Comparing Full-Time Employment with Full-Time Freelancing

Many people wonder if they’ll earn more working for themselves or someone else. They might, they might not. It depends.

Freelancing isn’t for everybody. But for a lot of PR, marketing and communications professionals it can be fun, challenging and sometimes more financially rewarding than working for someone else.  

The biggest factors being how much the freelancer charges and how much they’re willing to work. Before we dig into the cost comparisons, let’s dispel some common myths.

Full-Time Employment

Freelancing

Reality Check

Let’s tackle these myths and comparisons one at a time.

Stability

When you’re working for someone else, you’re earning a steady paycheck. This is a perceived stability. Meanwhile, freelancers are often viewed as jumping from gig to gig not knowing who’s signing their next paycheck and when it will arrive. In the world of freelance PR and marketing, it doesn’t work quite like that. Both scenarios fall under the “employee at will” category.  

This means a freelancer, employee, employer, or client can cut ties at any time. You could be laid off tomorrow from a full-time job just as easily as you can see the end of a freelance contract.

The biggest difference is that if you’re laid off from a full-time job, you’re eligible to collect unemployment and may get severance pay.

When you’re freelancing under a retainer model, you usually have a clause in the contract for 30-day notice to ensure a month’s pay and enough time to find a new client.

Work Comes to You Vs Finding Work

As a full-time employee, if you’ve ever had an assignment that you didn’t like or were assigned to the agency’s most prickly client, you know the pros and cons of having assignments come to you. As a freelancer, you get a little more freedom in picking clients and projects. 

Benefits

There’s no way around it, employer benefits are big ticket items that you’ll miss as a freelancer. It’s nice to have an employer pick up some or all of the costs of health care and retirement savings.

As a freelancer, you have health care options through COBRA, the Affordable Care Act, or a spouse or domestic partner.

When it comes to retirement, some freelancers are saving even more because they’re self-employed. From an IRS perspective, the self-employed can fund their 401K as both the employer and employee. The savings limits are higher when you’re self employed versus being an employee of a company.

For more info on this topic, please talk to your accountant or check out the ProsInComms e-book, “The Freelancer’s Guide to Taxes, Finance and Accounting.” In the interim, here’s the page to the IRS site that gives more insight on the topic.

Traditional work hours vs. flexible work hours

Today’s rhetorical question is, “Does anybody in communications actually work 9-5?” If so, please make your presence known because the remaining 99 percent of us are dying to know your secret. 

Now that we’re on the same page about the hours and pace we all work, let’s talk about the flexibility of freelancing. It’s awesome. But it’s not unlimited. Many full-time freelancers work between 40-50 hours a week. Some work more. The amount of flexibility you have depends on the type of freelancer you are and how much you want or need to work.

Working for one company vs working for several companies

There’s an upside to working for a single employer. You know the players, the processes, and the potholes. You can go deep into the organization and gain a wealth of institutional knowledge that increases your value to the company.

If you work for a large global company, you can work on different assignments, expand your skills, and move around the country or the world. However, you could get bored, or laid off, or decide after several years that the employer is limiting your ability to grow beyond their walls and processes.

When you work for several companies as a freelancer, you quickly learn new ways of doing things and are exposed to a wider group of people doing different things. You get to know companies at various stages of their development and are constantly shifting gears. If one start-up doesn’t make it, there’s another one behind it. Or perhaps you want to replace that start-up with a more established client. When you’re creating your own portfolio of client work, you have more options about the work you do.  

One source of income vs multiple sources

As a full-time employee, there’s  security knowing you’ll get a paycheck with the same exact amount every week.  

As a freelancer, once you get used to getting paid monthly from various sources, the security is followed by a sense of accomplishment.

Taxes

Are never fun. The biggest difference as a freelancer is that you pay estimated quarterly taxes as opposed to having them taken out of every paycheck. The key for freelancers is to set aside earnings each month to cover the tax estimates so they don’t feel a pinch every quarter.   

Annual salary vs fluid earnings

As a full-time employee, planning and taxes are easier when you know exactly how much you’ll earn each year. The downsides to that salary is a potential layoff, a freeze on raises, or learning that you’ve reached a salary cap.

As a freelancer, the income can be more fluid. When you’re working on a retainer basis, you’ll know at least one, or possibly two quarters in advance what your annual earnings will be. Also, you can always scale up to earn more.    

Reporting to a boss vs being your own boss

We all answer to someone and we call that person a boss or a client. The biggest difference for a freelancer is that you have a wider berth when it comes to choosing your boss(es).

On the other hand, you may have several clients that you’re working with compared to one single boss if you were working in a traditional full-time role.

Also, as a freelancer, you don’t get annual performance reviews. Therefore,  it’s on you to measure progress and proactively ask for feedback.

Being part of a team vs working independently

As a freelancer, you will likely miss the day-to-day camaraderie of being part of a dedicated team. That’s why it’s important to build relationships beyond your core client contacts. These relationships should include additional contacts at the client sites, other freelancers and former colleagues.

If you still feel like you’re spending too much time working alone, don’t forget you have options for human interaction through co-working spaces like WeWork as well as networking groups. If there isn’t a business networking group or freelancer Meetup near you, start one.

There are pros and cons to every work arrangement. If you have your own list of pros and cons on freelancing vs full-time employment that aren’t included here, drop us a line and let us know.

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