What you need to know before going freelance

The realities of the academic freelance life

Making it as a freelance academic is often tougher than it seems, according to one educator who went the independent contractor route.

Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a former clinical associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who now earns a living as a freelancer. Even though she has found a way to work that suits her, freelancing hasn't always come easy. Guest Pryal discusses some tough truths about the gig economy:

You need to be determined

Many people are turning to freelance work out of necessity, leaving them to navigate a challenging new world of hustling for jobs and chasing payments. Freelancers already tend to earn less money than full-time employees and to lack job security, so collecting the money they're owed becomes all the more important. A survey from the Freelancer's Union found that half of freelancers said they were stiffed by a client in 2014, with the average amount lost totaling $6,390.

Freelancers also have to rethink how they approach money issues. They need to provide themselves with a steady paycheck even though some months will be less fruitful than others. Independent contractors might also have to incorporate or form an LLC. 

Optimize your programs for the U.S.' 52 million freelance and self-employed workers

"These are important decisions, ones you never needed to think about when you worked for a university or a company," Guest Pryal says.

You need to combat loneliness

Freelancing can be a lonely pursuit, as Guest Pryal learned. She used to wonder why people would pay to share workspaces with other freelancers when they could simply work from home. But co-working spaces, Guest Pryal learned, allow freelancers to bounce ideas off one another and develop a sense of camaraderie—something that can't be achieved working in solitude.

Guest Pryal created a network of colleagues with whom she connects through monthly video chats. She and her colleagues solve problems, check in on one another, and develop ideas.

"Everyone needs colleagues. But if you are a freelancer, you get to create your own circle of colleagues, which is much, much better," Guest Pryal says.

You need to accept the grunt work  

There are a lot of aspects of freelance life that Guest Pryal doesn't enjoy, such as invoicing, filing taxes, and proofreading. But she accepts these tasks as part of her career because she gets to do what she loves. The way Guest Pryal sees, it, a third of her professional life is dedicated to writing, while the rest of that time is spent doing work that supports her passion. And that's not so bad, she says.

Related: Designing programs for the Millennial workforce


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