Have you made the switch from freelancing to full-time employment, and why?
June 27, 2012 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in hearing from people who intentionally made the switch from freelancing to (or back to) a more traditional work situation. What were your reasons? Do you think it was a good decision?

I've been a freelance writer for the past two years. My work is pretty steady, but I'm starting to feel like the downsides of freelancing outweigh the benefits.

You always hear people rave about freelancing: It's so liberating being my own boss! My schedule is super flexible! I get to work in my jammies! My income potential is unlimited! etc. etc. etc.

I was this enthusiastic for a while, but freelancing is really starting to wear on me: None of my clients pay on time. They treat me like I'm a full-time employee, even though each only accounts for a fraction of the work I do. I'm crazy isolated, and it's only increasing my shyness and avoidance tendencies. I work way more than I should. etc. etc. etc.

I'm not really interested in hearing how I could make freelancing "work" for me (e.g. coworking, setting firmer boundaries with clients, being more choosy about the work I do, etc.). I know I could do all those things. My issue is that I'm starting to think this work arrangement just might not be the right fit.

I'm specifically interested in hearing from folks who were in a similar situation and made the move to (or back to) full-time employment or some other arrangement. Was it a difficult transition? Was it a good or a bad decision, and why? Any general thoughts or advice?

Many thanks.
posted by shiggins to Work & Money (22 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I quit freelancing because I couldn't take the anxiety of not knowing what my income was going to be, and because, while I love being alone, I love it too much sometimes and it's bad for me if I don't have to talk to anyone for days on end. I also really missed the camaraderie, even from co-workers who sometimes drive me nuts.

I have a good deal now - I have a steady-paycheck job, I have co-workers, but I can also work from home one or two days a week. For me, the transition was a snap, and I've never looked back.
posted by rtha at 7:58 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My SO went from independent consultant to employee a couple of years ago. She felt the same stresses of being solo that you described, and she seems much happier now that she has a steady paycheck and set benefits/expectations.

I've only ever been an employee, and it was interesting to watch her make the transition--it was almost like her employers were domesticating a wild animal. There was definitely a transition period for her from having a client off site to having a boss down the hall. She was (bless her heart) a bit prickly--though her work environment was also less than ideal.

Expect on an adjustment--both good and bad!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:00 AM on June 27, 2012

I did IT contracting for about a year, and have recently switched back to standard 9-5 employment. Same reasons about the pay, benefits, and becoming more socially awkward. The hardest part of the transition is actually needing to get up to head to the office instead of just rolling out of bed, drinking a cup of coffee, and logging on whenever I felt like it. Making the switch wasn't particularly difficult but there are some changes when you're use to being your own boss, and have set hours. Overall, realize the office setting hasn't really changed in the two years you've been gone, do you mind showing up to an office, dealing with the commute and annoying coworkers, but have a steady pay and benefits?

For me, coming home to my girlfriend and dog made the transition alot easier, but YMMV.
posted by lpcxa0 at 8:09 AM on June 27, 2012

For me, the motivating factor was the time spent selling myself was unpaid time, and that peeve broadened into what I came to refer to as "the overhead", all those resources I invested that did not result in any direct payment.

Leaving all that behind was a general relief, and knowing that my efforts would soon produce greater tangible results allowed me to make my transition with much more confidence. Also, my field experience translated into team leading skills for off-site projects.
posted by Ardiril at 8:19 AM on June 27, 2012

I've been a freelance writer most of my life, but did switch out twice.
Once I was offered a university job, took that, made an excellent salary and health insurance paid by someone else (!) and managed to write a book on my down-time (which sold pretty well). So that was a good deal, I guess. My one-year contract was extended to two years, but after two years cancelled under budget pressure. I was happy to go back to freelancing as the regularity and predictability and comfort and good pay of a good job was driving me nuts.
The second time I was offered a staff writer job at a big-media-corp magazine in NY, with the proviso that I could continue living where I liked. I took that at a good salary and loved the health insurance etc for two years once again. But the magazine got sold, yadda yadda. . . . my point is that even the security of full-time work is never secure.
That suited me fine, as I'm temperamentally a freelance anyway and prefer working on my own.
My take is that a lot of life decisions that appear to be about money, security, etc, are really, when you come down to it, decisions about emotion: How will it make you feel?
If you feel like a freelance, you're probably always gonna feel that way. If you feel like an employee, that probably won't change either.
But they're not easy decisions, I know: Good luck!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did a variety of freelancing work for three years, also temping once in a while to make ends meet, and I switched back to full-time work in 2007. The switch wasn't very hard, I had worked an office job before so it wasn't an unfamiliar space to be in. The stress over being paid was the biggest relief for me -- bringing in a steady paycheck was quite nice. Adjusting my sleep schedule to a regular early-morning schedule was more difficult; not that I ever sleep in much, but adjusting my habits (not staying up until 1am on a Wednesday, eating and showering right away in the morning, etc.) took some time to get in order.

