How freelancing can help your career

January 13, 2020, 4:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Hero Images—Getty Images

Like any job, working as a freelancer is not always the best fit for everyone or something that can last forever. Although freelancing has become increasingly popular —28 percent of the American workforce freelanced full-time in 2019, versus 17 percent in 2014, according to a study from freelancing website Upwork and Freelancing Union, it is a career path that some are forced into due to layoffs or relocation.

And, yes, freelancing allows for flexible hours, the ability to work on multiple projects, virtually from anywhere. But there are some things it lacks that can’t be substituted. “I found working in a freelance capacity to be quite isolating, and I always craved the atmosphere and collaborative environment of an office,” says Freya Drohan, who worked as a freelance writer for two and a half years.

She was also troubled by the lack of financial security, and felt that her career development was stagnant. “I needed to re-enter a traditional role to keep learning from my superiors and co-workers,” she adds.

It’s no surprise, then, that many freelancers like Drohan often choose to move back to a full-time job after working on their own for a while. But it’s not an easy choice. For Austen Tosone, who freelanced as a writer, editor, and content creator for just under a year and a half, the freedom granted by that lifestyle was hard to give up.

While both women have moved back to a full-time position—Drohan is now a fashion and lifestyle commerce writer, and Tosone holds a beauty content director role at video editing and sharing app Jumprope—their experiences as freelancers armed them with tools that have helped their successful comebacks to the traditional job market.

Here are the lessons they took with them when going back to full-time work after a freelance stint. 

1. Approach things in a timely manner.

When you work on your own, everything can feel more time-sensitive. “As a freelance writer, I learned how to get inventive and innovative with pitches,” says Drohan. “You’re ncompeting against other freelancers, in-house writers, and editors for the same slice of the pie, so if you think something is a potential story, you should pitch it in a timely manner.”

That timeliness doesn’t disappear once you work in an office again. “The learning curve of understanding how to really pay attention to the zeitgeist definitely helps me brainstorm for content ideas every day in my current editorial role,” she says. Plus, as a freelancer one has to be very organized about meeting deadlines, which is a very useful habit in the office where, as Tosone puts it, “you have other team members who are relying on you.”

2. Always be brainstorming new ideas.

It goes without saying that, freelancing often requires ongoing brainstorming regardless of the industry. That determination to come up with new and creative ideas is just as important when working full-time.“I’m a self-starter and take it upon myself to come up with new ideas to reach creators or for types of content I think we should be sharing,” says Tosone. Having this importance placed on brainstorming allows you to think outside the box more easily when fully employed.

3. Say yes as often as you can.

Every freelancer knows that each opportunity has the potential to lead to another while growing your knowledge. “Something I’ve learned over the past few years is to say yes whenever it was possible,” says Drohan. While a full-time job comes with certain outlined tasks, there are always new projects and experiences to jump on that can enhance your abilities and career. Saying yes to these opportunities, without overwhelming yourself or being taken advantage of, is a critical way to grow in your position. 

4. Know your worth.

This may be the most important thing that can be brought from a stint freelancing, as it’s far too easy to forget where you’re standing within a company. “Now that I have established myself, I am firm about my story and day rate and confident with my experience,” says Drohan. “When it came time to renegotiate my day rate at my last ‘perma-lance’ position, I stood my ground and it paid off. This ensured that a small jump in my salary when I entered a new full-time role, when those two and a half years of hustle finally felt worth it.”

5. Balance your interests.

Often freelancers are juggling many things at once, a skill that can benefit you immensely when balancing your work and outside interests in a full-time position. “One big lesson that I’m still absorbing as I go back to full-time is that if you are still pursuing any of your freelance projects on the side, it can take some discipline to not let your brain go off and running on an idea for those projects during work hours,” says Tosone. Making quick notes to oneself that you can circle back on after work is useful so you won’t get distracted for during the workday.

6. Know how a business functions.

When you work by yourself, each aspect of running a business, from the creative to the analytical, is on you to understand and maintain. “Freelancing gave me an understanding of what it takes to run a company from cash flow to business expense, says Tosone.” At the end of the day, any place you work is a business and understanding how it functions gives you the ability to look at things from a unique angle and better help the company succeed.

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