Why freelancers may be better equipped to weather a sucky job market than nine-to-fivers

October 14th, 2008

Last week I posted a link to the Biznik Live web radio interview I did on freelancing in a down economy. Since then, a number of people have asked me whether I think freelancers have more job security than nine-to-fivers. I do. Here’s why:

  • Our checks come from multiple companies rather than just one. If one client tanks, we replace them with another. I just had a client dry up last week. Instead of crying in my coffee, I’m actually excited that I’ll have a bit more room in my schedule to find a bigger and better client to work with and already have a couple leads.
  • We’re endlessly flexible. If one market dies off, we adapt. No more travel writing budget at your favorite media outlet? Then you write consumer reviews, or business tips, or pop culture trend pieces for them. And/or you start writing for travel trade publications and the hospitality/travel industry (as in, copywriting). Which any good freelancer would be doing anyway, as diversification is key, even when the economy isn’t taking a nosedive.
  • We’re old pros at interviewing and selling ourselves. Especially compared to our nine-to-five friends, who may not have had a job interview in five years and, facing a layoff, may feel daunted at the prospect of having to get out there and market themselves. Freelancers, on the other hand, are constantly “interviewing” on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. Plus, we have the most up-to-date bios, resumes, and portfolios around.
  • It’s still cheaper for companies to hire freelancers than employees. That’s not to say freelancers will replace all employees, or that some outsourcing budgets won’t be cut in this crummy economy. But someone has to do the work. And if a company has 100 hours of work that no one on staff has the time or expertise to complete, they’re going to outsource it.

For these reasons, I recommend interested nine-to-fivers hone their freelancing chops and pick up a moonlighting gig or two on top of their day job asap. Why?

  • You need the money anyway. After all, gas costs $80 a gallon and a salad at your favorite deli is like $35. Besides, you want to be able to buy your sweetie something other than a lottery ticket for Chrismukkah, right?
  • You need the interview practice. You need to get to the point where you no longer say, “Wah! I hate interviewing and looking for work. Woe is me. Wah!” Freelancing gives you that much-needed practice selling yourself. In time, the pain of “interviewing” pretty much dissipates. In fact, many full-time freelancers are so busy that we wish we had more free time so we could pitch for articles or woo more clients.
  • You need a fallback case you get laid off. Freelancing might just be the lifeline that saves you financially if you lose your day job. Often, it pays a heck of a lot better than those meager unemployment checks. And, in case you didn’t know, to collect unemployment, you usually need to (a) prove that you’re looking for full-time work, and (b) attend some state-run “how to find a job” workshops. I’ve done it at the end of a full-time contract gig, and I could only keep it up a month. Freelancing is much more enjoyable, and better paying.

Entry Filed under: This freelance life

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill  |  October 14th, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Excellent post!

    I know quite a few people who got laid off recently or who are seriously concerned about their job security — who wouldn’t in this economy? I like your advice on getting a couple of freelance jobs on the side. Diversify income source is crucial.

    One question I have for you: for folks who have family to support, health insurance is an important consideration. How do you freelancer handle health insurance? Do you set up a small business entity such as LLC, and buy small business health insurance? or you just purchase individual health insurance directly? I think having the extra “health insurance” back-up would also be a very important protection for many families in this economy.


  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  October 14th, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks, Bill. Health insurance should be a concern for any freelancer, kids or no. :) One trip to the ER can wipe out your savings…

    I wouldn’t go the LLC route — costly. Then again, I haven’t worked the numbers for insuring an entire family, so you’ll have to do that research yourself (form an LLC and get a group rate if you can vs. stay a sole proprietor and buy individual insurance). I’ve always bought individual insurance.

    Here’s an old post I wrote on individual health insurance. To those tips, I will add:

    1. Talk to an insurance agent (one who represents a variety of companies). They don’t cost you a thing, and they may be able to save you money.

    2. Some freelancers get health insurance through Costco, their local Chamber of Commerce, or various other professional organizations. Don’t overlook these. They’ll likely be cheaper than COBRA insurance.

    3. Raising your deductible can save you a bundle in annual premiums, but it’s important to look at what sort of health care you normally need. Again, a good insurance agent can help you weigh all these questions.

  • 3. Karri Flatla  |  October 21st, 2008 at 8:23 am

    If one good thing comes of this economic situation is that maybe, just maybe now that the Internet has helped reduce barriers to freelancing and entrepreneurship in general, people will begin to realize the truth: there is NO such thing as job security. You can lose your job any time over politics, economics, or the boss having a bad day (or life). As an entrepreneur you have much more control over your future than an employee ever could.

    Great post :)

  • 4. Michelle Goodman  |  October 21st, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Karri, I couldn’t agree more. And, thanks!

  • 5. The Anti 9-to-5 Guide &ra&hellip  |  November 9th, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    [...] posted about freelancing during a recession last month. Then I wrote an ABC News column about it, did a podcast on it, and gave some advice [...]

  • 6. Interview with Michelle G&hellip  |  November 24th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    [...] most definitely. Freelancers are far cheaper to keep around than staffers, and the dozens of seasoned freelancers I know are doing just fine. We may have had a client or two [...]

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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