Being a Freelance Web Designer Isn’t for Everyone


So often, I write about the details and observations I’ve had while running a freelance web design business. It seems like so many web designers have taken this path that I tend to forget about those who haven’t.

The truth is that being a freelancer isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. And it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone. The lifestyle is very different compared to having a steady job with a traditional employer.

A lot of people have found this out the hard way. Freelancing can seem like an ideal career and a sign that you’ve made it. Yet, that depends greatly on your personality and how you like to work.

Today, I’m going to share some reasons why you might not want to jump onto the freelance bandwagon. Don’t worry – this isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s more like a realistic look at what it takes to live this life.

There Can Be a Lot of Uncertainty

Whether you’re just starting out or are a grizzled veteran of working for yourself, uncertainty is often the only thing you can count on in a given day. Steady clients can be hard to come by and it seems like you are always at the mercy of someone else.

That dependence on others may seem a bit counterintuitive. But when people ask me about being my own boss, I tell them I’m not. Rather, I have dozens of bosses who I need to keep happy. Each one with their own personality, taste and monetary value to the bottom line.

It’s a constant juggling act – one in which you never know when one or more objects will fall from the sky and knock you in the head. Depending on how your business is set up, uncertainty can be spread throughout every aspect. It affects your daily schedule, when you get paid and how aggressive you need to be in booking new clients.

Yes, it is possible to reach a certain level of stability. But it can take several years of making the right connections and building a great reputation to get there.

Puzzle pieces.

You’re Responsible for Everything

One of the true advantages of working for someone else is that, ideally, you are responsible for a specific set of tasks and nothing more. In web design, that could mean you are a front-end developer who works exclusively on the UI, while your back-end developer colleagues put together custom code.

As a business owner (especially a solo entrepreneur) you are ultimately responsible for every part of a project. And that goes well beyond the design and code. It also encompasses all of the grunt work that goes along with running a business.

Tasks like accounting, marketing, sales and support are all on your plate. Maybe you can hire help for some tasks, but freelancers often work on tight budgets. Therefore, you might be stuck doing things that have nothing to do with web design.

If you’re not prepared for the great responsibility that comes with the job, freelancing may not be for you.

A table with a laptop computer, notepad and phone.

Taking Time off Can Be Difficult

Want to get away? It’s not easy for those of us who work on our own. Yet, taking time off is important for both physical and mental well-being.

There are multiple challenges involved. First, working alone often means not having someone to take your place during an absence. This means that, even if you do manage to get out for a bit, you are likely lugging a laptop along and are glued to your phone for the duration.

Then, just because you’ve left the office doesn’t mean that your clients will stop sending you work. From my experience, most people respect the fact that you are away. But there are always one or two that don’t.

And there is always a chance of something breaking. Such an emergency can lay waste to your plans of rest and relaxation.

Put this all together and you may have a hard time getting out of the office.

A cellphone sitting on a beach.

It’s Hard to Keep up with New Technology

Both the responsibilities and uncertainties of freelancing tend to result in a lack of time. We’re not only talking about time away from the office, however.

The busy schedule of a freelancer can also make it very difficult to keep pace with new developments in the industry. Whether that’s testing out a new tool, learning a JavaScript library or filling yourself in on the latest WordPress release, it can be hard to gain more than a cursory knowledge in these areas.

In web design, things change rapidly. Thus, it’s important to learn new skills. This often requires a time commitment that extends past regular office hours. Nights, weekends or early mornings may be the only opportunities to expand your horizons.

And, if you’re interested in taking a formal online or in-person class, there’s also the matter of cost. Some employers will willingly pay for continuing education. Freelancers aren’t so lucky. This means either paying for it yourself or making due with whatever free resources you can find.

A man using a laptop computer.

The Freelance Life Is Not Universal

If the scenarios above don’t sound attractive, not to worry. When it comes to our careers, each one of us has different wants and needs. What works for some may not be the best fit for you.

Sure, being a freelance web designer can be very rewarding. But it also means taking some real risks. Depending on your life situation, going off on your own may not be worth the potential pitfalls. And the stress involved with running a business can be a major turn-off as well.

Thankfully, our industry provides several different paths for us to choose from. It’s up to us to determine where we’ll be happiest and then make the most of the opportunities we have. For some, that will be as a freelancer. For others, a different, yet equally rewarding journey is the better option.

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