The truth about freelance

People often ask me what freelancing is like, how they should go about it, or whether it’s for them. Well, here it is. The naked truth about freelancing in advertising.

The good

– You meet heaps and heaps of brilliant people

– You get to see loads of agencies from the inside

– You find out what it’s really like working somewhere

– You work on a huge range of media and clients

– You run into people you know everywhere (especially when you’ve been doing it for a while)

– You often only work somewhere for a few days or weeks, so you never get as far as ‘feedback round 8 – the client’s revenge’

– The money is great compared to a salary.

The bad

– You don’t have a fixed payday (some people I’ve spoken to thought freelancers got paid on the same day as all the other employees. If only)

– You’ll either need to set up your own limited company and deal with your tax, NI etc yourself, or use an umbrella company (I use Parasol – if you sign up with them, please say Holly Brockwell referred you. Will love you forever) and give them a cut

– If the agency you freelance at hasn’t used your umbrella company before, there’s a whole bunch of forms to fill in. Agencies generally don’t like these and some take weeks to complete them, delaying your payment

– You might have to do up to three sets of timesheets for the same job (the agency, umbrella company and recruiters all like to use their own)

– It’s rare that anyone shows you where the loos are

– You always feel like the new kid, and you rarely have time to make proper friends

– Agencies often won’t put you on internal email, give you a door pass, etc. This can be a royal pain, especially when you need a door pass to exit an area but didn’t need one to get in. Yes, I have been locked in several times.

– You never know for sure whether there’ll be more work after this project/week/month

– There will be times when there’s no work at all. Particularly coming up to Christmas. This can be inordinately stressful

– Agencies being agencies, they often don’t decide whether they need you until the last possible second. I didn’t know where I was working this monday morning until 4pm on friday afternoon

– Freelancers often get the projects that permanent staff members don’t want.

The ugly

Some agencies have 45-day or even 60-day payment terms. This means you won’t get your money until 1.5 or 2 months after you invoice, and you can’t invoice straight away

– Even then, agencies don’t always pay on time

– You will spend your entire life chasing invoices (“Should I give up, or should I just keep chasing payments?” is the freelancer’s anthem)

– Projects sometimes get cancelled or cut short with no notice. I once had a six-month project turn into two weeks. There is no compensation for this, you just go home

– If you’re off sick, you don’t get paid. If you take holiday, you don’t get paid. It’s difficult to justify a week off when you know how much money you’re turning down to take it.

So do I recommend freelance?

I do if:

– You have savings. Ideally at least enough to pay everything for three months

– You’re not particularly prone to stress or anxiety


– You don’t have a permanent job (eg if you’ve been laid off, as happened to me).

In summary

Freelance can be incredibly rewarding. It’s brilliant for your career, your portfolio and your social network. It can also be stressful and worrying, and if you don’t have savings, you can end up getting into debt when there’s no work or payments haven’t come through.

When people ask me about freelancing, they often have a rose-tinted view of basically a permanent job paying twice the money. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’m having a marvellous time bouncing around London’s many agencies, but I’ve also bored my friends to tears moaning about overdue invoices. It’s very feast-or-famine, so if you have a permanent job you’re thinking of chucking in, really think it through.

Questions? Comments? Think I’m completely wrong?

Leave a comment below. Especially if you think I’m completely wrong.

4 thoughts on “The truth about freelance

  1. Vikram says:

    I am very surprised to hear that you got laid off from Albion, I was under the impression that you resigned. They must have been under serious pressure to get rid of someone so good.

    Best wishes,

    Vikram Vai

  2. Vikram says:

    Also let me say one other thing, how do you get your freelance bookings? Who are the decent recruiters in London for that?

  3. christopher Dowson says:

    You don’t need to set up a limited company to be freelance, you simply register with HMRC as a sole trader and do a self assessment every January. Forming a limited company if it’s just you on your own is an expensive, hassle-filled way of doing things and only good if you can really exploit the tax system for dividends.

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