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The Pros and Cons of Working as a Freelancer
There is currently an increasing trend towards freelancing, with the number of self-employed individuals having grow at a rapid rate in recent years. More and more people are seeking to leave their boss behind and go it alone (Lynn, 2016), chasing the sense of freedom that is stereotypically associated with freelance work. But is freelancing for everyone? What are the pros and cons of going freelance? Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is the lack of job security. Not everyone can handle the pressure of not knowing when their next pay cheque is going to arrive.
Research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology indicates that uncertainty regarding income remains a major source of stress amongst freelancers. Unexpected slowdowns in business can lead to financial unpredictability, which can result in anxiety, frustration and depression (Schonfeld & Mazzola, 2015). This suggests that only those with a high tolerance of uncertainty should consider freelancing.
The lack of structure involved in self-employment can also sometimes prove stressful for freelancers (Patel & Thatcher, 2012). There is no boss to set the daily routine, which means that individuals engaging in freelance work require a high degree of self-motivation. They need to be adept at promoting themselves and work extremely hard, as if there are no clients on their books then there is likely to be no money coming in.
If someone is working for a boss then he or she will typically be on a fixed wage, and can enjoy office parties, lunch breaks and meetings without worrying about the fact that they aren’t working during these periods. However, this isn’t the case for freelancers; if they take a break, it’s likely to affect their profits. Responsibility can rarely be shifted to anybody else either. If you’re on holiday for a week, you can’t delegate your work to another employee; it will simply sit there until you return.
The sample concept applies to illness. If you suffer from ill health, you won’t get paid sick pay and no one else will do your job for you whilst you’re out of action. If you’re the type of person who takes a day off work due to a hangover then freelancing might not necessarily be for you (Cohen, 2011).
Freelancers are responsible for the daily operations of their businesses, so if they’re absent, nothing gets done. They’re also responsible for business performance, which can mean that a bad day at work seems twice as bad (Cohen, 2011). There’s nobody to blame when things go wrong; the self-employed are forced to accept their own failings.
There is also evidence that freelancers have to work harder to make a success of their businesses. Research conducted by Ari Hyytinen of the University of Jyväskylä and Olli-Pekka Ruuskanen of the Pellervo Economic Research (2007) indicates that self-employed people typically spend a greater number of hours each day working than those who are employed by other people. They consequently have less time available to spend on leisure activities.
It is also notable that working for someone else guarantees a place in which to work. This is not the case for freelancers, which can mean that they occur additional expenses. Office space can often be costly, although rooms are rentable by the hour in the UK, which saves freelance workers from having to pay for unused time.
There is also the issue of pensions to consider. Only 18% of self-employed individuals contribute to their future pension compared to almost half of company employees (Whateley, 2015). There is a genuine risk of ending up in poverty in later life if you’re unable to organise your own pension.
In addition to sorting out their pensions themselves, freelancers need to either do their own accounts or pay someone else to do them. Even if freelancers hire an external accountant, it is arguable that they require a basic understanding of what is going on. Otherwise, they run the risk of getting into financial difficulties or trouble with the tax man.
There are also social factors to take into consideration. Freelancing can be a lonely business, with no workmates to talk to or meet up with outside work hours. This can lead to feelings of isolation, especially amongst those who work from home (Parry, 2014).
On the other hand, the fact that there are no set hours involved in self-employment means that freelancers can free up additional time in which to socialise. They might not necessarily work alone, and could be in regular communication with clients. Even if this is not the case, it is arguable that there are a wealth of other factors that make up for the lack of social interaction. Whereas many jobs have a limit to how much an employee can earn, freelancers’ salaries are restricted only by their level of competence and the degree of effort that they are willing to put in. There is no one to tell them what to do, and they are responsible for their own successes and failures. This can appeal to their sense of challenge, and be far more exciting than working for a company.
Research has also demonstrated that freelancing results in a greater degree of job satisfaction than regular employment (Hyytinen & Ruuskanen, 2007). This is believed to be due to the perception of independence associated with self-employment. It can be exhilarating to know that you make your own rules and are able to create your livelihood using only your own personal set of skills.
Overall, there are substantial advantages and disadvantages to freelancing. It is more risky, there is no one else to cover for you if you are ill or want to take a holiday, and it can be isolating. However, on the positive side, the sky’s the limit in terms of your earning potential, and you have a much greater level of freedom. Is freelancing for you? The main factors to take into consideration are your ability to self-motivate and the extent to which you’re able to organise your own affairs. If you’re hardworking, have a strong work ethic and don’t need anyone else to tell you what to do then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be an capable of forging a successful career as a freelancer.
Cohen, D. (2011, 5 August). How to become a successful freelance. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/aug/05/how-to-become-successful-freelance
Hyytinen, A. & Ruuskanen, O. (2007). Time use of the self-employed. Kyklos, 60, 105-122.
Lynn, M. (2016, 18 January). The self-employed will overtake the public sector with the ‘gig economy’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/12106318/The-self-employed-will-overtake-the-public-sector-with-the-gig-economy.html
Parry, L. (2014, 22 July). Is freelancing a lonely business? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/money/work%2dblog/2014/jul/22/freelancing%2dlonely%2dbusiness
Patel, P. & Thatcher, S. (2012). Individual attributes and persistence in self-employment. Journal of Management, 40(7), 1932-1979.
Schonfeld, I. & Mazzola, J. (2015). A qualitative study of stress in individuals self-employed in solo businesses. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(4), 501-513.
Whateley, L. (2015, 21 June). Self-employed? Don’t wait to start saving for retirement. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jun/21/self%2demployed%2dsaving%2dretirement-pension