10 of the Most Surprising Things About Freelancing

It was over ten years ago, well before I became a freelancer, but I still remember.

“I don’t believe anyone could earn decent money through the Internet.” My friend confidently stated and…I agreed with her.

Can you believe it? I agreed with her, yet today here I am today doing exactly what both of us thought could never be done. There are many things that I didn’t know about freelancing until I became a freelancer myself.

I guess the first surprise is how very possible it is to earn money as a freelancer. There are many other things that I never would have dreamed of before I started freelancing myself. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has ever faced freelancing surprises…

In this post, I’ll share ten other freelancing “surprises” that most non-freelancers probably don’t ever think about.

10 Freelancing Surprises

Here are ten things about freelancing that take non-freelancers and new freelancers by surprise:

  1. The low start-up cost. While it does cost something to freelance, the cost to start a freelancing business is usually much lower than the cost to start any other type of business. There are no franchise fees to pay, no building space to rent or buy, no employees to hire…
  2. The importance of selling. Most freelancers probably don’t think of themselves as a sales person–at least, not at first. Yet, sales is a vital part of running a freelancing business since it is how freelancers get clients. No matter how uncomfortable, all freelancers need to know a little about selling.
  3. The rate at which what you need to know changes. Even more than corporate employers, freelancers need to be on top of their field. This means keeping up with new software and hardware technologies, industry changes specific to your area of expertise, and being knowledgeable about the latest trends. If you don’t keep up, your competitor will.
  4. The strength of the online community. For most freelancing fields, as well as for freelancers in general, there is a strong online community. Freelancers tend to interact with each other through social media and online forums. They also tend to read the same blogs and online publications. If you think you won’t have peers as a freelancer, you’d be wrong.
  5. The lack of a market rate or standard. There are so many variables (such as skill level, location, experience, and so on) involved that it can be difficult for freelancers (and their clients) to know what a fair rate is. Not only that, clients (and freelancers) sometimes use almost the same words to describe very different projects. When it comes to pricing, freelancers are on their own.
  6. The fact that many freelancers can be harder on themselves than many bosses would be. Some freelancers may have left traditional employment to get away from a bad boss. While having a bad boss is no fun, freelancing isn’t always the escape that one might think it would be. In fact, some freelancers are harder on themselves than any boss would ever be.
  7. The importance of social media. Social media has gone mainstream and nearly everyone has some level of involvement in social media. For freelancers, though, social media is even more important. It’s the lifeline that connects them to their clients, potentials clients, and to other freelancers.
  8. The importance of self-discipline. When you freelance, it’s up to you to make sure that the work gets done. There’s no one looking over your shoulder or sending you reminders to keep you on schedule. You absolutely must have the self-discipline to keep working even when no one is looking.
  9. The global nature of freelancing. Another huge difference between most traditional employment and freelancing is the global nature of freelancing. As a traditional employee, unless you worked for a very large international company, you probably dealt mostly with people who are based in your own geographic area. This is not true of freelancing. As a freelancer working through the Internet, you may find yourself with clients (and colleagues) all over the globe.
  10. The lack of personal days. It’s no fun working sick, trust me on this. As a traditional employee, you probably had a number of paid sick days or personal days that you could take off each day if you weren’t feeling well. As a freelancer, however, it’s up to you to save enough money so that you can take a day off if you don’t feel well. Even with savings, you may find yourself working sick to might a tight client deadline.

Your Turn

These are just some of the things that most people don’t think about when they consider freelancing.

What took you by surprise about freelancing?


  1. says

    Such great points, Laura. Learning to sell and creating an online community of my own were big struggles in the beginning. And, I sure miss those sick days sometimes. ;)

  2. says

    All these are true as far as I’m concerned. Another surprise for me was just how much freelancers in totally different fields have in common. I always expected to share experiences with fellow translators, but certainly didn’t realise beforehand how much I could share with and learn from freelancers in other businesses.

  3. says

    These are good points, especially how differently people price their skills and what their local or regional markets will bear. I live near New York City, and face a very high cost of living, so I can’t compete effectively with someone who can charge much less per hour because they live somewhere much less expensive.

    I would urge everyone who reads this blog to be very careful about saving enough money to take time off for illness and exhaustion. I kept working, in March 2007, despite being ill with a cold — precisely because I had a super-demanding client. It became pneumonia and I ended up in the hospital for three days, and it took a full month to recover full strength. I did have health insurance, but the whole experience was very frightening and sobering. You really can’t take this sort of risk!

  4. says

    Great points, Laura. Some of these ring very true for me. Here’s my addition:

    A freelancer’s hourly rate is not what they make per hour.

    Many a budding freelancer has has had dreams of making a ton of money while working part time only to discover that there is a lot of non-billable work that goes along with it.

  5. says

    Great points Laura. Being too hard on ourselves can make us our own worst enemy at times – as I’m just starting out, I’m continually reminding myself of this downside!

  6. says

    Angie–Working for yourself sounds great until you realize you’ll have to sell your services. I think a lot of people forget about the sales aspect.

    Emma, That’s a very true statement. We are all running a business, and there is much we freelancers can learn from each other (regardless of our field).

    Caitlin Kelly–I always recommend that freelancers save a few months worth of income for emergencies. This can be really challenging (especially if you are starting out), but you’ll be glad you did if you have to tap into that fund.

    Some Design Blog, “A freelancer’s hourly rate is not what they make per hour. ” I love that statement. Freelancers have overhead such as administrative costs to cover and that affects what a freelancer earns.

  7. says

    What surprised me most was the speed at which you develop. I started freelancing little over a year ago and it’s amazing how much i’ve developed as a designer, businessman and person.

    I’ve put a lot more thought into decisions and how they affect me and others.

    I’ve now been freelancing full-time for 5 months and I can’t explain what a change to my life it’s made. I’ve never had more confidence and my people skills have improved thousand-fold.

  8. says

    Great article Laura! One of the most valuable tools I learned in college was selling my process. Who would have thought writing persuasive speeches would be so important to a freelance job? Thank you Comm 101 at Ball State

  9. says

    Jake–It’s true that a dedicated freelancer can develop skills very quickly. I think that you also develop a pride of accomplishment that leads to increased confidence.

    Blake McCreary, It sounds like your background in persuasive speech has helped you as a freelancer.

    Ruth – The Freelance Writing Blog–Of course! No description of freelancing would be complete without that. :)

    Hi Claire Wagner! Yes, please send them here…and their friends too…

  10. says

    Another big surprise is how much I enjoy working overtime! I refused to do it in a corporate setting unless it was necessary, because otherwise work would have taken over my life. Now I don’t mind having a laptop in my lap many evenings. For one, I’m still at home — all day! — taking care of my family. And since I’m getting paid by the hour, I’m getting paid for all the overtime.

    I agree with hard hard it is to keep up with changing technology. I finally broke down and learned some programming this year so I could start building sites in WordPress. Now I keep the money I used to pay to a programmer!

  11. says

    Awesome points, perhaps something one could consider is personal growth and experience. Going out on one’s own, while scary, provides an ideal learning environment. You may discovery things, aspects and thresholds you never knew existed, limits you never realised could be erased etc. A lot successful business I know started out in a similar way, from a one man show, over time, very slowly but truly expanded and with a stable net of 10 happy employees now.

  12. Yana Onikiychuk says

    .”Even more than corporate employers, freelancers need to be on top of their field.” – Excellent phrase! Besides other positive moments, freelance really bursts self-education. And here you can see just in a moment, how your new skills transform into extra market value, and, initially, into extra payment.


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