If you want to make a career of writing, should you look for a full-time job in a company or strike out on your own as a freelancer?
I’ve done both and have come to the conclusion that freelancing is what I like best. I earn good money, set my own hours, and I don’t have to deal with the stress of traffic, corporate politics, and an office full of idiots and suck-ups.
Oh, and no ties. I hate ties. I work in jeans and Hawaiian shirts. Yes, I know I’m wearing a tie in my publicity photos, but I did it just that once. And with therapy, I’ve recovered from the experience fairly well.
But that’s just me. I know plenty of people who prefer having a writing job working for one company. They like getting a regular paycheck, having a set schedule, and socializing with co-workers every day. Just because freelancing is best for me doesn’t mean it’s best for everyone.
But how do you know what’s best for you? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of employee and freelance writing.
Full-time “Employed” Writing – The Pros:
You get to work in an exciting, fast-paced work environment. If you work at the right company, that is. Some writing jobs are just dreary, like being a marketing writer at Shoelaces-R-Us. But if you like writing for business, most jobs require lots of writing on tight schedules, which can be challenging and fun.
You get to socialize with colleagues at least 5 days a week. I have to admit that freelancing can get a little lonely. So if you’re the social type, you’ll want all the personal contact you get from a corporate office environment. Gossip. Smoke breaks with friends. Lunch at that deli with the guy behind the counter who yells at everyone. All fun.
You get a regular paycheck and paid benefits. This is a biggie. It’s about cash flow. Knowing how much money you’ll get and when you’ll get it makes life a lot easier. And benefits, such as paid health insurance, is a huge plus. You’re going to need it someday when the smoking and fatty deli sandwiches catch up with you.
You have the possibility for rapid corporate advancement. A full-time writing job is a great starting point for advancing into management jobs where you can start earning real money. Copywriters can advance to Creative Director positions, for example. Freelancing isn’t the only way to make decent money. And honestly, not all freelancers earn big bucks. Sorry to harsh your buzz, but some freelancers lie about their income to get you to buy their e-books. (Do people still say, “Harsh your buzz”? I don’t get out much.)
Full-time “Employed” Writing – The Cons:
You can get burned out from long hours and stressful work. I know writing looks easy. It’s not like moving heavy oak furniture with your neighbor Phil (another article entirely). However, it’s taxing on the brain. Creative work can wear you out if you do it every day for years. Add the mental toll to a stressful work environment and you have a recipe for going postal.
You have to deal with big egos and fickle bosses. Some writers, like me, have a thick skin and are pretty Type-A anyway. I started out as a salesman, after all. But I think most writers are not compatible with that sort of bulldozer personality. Worse, when you have to work with people who keep changing their mind about things, work becomes highly unpleasant.
You face a high probability for layoff when work slows. So the economy gets bad, the company loses customers, and the budget tightens up. Who are they going to fire? The janitor? No way. The toilets have a high priority. They’ll come after YOU, because when things get dire, advertising, marketing, PR, and other writing-related needs shrink. And someone can always recycle your old work.
You have to fit into the corporate culture and survive groupthink. This is the nature of corporations. You have to speak the language, tow the line, go along to get along, and never rock the boat. Writers are usually pretty smart and freethinking, so keeping that smile plastered to your face all day and pretending that the boss is right is like a second job.
Freelance Writing – The Pros:
You have maximum control over your work and schedule. Let me be clear: If you want to make good money, you can’t sleep until noon and play World of Warcraft for 4 hours every day. But you don’t punch a clock either. You’re the boss. You set the schedule. And you can be as flexible as you like.
You can enjoy a quiet, stress-free work environment. Once you get over the fear of being on your own, there isn’t much stress at all. You sit at a desk. Dress in comfortable clothes (I recommend Hawaiian shirts). Think. Type. E-mail. Answer the phone now and then. It’s pretty laid back.
You have the opportunity to earn as much or as little as you want. Not everyone wants to bust their hump to earn a bazillion dollars a year. Some writers are happy with just a little extra income. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that if you work in the right specialty, you can earn $50K in your sleep. You can write for 2-3 hours a day and earn $100K. You don’t break a sweat until you get to $200K or more.
You’ll work on a wide variety of projects for lots of different clients. Variety is the spice of freelancing. Sure, you might really like the regular flow of work from that Shoelaces-R-Us client you picked up when their full-time writer quit. But the odds are, you’ll have something different to work on, and someone different to work with, every week.
Freelance Writing – The Cons:
You have to do “sales” to land clients and find work. Yep. You’re on your own. No one will hand work to you. You have to find a way to generate leads and close deals to get the paying projects. It’s not all that bad once you learn how, but it’s not a job for wall flowers. If you turn white and get all knee-wobbly at the thought of picking up the phone and introducing yourself to a prospective client, keep your day job.
You have to be okay with solitary work and minimal social interaction. You can do all the partying you want nights and weekends. But during business hours, you’ll probably be alone in your office. I’m fine with that. And it’s a plus for concentrating and getting things done without interruptions. But it drives some people bonkers.
You need to deal with irregular cash flow. There’s no paycheck. There are invoices and payments after you finish your work. You could get $20,000 one week then go weeks without a penny. You have to be disciplined with money, a skill many writers don’t have. If you’re the type who would immediately spend that $20,000 to fill your swimming pool with Jack Daniels and invite your friends over for a swim, you will not fare well financially.
You will find yourself juggling multiple projects and clients. Variety, yes. But then there’s multi-tasking and time-management. If you like to finish writing one thing before you start another thing, and you flip out when anyone rushes you or makes changes, freelancing isn’t for you. You don’t want to turn out like that angry guy at the deli, do you?
The choice is yours: be a full-time writer with a regular job or take the plunge and freelance on your own for a living. There’s no one right answer for everyone. But there IS one right answer for you.
Which one have you chosen and why?
About the Author: Dean Rieck is one of America’s top freelance copywriters and publisher of Pro Copy Tips, a blog that provides copywriting tips for smart copywriters. Discover more about writing for a living at the new Copywriting Information Center .