Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On-Site Writing vs. Freelancing: The Showdown

I know I've mentioned this quite a bit, but for those of you who were wondering where I've been the past three months or so, I've been working at an onsite gig: my former full-time employer needed a temporary fill-in for an employee who left unexpectedly, and I decided to take that on. This only months after broadcasting to all and sundry on Words on the Page that I would never do an onsite gig; not me, no way. Well, kids, we all have our price.

Anyway, I've come to realize that choosing between flexible freelancing and onsite reliability is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many freelancers go in and out of full-time and part-time onsite work, all while maintaining and sometimes putting on hold their own independent businesses. Writing can be the ultimate fluid career, and your needs change depending on your life circumstances. Fresh off the onsite boat, here are my insights as to the benefits and drawbacks.

The Benefits:

A reliable income. This was my reason for taking the assignment on. I needed cash at the time, and I couldn't justify turning it down--even if it came in a less-than-ideal package. I could see going back to an onsite gig if the timing is right and I happen to need the money again, if only on a temporary basis. I could also consider doing it long-term if, for example, I wanted to buy a house. Banks are much more likely to give you a loan if you have a steady job, I've heard, and picking up an office job for a year could get me a better rate on my first home loan.

Social interaction. You do get pretty isolated freelancing, if you let yourself. I saw people every day for two months. I got to wear my cute work clothes and my cute work shoes. I got to meet new people. Although there are definite downsides to work interaction, it's not all bad.

Quick feedback on your work. One of the things I actually liked about the onsite writing work was that my boss was right there--I could hand in a draft, wait an hour, and get in-person feedback. This is definitely a different experience than emailing a draft to a client, waiting a few days, waiting a few more days, emailing them to remind them about the draft, waiting a few more days...OK, it's usually not that bad, but you get the point. In addition, I found I felt better about experimenting a little more. I wasn't worried about nailing the first draft every time, because my boss was right there to check out the draft, offer small tweaks or big changes, and give immediate feedback.

Total immersion in the project. Another benefit was the fact that everyone there was completely caught up on the work. The graphic design, the project management, the writing team--we were all right there, giving each other ideas, feeding off each other's energy. It definitely changed my writing; I think I would have written completely different material had I been doing it alone, with only a single client interview to guide me.

The Drawbacks:

Much less time to focus on my long-term goals. Despite these benefits, I will always be too independent to really feel at home at a full-time job. The problem with onsite work is that it takes away time you'd ordinarily spend moving yourself forward, and makes you focus on moving the company forward. I just can't be happy if I don't feel I'm dedicating a big part of every day to achieving my own personal goals, regardless of what another company wants. I had to put a lot of things on hold when I took on this onsite gig, and now, even though my bank account is thanking me, I still feel like I'm two months behind.

Inefficient use of time. I've grown used to being careful about how I use my time as a freelancer. I guide client phone calls to be as efficient and to-the-point as possible. I use my time efficiently so I have more time to play later. In an office, everyone's stuck there until closing time--so there's no incentive to not waste time. One of my biggest private peeves during this on-site experience was meetings. Long, pointless meetings where people got drawn off-topic, debated endlessly about whether or not there should be a comma in the title of an article (my answer: No! There shouldn't be! And you all have to listen to me, because I do this for a living!) and generally made me crazy.

Less opportunity to earn more through my business. Yes, the regular paycheck was good for my business. But I also found that as soon as I took on the onsite gig, for some reason new clients poured in for freelancing. I rushed home after working onsite and dove right into freelancing work, often working until long after traditional office hours should have ended. How much more money could I have made if I'd had the time to pursue more freelancing work? Sure, it's great to have a regular paycheck--but it can also be exciting to know that you have the potential to earn a lot more than usual one month--and you don't have time to do that when you're stuck at an onsite job.

I've known this for a long time, but this experience has only served to remind me that I am SO much happier and more productive freelancing. I'm looking forward to a footloose flexible summer of typing on the patio, impromptu beach trips and sleeping in a little every morning.


Anonymous said...

You shouldn't feel there's stigma attached to onsite work -- you were offered a gig and you took it. Your business, no one else's. Glad it was a good experience.

You might answer to them during work hours, but, ultimately, the only one to whom you answer about your choices is yourself.

Regarding the extra gigs coming in as soon as you were hired -- of course that happened. It's cyclical, feast or famine.

If you hadn't taken the onsite gig, chances are high you'd have been in a dry spell with the other freelance works.

Gigs come in batches.

Like dust bunnies.

Anonymous said...

You're braver than I am! And good on you for being able and willing to change your mind.

Anne Wayman

FastWriters said...

Don't feel bad. I did the same thing, so I think there are tons of people that take an on-site gig. Great blog entry! You hit the most important pros and cons about working in an office.