Freelance or full time?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Two paths diverging in a forest

If you’ve decided to make a certain craft your career, you may have the option of doing it on either a freelance or full-time basis.

E.g. instead of being a (full-time) freelance graphic designer for many clients, you could choose to be a full-time graphic designer for just one organisation.

Which route should you take? Here are some considerations.

Going freelance may be for you if…

You like working for a variety of clients

Different clients have different project requirements and working styles. All these keep you on your toes, and keep things fresh and interesting.

In contrast, if you work for just one organisation, you’ll get very familiar with its workings and requirements, but things might get boring after a while.*

Working on projects for different clients also means you get to “take a break” in between projects for the same client.

The work I do for some clients can get quite intense. If I did their work—and just their work—every day as a full-time employee, I think I might burn out and quit.

(* An exception might be joining an agency full time where you do work for multiple client accounts. This might be a good compromise—especially if you aren’t compatible with the next point…)

You don’t mind doing business development or finance tasks

These include approaching potential clients for work or issuing invoices for payment.

You don’t have to love doing these tasks, but you have to at least be okay with it. Because you will need to.

If you think you’ll absolutely hate doing this work, join an organisation full time and let their dedicated bizdev/finance peeps handle it.

(Or, if it’s possible and your budget permits it, continue freelancing and hire someone to handle these tasks for you)

You don’t want to have to listen to a boss

This is probably the reason why many people decide to freelance 😂

Just be aware that:

  • You’ll need to be a self-directed and self-disciplined worker because you won’t have a higher-up breathing down your neck
  • Your clients will all be your mini-bosses because you will still need to produce work that meets their requirements. But you may have more say over whether you take up certain projects and how the work is done.

Going full time may be for you if…

Job and income stability is a priority

If you have a full-time job, you generally have job stability—you don’t have to worry about where your next project will come from.

You’ll generally also have income stability in the form of a steady monthly paycheck.

(That said, freelancing can provide a level of income stability too:

If you get laid off from a full-time job, you will lose 100% of your income. If one out of your many freelance clients stops working with you, your income will take a hit but you won’t lose all of it at once.

It’s also possible to pay yourself a fixed monthly salary while you freelance.)

You want guidance or mentorship on your craft

If you’re new to your craft and/or want (paid) guidance on improving it, you might benefit from having a higher-up who will provide feedback on your work.

Freelance clients generally won’t mentor you. They’re paying you to provide a service they might not have expertise in.

If your work is trash, they’ll tell you they think it’s trash—but they can’t/aren’t going to help you get better at what you do. Lol.

You like working closely with others

As an employee, you’ll likely be working closely with colleagues on various tasks or projects. You might even go out with them for lunch or hang out with them after the work day.

Subsequently, you forge friendships and strong bonds with them at work.

Freelancers have to work with others, too, but not as closely. Conversations with clients typically go like this:

  • Client: “Hey, can you do this?”
  • Freelancer: “Sure thing!”
  • *freelancer does the work*
  • Freelancer: “Here’s the work”
  • Client: “Thanks!”
  • (some time later)
  • Client: “Hey, can you do this?”
  • *rinse and repeat*

It’s all quite transactional.

If you freelance, you usually also work by yourself. There are ways around it, but you may find working like this lonely.

My suggestion if you’re new and unsure of which path to take…

Go with a full-time job first.

Probably not what you were expecting, right? 😂

Freelancing is a more advanced way of working. Because you not only have to be good at your craft, but you also have to manage a one-person business (i.e. yours).

If you’re just embarking on your career, it doesn’t hurt to join an organisation, and learn how businesses are run, before you start your own.

And as you work, you can save up some money, maybe even freelance on the side to get a taste of it, before you go all in on freelancing if that’s what you decide to do. (More details in my advice for new freelancers.)

More freelancer news

Coming soon: Japan’s digital nomad visa

If you’ve wanted to work in Japan as a digital nomad, you might soon be able to!

The country looks set to accept applications for its new digital nomad visa from the end of March. This visa will let both self-employed individuals and employees work from anywhere in Japan for up to 6 months.

To qualify, you need to meet requirements like the following:

  • Have an annual income of at least ¥10 million (around S$89,300)
  • Be a national of certain countries e.g. the US, Singapore and Australia
  • Have private health insurance

Learn more about the visa here.

More organisations are adopting the Tripartite Standard on Contracting With Self-Employed Persons

This Tripartite Standard (TS SEP) provides a set of recommended guidelines for organisations in Singapore to follow when hiring self-employed persons. They include:

  • Discussing key terms of the agreement like each party’s obligations and the payment amount and due date
  • Documenting the agreement’s terms in writing
  • Giving the self-employed person a copy of the terms before they start work

As shared in Parliament recently, more than 2,600 organisations have adopted the TS SEP since its introduction in March 2018.

But the TS SEP’s recommendations are just recommendations. It seems the government doesn’t (and isn’t going to) check whether organisations that have adopted the TS SEP actually follow it.

This post was first published in my email newsletter on 29 Feb 2024. If you liked it, you can sign up for my newsletter here:

Tan Siew Ann
I’m a freelance writer for some of the most amazing software businesses in the world. On this blog, I share tips on how you, too, can run a sustainable and meaningful freelance business. Let’s forge your freedom. 💪

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