Every graphic designer has to ask themselves honestly more than once in their career whether or not they would prefer to work as a freelancer or work as an employee. It’s never an easy choice, as both options have their fare share of benefits and drawbacks. So what should you do?
Below we have weighed up a few of the pros and cons of freelance versus salaried employment to help you consider your options with a clear head.
The Benefits of Working as a Freelance Graphic Designer
Working as a freelancer allows you to take on a range of tasks for a variety of employers. This exposure to a number of different challenges will generally push you to develop and improve more than working with an employer might; if you are employed by the same company you could find yourself working on similar projects over and over again.
Choosing when you work is one of the greatest advantages of working as a freelance graphic designer. If you are organised, the flexibility of a freelance career will leave you open to fitting other things into your life such as studying to improve your skills further as a graphic designer, which could lead to even better work. Being your own boss, you will be able to run your business as you see fit, and if finances allow, you can and usually take time off as and when you need it.
Working from home is something that appeals to many graphic designers. This is a comfortable way to work, especially if you’ve become fond of your own kit and established a way of working from when you were a student. You will probably have to meet clients in person from time to time, but for the most part, the long daily commute, soggy cafeteria sandwiches, bad coffee, and tedious office politics will not be a problem that you have to worry about.
On average, freelance graphic designers will earn a much greater hourly rate than employed workers. If you are lucky enough to keep up a good rate of work and build a loyal client base, the opportunity for earning is quite promising. On average, an experienced freelance graphic designer can expect to earn between £200 and £400 per day, although this will vary with skill level and client recommendations.
The Drawbacks of becoming a freelance graphic designer
As a freelance graphic designer, you tend to have a little less creative freedom, and you may end up feeling like the hired help; which is essentially what you are. You are working for a client, and you have to keep them happy or they could drop you. As a result, you will generally find yourself doing as the client asks, as opposed to putting your own stamp on the project. This all really depends on your relationship with the client, and it could be said that you could just as easily drop them, but then you don’t want to build a reputation as being difficult to work with…. On the whole it is likely that you will have a more valued opinion (and contract) if you are employed as an in-house graphic designer.
Depending again on the client, you might find that you have to work irregular hours to keep on top of their deadlines. Scoping a project accurately is one of the most difficult challenges a designer can face, especially when you are working on more than one project at a time. Unfortunately creativity can’t be turned on like a tap. Pretty much every freelance designer has found that they have to work through the night or at weekends to keep on top of projects. This kind of self sacrifice does happen to in-house designers but much less often.
Many freelancers find that a work-life balance is difficult to establish and, if you do go freelance and work from home, you should make every effort to keep regular hours so as not to blur the line too much. There is a great danger that your home becomes your office, rather than the other way round, and many freelancers have to separate their working space out entirely in order to relax when they’re away from the desk.
Freelancers might be paid at a higher rate than contracted employees, but this is simply because it costs much more to work as a freelancer. At the beginning of your employment, you need to buy all the equipment and software you require, and be prepared to update it to the latest version throughout your career. You also need to stay on top of your own taxes, pay your own insurance and spend time marketing your services. There are also the inevitable dry periods to consider, when little work is forthcoming. Added up, this can leave little difference between the two pay packets and industry estimates suggest that freelance graphic designers need to earn 2.5 times as much per hour as contracted employees to keep pace.
It’s Up to You
Despite any of the challenges, graphic designers, whether freelance or contracted in-house designers, will mostly tell you that whatever path you choose to take, graphic design is a very rewarding career. In the UK, there are more opportunities for both appearing all the time and industry statistics are at the most promising they have been for a long time.