That's not to stay I've completely stopped freelancing; I still do what I can in my spare time, and the money is a nice bonus on top of what I'm already earning.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2012

I quit freelancing because I couldn't make my nut - and my nut idea was based on 8-5 work. Now I'm back on 8-5 (mandatory lunch i WISH i could skip), and I let someone else do the budget.

Plus, healthcare reforms or not, carrying my own health insurance with kids and chronic conditions is much less burdensome when employer subsidized (or maybe I just don't notice that it takes 1/3 of my take home pay because I never "see" it being removed from my bank account).

I did get lucky in that the job I chose (and chose me) ended up in a situation where I was ~ 10 miles from home, can work from home when needed, but still has the local control of what we do with a safety net of a very remote home office that takes care of "overhead".
posted by tilde at 8:30 AM on June 27, 2012

I was in a similar situation to you - freelance writing for two years. I went back to full time because a) two magazines in a row went under owing me a bit and income security appealed, and b) I moved to a new country and unfortunately can not freelance due to my visa regs.

While I miss the flexibility, I'm definitely enjoying the comradeship of being in an office again. The first few weeks were tiring, like any new job, but it's back to life as normal (regular paychecks, woohoo). Funnily enough, I have just as much time for my personal work as I did before!

If I was going to do it again, I'd take it on a contract by contract basis, and use the gaps between to travel and do what I wanted, rather than scrabbling the whole time and taking any little job.
posted by teststrip at 8:36 AM on June 27, 2012

I HATED freelancing and I could not get back in an office fast enough. I initially thought I would love it because, in addition to the benefits you mentioned, I'm very good at hustling for clients, so I always had work coming in, and I'm a pretty hardcore introvert, so I thought all the alone time would be no problem. But it was. I was lonely all the time, the flexible schedule turned out to be not so flexible after all because I felt guilty whenever I wasn't working, all my clients expected full-time availability for very part-time work, and worst of all, I totally could not deal with the crappy salary I was drawing, never being paid on time, and not having any vacation or sick time. When my favorite client called and offered me a full-time position in their office, I was ready to start that very afternoon.

The only rough part of the "transition" was having to get up earlier and shower and dress and eat breakfast and commute immediately instead of being able to ease into the day. That is the only part I miss. I do have the option to work at home 1-2 days a week, which really helps, and my workplace is extremely casual so I didn't have to go out and buy suits or anything. I am SO much happier and less stressed now, and my work is stronger because my employer gets all my time and attention instead of it being scattered across multiple projects and clients. I have capacity to work on skill development again that used to be devoted to dealing with all the myriad tasks of running your own business.

But I'm glad I had the experience of freelancing, even if I was even more glad to quit it. I would have always wondered otherwise. If I ever do it again, it will be on VERY different terms.
posted by anderjen at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've alternated between self-employment and full employment for most of my career.

Being a full-time employee has its benefits: paid holidays, a dental plan, and a steady paycheque.

Self-employment means feast or famine - I can never turn work down, and I often work far, far too much. And no holidays. And no dental plan.

However, the problem with being a full-time employee is that the bastards can lay you off anytime they feel like it, and it is very difficult in this economy to get back on track again. It's such a pain in the ass.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2012

An acquaintance of mine did this about a year ago and the biggest positives for him are that he has steady work/pay, doesn't have to chase down clients who haven't paid, and he can actually go on a (paid!) vacation without feeling like he's losing money for every day that he's away from his desk.

He mostly enjoyed freelancing, when he did it, but decided that the stress wasn't worth it anymore now that he's reached middle age and is trying to wind down to an eventual retirement.
posted by asnider at 8:54 AM on June 27, 2012

I know two people who have transitioned from freelancing to a full-time job. One is mostly happy. Though she works much longer hours, she also has health insurance for the first time in ages and her workplace is really flexible so she doesn't miss out on a lot of the things she liked about freelancing. She's also loving the fact that she gets a regular paycheck.

