The Pros and Cons of Becoming an Independent Contractor or Freelancer

Dec 10, 2012 -
When looking for a new position (whatever the reason may be), you may find yourself weighing the pros and cons between a contract opportunity and a full-time role. Getting a salaried, full-time position is the traditional route, but the popularity of becoming a contractor (or freelancer) is growing. If you’ve known someone who’s worked a contract job, you’ve likely heard both the boastful ramblings of how salaried jobs are slavery compared to contracting and the incessant complaints of the demanding workload. Every job, contract or not, is dependent upon the industry you work in and the specific company you work for, but there are certain things you can expect if you’re contemplating whether the contractor or freelance route is for you:

The Pros

1. Get paid for every hour you work

Staying late and coming in early isn’t such a big deal when every hour is on their clock. This can lead to a nice paycheck when you’re in the middle of a release for a new product or software and you get paid for all 67 hours you worked.

2. More independence

One of the most personally rewarding aspects of contracting is having more independence than you would in a salaried role. Most jobs involve working from home, especially in IT, but even on-location gigs will expect less from you than your salaried counterparts.

3. Do exciting work and then go home

Contractors often come in for the project, do the exciting work, and then leave. You aren’t stuck there afterwards just doing maintenance—a major benefit if you find those types of tasks to be menial.

4. The potential to earn a lot more money

Everyone knows that in full-time jobs, hard work isn’t always rewarded, and in some places, playing along with office politics is what will get you ahead. In contrast, when freelancing, what you earn is limited only by how much you work or charge.

5. Gain skills quicker

Exposure to a wider variety of projects and work environments will accelerate how quickly you’ll build your skills. Not to mention that meeting a wider variety of people also holds opportunities to build your network. Both will lead to better job opportunities.

The Cons

1. Getting paid for every hour you work

When you don’t work, you don’t get paid. So when you take off for a vacation, be prepared for that $0 paycheck. Also be prepared for the occasional gaps between jobs, which could lead to a few $0 paychecks. The key here is to plan ahead, create a budget and build that rainy day fund.

2. You’re on your own for benefits

Most contractors are responsible for finding and paying for their own benefits, which can get pretty costly, especially if you’re paying for your whole family. Add this into your hourly pay before you take a job. In addition, you might incur other added expenses, such as paying for your own parking or a long commute.

3. Being a low priority

Contractors are usually a lower priority to some companies than full-time employees, and your work environment may reflect that. I’ve heard about contractors being given closets to work in or desks made with old chairs and plywood (not exactly an Aeron chair).

4. The hustle

They say looking for a job is a full-time job. With a salaried role, this typically ends on your first day. In freelancing, as soon as you secure a job, the first thought in your head should be where to find the next one. This can be one of the most stressful aspects of working independently: constantly searching for your next paycheck.

5. Less job security

The real risk to keep in mind is that you can get cut at any time, even if you’ve got a six-month contract. Fortunately, most managers have the foresight to plan ahead so that most contracts pan out to fruition, but this doesn’t change the fact that you might have less job security while contracting. The bottom line is that making a living off of contracting isn’t suitable for everyone, and jumping straight into a contract job after years in a full-time role isn’t always a good idea. Before you make the decision to move to contracting, realize that it involves a lot of planning and self-motivation. It will be up to you to find your next job, work enough hours, pay for your own benefits and additional expenses and seek career advancement. However, the independence and the ability to build your skills at a fast rate can be financially and personally rewarding. Mike Reynolds is a Practice Manager at eHire in Atlanta, specializing in recruiting for IT services. Follow him @mfreynolds for more insights on career development and the general IT industry.