‘I’m thinking of going freelance’ is something I often hear these days as a recruiter when I’m speaking to candidates keen to explore their career options in the London quantity surveying market. There seems to be a perception that by working on a freelance basis, you can enjoy the best of all worlds.
Certainly there seems to be a consistent shortage of quantity surveyors, while there is lots of work out there and you’re good at your job … so why shouldn’t you enjoy the benefits of going freelance? Here's an objective overview of the pros and cons:
Getting paid a competitive day rate if you are working consistently throughout the year can definitely be more lucrative than earning a regular salary. The tax benefits can also be substantial by either working under an umbrella company or setting up as a Pty Ltd.
But remember that your worth is affected by the economic climate as well as by general supply and demand for your particular skills. Speak to those in the know before concluding that your imagined freelance earnings are actually within reach.
The idea that you can work when you want for whom you want is far from the reality. But certainly if you want to take the summer holidays off and gallivant around Europe for six weeks then you may be able to do so, depending on your project workload. Being on short-term notice also means that if you want out then you are not trapped.
That said, in the context of quantity surveying and project commitments, being freelance does not automatically entitle you to work from home or choose your own hours. Be sure to clarify your parameters before making the switch.
Working for different employers means you will probably be exposed to different projects and a variety of sectors as well as experiencing a range of office cultures and professional approaches.
This can be thoroughly enriching and provide you with a wider perspective on the market, as well as breaking up the monotony of working with the same people on the same projects day in day out, potentially for years on end.
Developing your network
Getting exposure to different sectors and projects also means meeting new clients and working with new teams. As well as being enjoyable, this enables you to expand your network in the professional community.
It can become a self-perpetuating process, too, in terms of looking for your next opportunity: you can meet a number of different contacts while working on one contract, and they can help you when the time comes to find a new one.
There is no getting away from it: if the market slows down and you are working on a freelance basis – no matter how long you have been there or how much the client values you – you are likely to be the first to go.
While it is true that some employers will take on freelancers in quiet times rather than committing to investing in someone on a permanent basis, you will never be more than a stop-gap – and in a slow market, you may find it hard to secure something new if you need to.
If nothing else you may have to negotiate on your day rate, even when you expected that by going freelance you would be able to command higher pay.
Lack of career progression
As a freelancer, you are not likely to be given too much in the way of strategic responsibility or team management duties. Instead, you are likely to have a hands-on role and be providing technical input.
You may not get much of a chance, therefore, to widen your skills or develop your career. You will not benefit from the investment in your career that an employer would otherwise provide. Should you wish to go back to being a permanent employee at some point, this is definitely something to bear in mind.
Holidays, sick pay, being one of the team
These are considered together because they are the standard benefits that permanent staff can enjoy that as a freelancer you will not.
Unless you manage your cash flow very carefully, taking unexpected sick leave may see your financial as well as physical health suffer. Going on holiday will never be the same again either, knowing your sunlounger is costing you the additional £300–£500 per day that you are not earning.
But worse than this, you are unlikely to feel as though you are one of the team. No matter how welcoming and friendly a business, if you are a freelancer you will probably be viewed and potentially treated differently by your colleagues and most likely your boss.
This is a small point, but job hunting every three to nine months or so is a pain. No matter how wide your network – or how efficient your recruiter if you are using one – attending interviews, negotiating rates and the general logistics of moving jobs is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. The admin itself in being a freelancer is also demanding, with the potential for needing an accountant or other services.