We've all heard the sales pitch for going freelance:
"Be your own boss!"
"Never work with another jerk!"
"Control your own deadlines!"
After working freelance for five years, I think the opposite is true: Freelancers have lots of bosses — they're called clients. Like other bosses, some of these clients can be jerky, but you put up with them because they sign your checks. And they always have deadlines, just like regular bosses.
Freelancing is hard. You have to be a self-starter every day — not just when you're job hunting. You have to keep better track of your finances and schedule than a lot of your office-going friends. And you must have a tough stomach for dry spells.
But these challenges aren't slowing a growing trend toward freelance. More than 17 million Americans identify as being self-employed — 10 percent more than in 2011, says The Wall Street Journal. And the number is only expected to rise: By 2018, it should be more like 24 million.
Granted, the trend isn't entirely self-willed. One in seven freelancers say they're now self-employed because they were laid off or lost their job for another reason beyond their control, according to a poll by the back-office services firm MBO.
But whether you're freelance by choice or force, there are benefits — beyond the ones you hear about all the time. Here are three:
You become a pro at personal finances
Freelancers don't get a steady paycheck — their checking accounts tend to rise and fall with the flow of work. The stress of these ups and downs are best mitigated with one thing: Becoming a personal finance ninja.
Out of necessity, freelancers tend to run a tight budget — and know exactly how and where to save. For example, a freelancer who works from home probably has a good idea how much they're saving each week on child care and transportation, or exactly how much they can write off for their home office.
But, if the thought of having to learn all this stuff from scratch sounds intimidating, don't worry: There are plenty of apps to help out. Check out Manilla for bills and payment reminders, Expensify to keep track of business-related expenses like travel, and Mint to centralize all your accounts and credit cards.
You learn the true benefit of working in your sweatpants
One of the most-cited reasons to go freelance is "you get to work in your sweatpants!"
This isn't always as fun as it sounds. When work is rolling in, living in your sweatpants can make you feel like a king. But after one slow month, that feeling tends to dry up, and you may find yourself jonesing for a skirt suit.
The real benefit of "working in your sweatpants," in my experience, is that office clothes are expensive, and you can save by only having a couple "business" outfits to wear to client meetings. That way, when things are going well, you can take the cash you would have spent on slacks and button-downs, and instead splurge on cool sunglasses or a weekend trip.
You'll be the first of your friends to understand ObamaCare
That's because you'll be the first of your friends to use it.
One of the scariest things about going freelance is either forgoing benefits or spending a ton on health insurance. With ObamaCare, that won't be a problem. Here's The Wall Street Journal on the topic:
A wildcard in the rising numbers of independent workers, said Zaino, is the Affordable Care Act, which will make it easier for people to purchase health insurance on their own. That law will give more Americans the freedom to tell their bosses to "take this job and shove it," as the country music song eloquently put it. [The Wall Street Journal]
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Syrian women know how to defeat ISIS
- Will Kobani be ISIS's Waterloo?
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The one thing the New Atheists get right about religion
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- 10 things you need to know today: October 21, 2014
- Why the Supreme Court is allowing Texas to hold an unconstitutional election
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
Subscribe to the Week