The other was a coworker of mine for some time, and it just didn't seem like a good fit for her. She seemed to like working in an office, but she definitely seemed to still be operating on a freelancing/working alone sort of mindset, which led to frustrations amongst our team.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2012

I transitioned from full-time translating, copyediting and a little writing, to an office job, just over 6 years ago now. The main reason was one of your own: None of my clients pay on time. I had broken up with my boyfriend and lived in a foreign country; one I wanted to stay in. In that sort of situation, where you have no financial backup, it doesn't matter that you bill enough to live on when clients randomly pay 3, 4, or even 6 months late. You can't save enough to live on for 6 months in those situations either.

I had built up a very good relationship with a local client, a software consultancy. They called me whenever anything English-related came up, and it so happened that a large technical writing project came up, and I was hired. However, their writing client changed providers (for cheap, inexperienced people, sigh), and I ended up needing to sort-of-change careers. They suggested functional software testing, which involves a lot of text analysis (functional software specifications, i.e. descriptions of how programs should work) and writing the tests themselves, then performing them, tracking defects, etc. It's something that was a very good fit for me, and I'm quite glad to have had the opportunity. It pays pretty well, I now have 5 years of experience and have to shoo off headhunters, hours are great since I live in France (35-hour workweeks), and oh, the wondrous paid vacations *dreamy eyes*. Oh and, depending on the project, I supervise teams or work as an autonomous test expert – which is a lot like being a freelancer on the responsibility side, but getting to work with others too!

Some comparisons:
- I miss working at home alone. On the other hand, socialization is great more often than not.
- I can go mountain biking in the départemental forests near our offices!! It would be difficult for me to allow myself the free time for that if I worked for myself, much less reach decent forests from my place.
- I don't have to worry about paying my mortgage.
- I was able to GET a mortgage. ("Foreigner? No local guarantor? Freelancer on top of all that?? Bahahahaha, no mortgage for you." It was crazy just trying to rent, too, ugh.)
- I miss the independent creativity related to translating and writing. This one has become so important to me that I went back to school to get my Masters degree last year, and have begun writing again on the side, just because I missed it so much. Ideally, I'd like for writing to bring in enough that I could, perhaps, go to a partial work week (4/5 days at work are possible in France, naturally your salary is reduced to 80%).
- The biggest downside to working in an office has been dealing with harassment issues. I was never, as in never, not once, even remotely harassed by a client when I was a freelance translator, and that lasted for 8 years. In the office, however... ugh. (I'm a woman, and a "foreigner" in the eyes of many despite having dual citizenship. YMMV.)

Overall it's been a good decision for me, with the caveat that it's mainly because I do live alone, and in a foreign country. Stability, security, paid vacation without any nagging worries, socialization. I'm also very glad that the soft skills I deveoped as a freelancer, namely autonomy, stickler-dedication to being reliable, and active participation in finding solutions, led to my employer offering me to learn a new, valuable skillset in functional software testing rather than letting me go (which they did in fact do with two other technical writers).
posted by fraula at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2012

Man do I love this topic and the answers so far.

Ten years ago I quit an overpaid edit gig at a big magazine in NYC and decamped to the country to write. It was awesome in a lot of ways—like being my own boss and getting to write some really fun stuff along the way for a bunch of magazines. But: my income dropped by probably 75% that first year, and until I built up a roster of clients I had to supplement income by taking temp jobs that involved answering phones and punching holes in paper. Then when the work did start rolling in, I was working seven days a week pretty much all of my waking hours because you can't say no. And I still didn't have health insurance.

So when I fell back into a full-time NYC job after three years of freelancing, it was nice to have steady income and structure and all of that. And I could take comfort in the fact that I had actually been a freelancer and, I thought, had gotten it out of my system.

But not quite. So to answer your question: I miss a lot of things about freelancing. The variety, the flexibility in terms of time and place, the eternal glimmer of possibility. Even the stress of being my own boss, because it's honestly a healthier kind of stress than you get from working in a corporate environment.

It's easy to put a warm glow on things in retrospect—I mean, it really sucked chasing down paychecks. But I always wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck with freelancing. In the years since I've been back in the full-time world, I've had freelance friends parlay their writing into book deals, TV shows and an Oscar-winning movie. Those are the standout successes, of course; I also know freelancers who've had a much harder go of it, some leaving the media world entirely. And the media world isn't what it was a decade ago. Hell, half the magazines I used to write for are out of business.

