Comparing Online Freelancing to Traditional Employment
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Nearly all freelancers were at one time full-time employees; with experience in both modes of work, they have a pretty good idea of each one’s advantages and disadvantages. Conversely, most full-time employees have never freelanced, and tend to have an unrealistic view of what it involves.
Many traditional workers who are considering freelancing are tempted by the advantages that they’ve heard about, some of which are played up by online freelancing marketplaces and by “gurus” who try to portray freelancing as a panacea. You’ve probably heard the stereotypes before: “Be your own boss! Work in your pajamas! Set your own hours! Earn as much money as you want!” Yet while those advantages are true—to some extent—the folks who push these lines never talk about the disadvantages that come with the advantages.
The reality is that the grass isn’t always greener: there are pros and cons to both freelancing and full-time employment. And even when the grass is greener, you won’t get to enjoy it without putting in a lot of time gardening, and yes, dealing with large quantities of fertilizer as well. :)
In an effort to provide some perspective on the oft-made but usually poorly-done comparison between online freelancing and a conventional job, I decided to identify the pros and cons of each. In doing this, I ended up with two very long lists—each had over a dozen bullet points. I noticed that many of the pros and cons were related, and really represented trade-offs more than anything. So I decided that, rather than just spew out a list of random pros and cons, I would look at the benefits and drawbacks of freelancing compared to conventional employment in five areas: work quality and variety; expenses and earnings; management and supervision; time and productivity; and work environment. You’ll find subsections for each of these below, contrasting the pros and cons in a way that I hope will be useful.
Some of the plusses and minuses for online freelancing will apply more to your personal situation, and some less. The idea here is not to just count the number of pros and the number of cons and use this as a basis for a decision. You really need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages in light of your needs and wants: one advantage that’s really important to you can outweigh five disadvantages, or vice-versa.
Finally, remember that you often don’t have to make a straight choice between online freelancing and a regular job; many people combine the two. This can be a great way to get some of the advantages of each style of work, to ameliorate some drawbacks, and to help get an online freelancing career off the ground without the risk of diving in head first.
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Last Site Update: December 13, 2011
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