Part One: Knowing What You’re Getting Into
I’ve met a lot of e-Learning Designers who are considering going freelance, and I recognize my original enthusiasm in them—a love for the creative work, and an eagerness to be more in control of their own careers. So this year, I’m dedicating a series of blog posts to sharing what I’ve learned along the way, and calling it “Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer.” Throughout 2017, I’ll be posting weekly to help guide other e-Learning Developers as they launch their own freelance careers—from making the decision to go freelance, all the way through managing a diverse client portfolio. (And don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to get to the fun part of creating effective learning materials, and I’ll be writing plenty about that too!)
When I first started as a freelance e-Learning Designer, I was truly excited: My success was in my own hands! I would finally be able to spend my time being creative! I had dreamed of the day I could step away from office politics and focus on my passion for creating top-notch e-Learning materials for my own clients.
Soon after, the reality hit: I was my own business, and I was faced with quite a bit of overhead work that was eating a lot of my time. I was now my own marketing team. And my own accounting team. And my own legal team. Before I even created my first course, I had hours of work to do that wasn’t at all related to my passion for e-Learning.
I don’t regret the decision to become a freelancer, and despite the business side of freelancing, I’ve found a great deal of professional happiness—but I definitely learned a lot along the way, and that’s inspired me to begin this series of blog posts.
Part Two: The Pros and Cons of e-Learning Freelancing
So, first things first: Let’s talk about the pros and cons of being a freelancer versus a full-time employee for an existing business. Like I said, I love being a freelancer, but it’s important to keep in mind that you may disagree—what sounds like a “pro” to me may sound like a “con” to you!
In short, the best part of being a freelancer is the flexibility and control it offers. Here’s what I love about the freelance life:
- Your time is yours. I love managing my own time. I’m not a morning person, so being able to start my own workday whenever I want is a luxury.
- No office politics. As a freelancer, I don’t have to worry about the game-playing that regularly occurs in office environments. I can completely avoid the rumor mill, the inevitable reorganization of roles and responsibilities, and worrying about who is saying what about me. What a relief!
- You control who you work with. I’ve learned that some clients and projects aren’t a great fit for me, and when I sense a bad fit, I have the ability to walk away.
- You don’t depend on others to be successful. I’ve had a lot of great co-workers over the years, but when it comes down to it, I prefer to be the only person accountable for my work. Although that puts a lot of pressure on me, I prefer it, for the simple reason that I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s performance (or lack thereof). Eventually, I hope to be successful enough that I’ll be able to subcontract work out to other professionals that I trust. But for now, I am appreciating the opportunity to be in control of my own success.
- You get to work on a variety of projects. I’ve been an e-Learning Designer at the proverbial widget factory, and I can tell you: After a short while, widgets get boring. As a freelancer, I have clients from different industries, and that creates a variety in my work that helps keep me from burning out.
The freelance lifestyle also has drawbacks, so let’s look at some of the reasons why you might prefer being an e-Learning Designer for a business.
- Benefits. Benefits like health insurance, a retirement plan, and paid vacation are a big deal. The cost of health care is extraordinary on an individual basis, and as a freelancer, if I decide to take a vacation, I don’t get paid. If you’re considering becoming a freelancer, make sure you have a plan for these things!
- Steady Income. In the freelance world, work is very often irregular—some months I’ll have more than I can handle, and other times I find myself having to weather a dry spell. I’m comfortable with that, but it’s important to remember that a steady paycheck from a business can grant peace of mind.
- A Defined Career Path. A good business will have a career path laid out for you—and continued success will mean raises and title changes. As a freelancer, the only ways I can get a raise are by finding additional clients (which means working more), or charging my existing clients higher rates (which may frustrate them). If the “corporate ladder” is valuable to you, you may want to think twice before going solo.
- Administrative Overhead. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, being my own business means that there is a lot of overhead. I have to spend time marketing myself, balancing my budget, and even administering my own website. All of these things take up quite a bit of time and money! So before you jump into the freelance world, consider: although you will be the CEO of your own company, you’ll also be the janitor (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
- Co-workers. While I tend to get frustrated by office politics, I do sometimes miss having co-workers to bounce ideas off of and socialize with. Freelancing can be lonely, and it’s important to be prepared for that solitude—even if you enjoy being alone—and to have a plan for networking with colleagues.
Again, these lists are based on my own personal preferences, and yours will probably differ, and that’s valid. My hope is that as you’re making the choice for yourself, you’ll consider these ideas in your decision-making process—and if you disagree, or think there are considerations I’ve left off, let me know on Twitter (be sure to use the hashtag #elearningbiz) or join my e-Learning Business Basics Facebook group!
To help you organize your own pros and cons, I’ve created this worksheet. Now you can get started right away!
Next week, we’ll talk about the next critical step (that most people miss) in being a successful freelance e-Learning Designer: defining your own professional goals.