Five Myths about the Freelance Life

Five Myths about the Freelance Life

Tell people you’re a freelancer and you’re usually met with one of two reactions: amusement or bemusement.

Either people don’t understand what you do all day and how you do it, or they’ve bought into freelance myths and you’re about to be the butt of their long-lunch-pyjama-working jokes.

To prepare you for the onslaught, here are five myths about freelancing – and the ammunition to bust them:

1. You can work at whatever you want

Ah, if only that were true. I’d give brain surgery a go on Mondays and save Fridays for caring for cute puppies. Sadly, the only way to make money freelancing is to do something you’re good at and work on projects that pay a decent fee, even if this sometimes means doing things you find boring or repetitive.

While you do have the freedom to say no to as much work as you want, sooner or later you will have to say yes to something (or find an alternative way to pay for food and bills).

 2. You can work at whatever time you want

While freelancing can offer flexible working hours in a way that traditional employment rarely does, there are restrictions. Most freelancers have other time-sensitive commitments in our lives, whether that’s family commitments, another form of work or trying to adhere, roughly, to the timescale on which our nearest and dearest eat and sleep.

There’s also those pesky clients to consider; some expect you to be contactable in standard office hours, some may be based in a different time-zone, and others may want to video-call you on Skype first thing in the morning and be less than impressed by your Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, half-eaten breakfast bap and bed hair.

So, can we freelancers work at whatever time we want? Not really, no.

3. You can work as few hours as you want: long lunches, spontaneous short breaks, days off whenever you want

How freelancers are supposed to pay for those short breaks and long lunches is a mystery, given that apparently, we waft to our desks on a whim, work for half an hour and then waft off again.

Of course, there are some highly successful and experienced freelancers who get paid such high rates that they don’t need to work full-time. Equally, there are freelancers who choose not to do it full-time because they have other commitments (or jobs, like me!). But freelancers only get paid for producing the work – and producing it on time.

You could stand by the water-cooler talking to yourself, but as you are also your own boss, you would probably notice this slack attitude. It’s hard to get things by the boss when you are the boss.

Also, slacking off is self-defeating. Can we work for just a few hours a week (providing we hit our deadlines)? Yes. Can we live on the money we will earn? Probably not.

4. Freelancing isn’t real work – especially if you do it from home!

It’s amazing how ‘working for yourself’ seems to magically transform into ‘getting the work fairy to do your work for you’ in the minds of some people.

It doesn’t matter how much you discuss your projects, deadlines and clients; they still don’t seem to think you do real work.

My other job is as a term-time employee, and as every academic holiday approaches, I wait to hear someone close to me utter something like: “Lucky you, having no work next week.” When I point out that I will still have plenty of work, they almost tut as they say dismissively, “Oh yes, of course, that work,” as though my freelance work doesn’t really need to be done – and will mystically disappear.

This is despite the fact that usually, freelancing represents the majority of my working hours and earnings. Yet if I were doing the same work in an office, with a boss, I know that same work would suddenly become real again, and people would appreciate that it required time, effort and completion!

The only tip I have here, for when you encounter this attitude, is to always make sure you take your work seriously. Ensure people know you have work on and never treat it like something that can be pushed aside, squeezed in or considered less important.

5. You are instantly available to everyone

The problem of this ‘unreal’ work is that people think it can supposedly be done at some unspecified, mythological, ‘other’ time. This means they believe you are always instantly available to them, whether they want a chat, a coffee, help with their house move or their child picked up from school.

Again, make it clear that while you can often be more flexible than most employees can, you do still have clients to please, work to do and deadlines to meet. You can’t just drop everything at a moment’s notice. Say no to things you can’t fit in and when you do say yes to someone, make it clear you’ve had to check your workload first. That way, they will be less surprised if the answer is no in future.

Ask people not to visit or phone in your working hours and/or just ignore the phone or doorbell. Constant disruptions will break your concentration and slow you down.


What freelance myths do you find yourself having to bust? Do you find it hard to get others to take your freelance career seriously? Let us know.

Stephanie Whalley
Serial snacker, compulsive cocktail sipper and full time wordsmith with a penchant for alliteration, all things marketing and pineapple on pizza.