schemes for freelancers, as well as developing better professional support networks.

Myth #4 – Freelancing isn’t a ‘real’ job/the person wasn’t good enough for a real job

The opinion that people go into freelancing because they can’t find anything else appears to be common, especially due to the rise in freelancers during the last recession. However, research has shown it is the minority who go freelance for this reason.

The latest results from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor indicate the level of ‘opportunity’ entrepreneurship – where people start up for positive reasons (eg to make the most of a good idea) is almost five times higher than the level of ‘necessity’ entrepreneurship – where people start up because they have no other options. Therefore, the majority of freelancers are actually displaying a large amount of ingenuity and courage far removed from incompetency and desperation.

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Written by Sophie Turton

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