Are freelancers more in control than employees?

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Freelancing sounds like an exciting alternative to full-time employment.

Whilst “freelancing” doesn’t define any one way of working, it often conjures up an idea of a person working with multiple clients at once, on projects they’re a deep specialist in, often on a schedule which they define, and no shortage of posts on LinkedIn suggest that working for yourself is a road to fewer hours, bigger paychecks and projects you’re passionate about. There are also lots of doomsayers about freelancing — that there’s no security, its isolating, its competitive, and you’ll endlessly be chasing invoices.

In this series of articles, we’re going to try and bust some of the myths around freelancing, so you’re better prepared for what the reality is actually like.

MYTH 1:
You’re in control over how you work.

“Having more control” is the single most common reason for people choosing to become self-employed. In law, having control over how you work is one the defining differences between an employed worker and someone who is self-employed.

However, do freelancers have more control than those in employment?

Employers are increasingly giving their employees more autonomy over how they work, where and when they work, and flexibility and respect to get the job done in the way they see fit. The best employers give their people control to do a good job, with as much support as required. The goals and objectives will often be defined, but there’s often a significant amount of autonomy on offer for many employees.

In the best of situations, generally freelancers will have more control in lots of circumstances — individuals are able to choose which projects they take on, which clients they work with, define their own hours, working environment, tools and technologies, be able to turn down work they don’t want to do, or even walk away from clients which aren’t offering a fruitful relationship.

However, that isn’t always going to be the case.

Many freelancers cannot afford to turn down projects, will be expected to work during similar hours to their client (perhaps on-site or to enable responsiveness to communications), will have to use the platforms and technologies their clients are working with, and in many instances, don’t have control over how or when the work is done.

There are also a whole load of things which are often outside of your control, projects might get cancelled at the last minute, put on hold or delayed, changes in scope, feedback from your client that takes your work in another direction, or entirely out-of-your-control scenarios like illness or pandemics, where you are even less able to define how something plays out.

Finally, it’s hard to compare like for like, as whilst you’ll might have more control in your day to day work, you’ll also have more things to be in control of — added and new responsibility which you didn’t have control over (or perhaps even needed to think about), such as contracts, accounting, marketing, payroll, banking, sales, training. You may suddenly realise you have way more things that you need to have control over, that you weren’t actively looking for control of.

There are lots of things you can do as a freelancer to take control of circumstances, but how able you are to be strict about how and when you work will depend on lots of factors.

Control is often something that freelancers have to work hard to implement over years, rather than it being something that magically ‘appears’ when you choose to be self-employed.

Despite this complexity — most of our community members still prefer this way of working, as they do generally feel like they have more autonomy over more decisions — and whilst there are always going to be situations where you have less control or things are out of your control, being able to make decisions that are right for you, for your business, and for your wellbeing, is important to us all.

In macro, we do, as members of the self-employed workforce, have a greater level of control over many aspects of our professional lives, over where and how we work, and over the direction of our career — but it requires effort.

VERDICT: NOT ALWAYS TRUE

You’re not automatically in control over how you work, it takes effort to put that structure in place, and there are lots of things entirely out of your control. Control is a major reason for those who choose to freelance, so don’t assume it just happens.

But don’t just take our word for it!

One of the most valuable things to do before going freelance is chatting with as many other freelancers as possible, to get their experiences of things. Join some freelance communities, find others in your sector, or use our AskAnything page to bust the myths for yourself too!

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Matthew Knight

Matthew Knight

Chief Freelance Officer. Strategist. Supporting the mental health of the self-employed. Building teams which work better.