Looking for a more flexible career–but not sure if you’d be better off telecommuting at your existing company or freelancing?
It can be a tough decision.
I’ve been both a corporate telecommuter and a freelancer. I have to say that freelancing worked out better for me, on several fronts. And I’m not alone in finding indie life to be rewarding. The MBO Partners Independent Workforce Index Study in Sept. 2011 found that 80% of independent workers are “highly satisfied” with their careers.” Only 8% planned to return to traditional jobs.
But there are pros and cons to both. Here are some thoughts to help you with your decision.
Pros of telecommuting:
1. You’ll still be in the corporate “game.” If your ultimate goal is to reach the C-suite in a big company, you may be better off telecommuting during a period when you need flexibility–such as when your children are very young– than going independent.
2. You’ll have a steady paycheck and corporate benefits. This may seem obvious, but many would-be freelancers don’t realize what it’s actually like to lack these things. Transitioning to generating your own pay and benefits can be stressful. Even if you’re an award-winning professional, it may take years to return to your previous income level. MBO Partners found that 56% of independent workers find their uncertain income stream challenging, and 41% worry about their job security.
3. You won’t lose your big-company status. If you’ve been a power broker at your company, you may be in for a bit of a comedown when you go out on your own. The folks who returned your calls because you were a key influencer at a FORTUNE 500 company may not feel the same urgency when you’re running a one-person shop.
4. You’ll still have access to the corporate IT staff. You may not appreciate them now, but you will when your computer won’t turn on — and the IT help line at the computer company connects you to a call center worker who doesn’t know a PC from a steam iron. Recently, at 2 a.m. I was told the motherboard on my computer needed to be replaced by one of these crack diagnosticians–when it turned out it was only a worn out power cord, as I discovered on my own. (Here’s our post on one good IT solution for freelancers.)
5. You won’t have to generate your own projects. Even after 20 years in corporate jobs, I found it challenging to pitch unfamiliar organizations with freelance projects at first. It’s one thing to sell a group of familiar colleagues on your brainstorm and quite another to persuade a brand new potential client in an organization with entirely different quirks from your current employer’s. If you get seriously depressed by rejection, you may not like freelancing. (Here’s a post with some pitching tips.)
Pros of freelancing
1. You will really be free to set your own schedule. When you telecommute, you still need to work hours set by your company. Even if you have worked 12 hours in a day, the one time you are not available when a boss needs to reach you–even if it’s to take lunch–you risk jeopardizing the telecommuting arrangement. Not so with freelancing. MBO Partners found that 64% of independent workers plan to continue freelancing because they get to set their own schedule.
2. You’ll be able to do what you love and find meaningful. At a big company, certain gatekeepers, like your bosses, will determine whether you have access to the best projects. If they misjudge your abilities and talents, you may never again get a crack at certain high-profile work. As a freelancer, if you find a particular client doesn’t value you, you can always move on to another one. If you are good at what you do, your contributions will be recognized, regardless if whether you play golf with the head honchos. MBO Partners found that 55% of indie workers are challenged and motivated, while only 6% are bored, 6% feel trapped and 8% feel they are stagnating. In contrast, several recent surveys have showed how unhappy corporate workers are right now.
3. You will be paid for the results you deliver. If you’re on of the doers in your office, you may find it annoying that the folks who are more “political” have won higher positions than you, without doing as much work. In freelancing, the hard workers win. Your income will be directly tied to your output. And if you have a high output, you will find that you may have better job security than in corporate America. MBO Partners discovered that 33% of independent workers feel more secure working independently. And the Network Solutions Small Business Success Index in 2009 found that about 35% of home-based businesses had revenues above $125,000, and 8% had revenues above $500,000.
4. You can set your own goals. If you feel you need to earn $300,000 and can do the amount of work required to achieve that goal, there’s no one to stop you. In a big corporation, you’ll have to get the buy-in of your boss to take on additional responsibility and get the company to pay you for it.
5. You won’t be forced to waste your time. A common complaint among corporate workers is that some meetings drag on and on. Often, people don’t want to get back to the drudgery at their desks. They will be paid for that day whether they spend a good part of it delivering a fillibuster at a weekly meeting or actually completing a project. If they happen to be more senior than you, you may be trapped for hours at meetings that accomplish nothing –until they see fit to let everyone adjourn. You’ll never have to sit through a meeting like that again if you’re a freelancer. You may choose to do so, if you’re trying to win business or keep a client happy. But you won’t be forced to do so. There’s a big difference.