In my previous blog article I talked about the joys of freelancing for me, hoping that my experience would motivate you to take the plunge as well. At the same time, it wouldn’t be responsible of me not to describe the stresses of freelancing I have faced and am still facing as a graphic designer. My intention isn’t to scare you, but to allow you to form a more balanced opinion before deciding whether freelancing is right for you.
My 6 Stresses of Freelancing
Money is perhaps the biggest stress for a freelancer — and that is very true in my case. Although I have established a client base in the past few years that I have been freelancing, I still have some ‘dry spells’ from time to time when I’m unable to make as much as I would have liked. And with a monthly mortgage and bills to pay, it can really take a toll on my mental and physical health if I fall short of the amount that I want to make that month.
What’s even more demoralizing and stressful is when I put in extra time and effort into promoting my services — only to get little to nothing in return.
In Singapore where I live, employers are expected to contribute to their employees’ pension funds and provide various benefits such as healthcare and paid time off. However, as a self employed I have to take care of my own healthcare and finances, which includes paying for the mandatory health insurance plan that’s provided by the state as well as filing for income tax.
As someone who’s looking to retire as soon as possible, I have been trying my best to set aside some money for long term investment purposes — not like I have a choice in this matter. As mentioned earlier, while an employee’s pension fund is paid partly by the employer, but as a self employed I have to build my own retirement plan.
It might seem easy on paper, but in reality it has been a constant source of stress for me. After paying for various expenses, there have been a couple of months when I was in the red and had to rely on my savings to pull through — so much for planning for retirement.
And that’s not taking into account big ticket purchases or unexpected expenses. For instance, I just bought my own place last year. With the initial deposit, renovation, and purchase of furniture and appliances, I ended up spending close to 200,000 USD (yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you). I was prudent to have saved enough, but it was certainly stressful seeing so much money flow out in such a short period of time.
Furthermore, how much I make depends a lot on how many hours I put into my work. So let’s say if I fall sick, I won’t be able to make much money — while still having to pay for any medical expenses that are incurred.
As my own boss I’m responsible for my own earnings — and perhaps it’s this reason that pushed me to work close to 10 hours almost every single day. Of course I have taken some time off to travel and relax, but even then I find myself checking emails and taking up a couple of projects.
And while I try to stick to the same working hours each day, it’s hard not to get caught up in work. I might have to wake up and start work earlier due to a client meeting (most of my clients are from the US, which is about a 12-hour time difference from where I’m based), or end the day later in order finish up a last-minute revision. Such irregular working hours might be motivating for some, but for me it has been one of my stresses of freelancing.
Also, as a freelance graphic designer I have to handle everything — and I mean everthing — on my own. I would say I only spend half of my work hours on designing, the rest of my time I’m marketing my services or handling business matters such as accounting. Basically it’s fifty percent passion and fifty percent stress.
FINDING CLIENTS CAN BE TOUGH
As a freelancer, clients are your bread and butter. While I have managed to establish a good client base over the years, nowadays I feel it has been tougher to find new clients and projects.
If you have been reading through this blog then you probably know that I have mostly been using Reddit to source for my clients. Initially when Reddit was still not as popular as it is now I used to get more than 10 enquiries a day regarding my services — well nowadays I’m lucky to get 1 or 2.
One of the main reasons is the influx of designers into the platform, especially those from less developed countries who can afford to charge less for their work. As such, there is a lot of competition, and it has been stressful as I try my best to stand out and build more of an online presence to reach out to clients.
For instance, I have been sharing my work on more than 5 social media platforms — and even then I feel like it’s not enough.
I SOMETIMES GET BAD CLIENTS
It’s inevitable that you will meet your fair of bad clients in your freelancing journey. In my case, while most of my clients have been great to work with, there were a few bad eggs that really stressed me out. Some of them were overly demanding, requesting revisions after revision, or even worse — wanting me to redo everything or go in a completely different direction from what we initially agreed on.
Others just had ridiculously low budgets and wanted me to work for cheap. Most of the time I would decline such projects, but still it’s stressful having to deal with them, while trying to not appear rude or unprofessional.
In addition, handling client feedback, especially really negative ones, is definitely one of my stresses of freelancing. My work has been criticized and put down many times, and I have to do my best to not let it get to me.
IT CAN GET LONELY
While freelancing has been great for me as an introvert, I would be lying if I say I don’t feel lonely sometimes — working alone from home does affect my social life in some ways. For example, having no colleagues means no one to banter with at work and no support network to unburden my work stress.
And going back to my previous point of overworking, it can be hard to meet up with friends, especially now that most of them have their own families. Although I have been participating in social events, I find that unlike in school I couldn’t really form any long-lasting friendships these days.
MY PHYSICAL HEALTH IS SOMEWHAT AFFECTED
Having to sit in front of my computer all day isn’t doing good things for my physical health. For one, my eyes get tired after some time, and if I decide to keep working and staring at my work screen I get bad headaches that last for many hours.
Also, while I do my best to exercise daily, I’m still leading a sedentary lifestyle most of the day. Consequently, I would say my posture isn’t very good and I have accumulated some fat around my belly — it can be stressful sometimes checking myself out in the mirror.
As you can see, freelancing as a graphic designer can definitely be stressful at times. However, it’s important to understand that every job has its own work-related stress, so I would say that even with the stresses of freelancing I mentioned above, I’m really lucky to have discovered my passion and make money doing what I love.