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Thomas Kjeldahl Nilsson

The Friendliest Freelancer #9: "Is it worth it—for me?" Pros and cons

Published 9 months ago • 3 min read

This week's article describes how the lifestyle feels so you can consider how it would fit you.

A separate question is, “Will it pay well?

We’ve talked about hourly rates a bit earlier, and I want to give you a tool to run your numbers on employment vs. freelancing. We’ll swing back to this soon: I just need to sit down and extract a user-friendly and country-independent spreadsheet template for you first. 😀

Until then, I hope you find this walkthrough of upsides and downsides valuable.

And as always, I hope you have a great week!


Is freelancing worth it?

I don’t think it’s for everyone—and you have to decide if the tradeoffs fit your life and personality.

Here, I’ll do my best to help you choose for yourself. Let’s walk through a few trade-offs you should consider.

Downsides

1. You can’t just code anymore. You suddenly have to spend at least some time on networking, self-promotion, marketing, sales, and admin. Some of these tasks can feel like a drag if you’re the introverted programmer type (though admin and paperwork don’t have to take a lot of your time)

2. Everything is on you. Ensure company liquidity is good, stay on top of taxes and admin, and keep your network warm. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick. It can weigh on you mentally if your family depends on your income.

3. If you can’t work, the engine stops. When you’re employed and get sick, you may—depending on your region—still get paid during sick days. But when it’s just you? Anything that stops client work must come out of your buffer account.

And there’s a mental trap waiting for you there. Consider vacations: When you’re an employee with vacation/PTO available, you just take it, and that’s that. But when time off means client work stops, you risk thinking of summer downtime with the family as lost earnings—even when your company has plenty of liquid savings! This is not a mindset you want to have.

4. Region-dependent: HEALTH INSURANCE. I’m not a US citizen, but I hear horror stories about how challenging and expensive healthcare is for self-employed folks over there. My heart goes out to you! (Norwegian public healthcare is imperfect, but a severe illness is unlikely to bankrupt me.)

Upsides

1. Control your schedule. You usually have standard vacation and paid time off as a salaried employee. When you’re self-employed? If your client is happy and your liquidity can absorb it, take time off whenever necessary.

2. Control how much you spend on learning vs. earning. “We give you one ticket to a tech conference each year” instead becomes, “I think I’ll completely block out three weeks to master this new programming language.” You fully control when and how much you invest in yourself—both in time and money.

3. (Potentially) much better compensation than salaried employment. If you work full-time for clients on long-term projects, you can usually pay yourself a larger annual salary than a salaried employee gets in the same position.

4. Decouple from office politics. As an independent agent, detaching your mind from what goes on in the client’s office is easier. You get paid per hour or delivery; no annual bonus is on the line. Neither is your career as tightly wrapped up in the actions and strategy of company management compared to when you’re a full-time employee at the same place.

And when you run a business that sells services to companies, it clarifies things. You are fully aware that you’re in a business relationship, that engagements end, and that you must prepare for your next client at some point. (As opposed to how harsh it can feel if you’re a salaried developer and your employer starts laying off people—“Wait: we’re not one big family after all?”)

Is this for you?

So what do you think: Do the positives outweigh the negatives—for your personality and circumstances? And if you have a family, does your partner agree with your conclusion?

I can’t answer this for you. I don’t think full-time freelancing/consulting is the answer for everyone.

But every software developer should think it through at some point.


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Thomas Kjeldahl Nilsson

The Friendliest Freelancer

Software dev of 20+ years now helping other devs gain autonomy and become calm, independent contractors—new issue every other Sunday

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