But what if, right? So I think about that a lot.
posted by bassomatic at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2012

You always hear people rave about freelancing: It's so liberating being my own boss! My schedule is super flexible! I get to work in my jammies! My income potential is unlimited!

All of these things fed into the general depression I was in while I was freelancing. Especially the jammies.

I went from freelancing in publishing to full time grad school in social sciences to operations, so it wasn't a direction transition from jammies to jeans, and I think that helped it be a bit smoother.

For me, it was a good decision and I don't regret it because I work best with structure but lack the motivation to keep myself in said structure. There is less stress, there is more money. There is definitely less "unlimited potential" all around, more socialization than I'd prefer (people are the worst sometimes, right?), and the work itself is not particularly inspiring... but right now I crave the stability and routine.
posted by sm1tten at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2012

I quit freelancing because I couldn't take the anxiety of not knowing what my income was going to be, and because, while I love being alone, I love it too much sometimes and it's bad for me if I don't have to talk to anyone for days on end. I also really missed the camaraderie, even from co-workers who sometimes drive me nuts.

posted by scratch at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2012

A friend's husband was a freelance web designer. He recently got a 9-5 job. He was sick of people treating him like a bank - some people just never paid him. He was always waiting by the mailbox. Sometimes he subcontracted work to others and then he felt even worse because he made sure the subcontractors got paid first.

Things he likes about life now: security, being able to go home at the end of the day and leave work at the office, paternity leave, vacation time.
posted by kat518 at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2012

Just returning to add, I never had trouble getting paid. That WOULD have changed the picture.
Also, I never worked in jammies. That WOULD have been depressing.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2012

My partner and I have both done it.

Five years ago, I went from freelance work to an office job. I quit a couple months ago to go back to freelance, and I couldn't be happier. I struggle with office hours and get stressed working around other people, and when I'm freelancing, I can work when I want and take a break to go do yoga when I want and go get some tea when I want. For me, that's perfect and wonderful.

My partner went from freelancing back to an office job about a year ago...and he couldn't be happier. He was so relieved to be back in an office with a routine and regularity and people to talk to and work-provided coffee. Sure, there are stresses, but for him, it doesn't begin to compare to the stresses of freelancing.

I think that there are really two types of people: those who're never happier than when they're freelancing, even if that means dealing with overhead and slow-paying clients and feast-or-famine income. And then there are people who're happiest working somewhere that' a little more predictable and secure, and where they interact with actual people on a regular basis. If you're in the latter category--and it sounds like you are--going back is probably a great decision. If you're in the former, maybe not so much.
posted by MeghanC at 1:24 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband did this just over a year ago. He'd been working in a corporate job and got bored with the unvarying routine of it, so he went freelance and quickly realized that he didn't like being his own boss. He didn't like having to sell himself, the uncertainty of getting paid, the unpredictability of his schedule and eventually the pace of the work picked up so much that we weren't seeing each other for a week or so at a time. He quit to go back to a corporate job with a more interesting breadth of projects than his previous corporate job and he's delighted.

The transition was really quite easy - the paychecks got smaller but they show up on a consistent basis and he doesn't have to worry about setting aside taxes.

Some people aren't made to freelance, and he's not one of them - and after watching his experience, I know I'm not either. For all that's said about being your own boss, we really like having a set schedule, paid time off, benefits, and some semblance of security, and we especially like leaving work AT work, something he felt he could never really quite do when he didn't know where the next job would be coming from.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2012

I went back to a traditional setting because I discovered that while I need a good amount of autonomy, I thrive in a team setting. By yeam setting, I mean, if I run into a problem that I can't solve myself, I need to have others around to brainstorm with. The isolation of working for myself was just too much, and I actually fell into a pretty deep depression. Going back to an office setting was the best solution for me.
posted by vignettist at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your insights. It's good to hear these things from others. While I haven't determined a course of action yet, it helps to know that there are people out there who have made the switch and who have found a more stable position that makes them happy.

I came from a suffocatingly micromanaged corporate environment, which is why I started freelancing to begin with. If and when I ever do pursue full-time work again (and I probably will), finding the right fit will be a huge priority.
posted by shiggins at 7:37 AM on June 28, 2012

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