I have been a freelance trainer, consultant and coach in education for the last five years and think there are many great things about this way of working, once you have gone through that stressful period of setting up your business and establishing yourself in the sector. I think there is plenty written about the challenges of starting up in business but not enough about the joys. Here are a few, both professional and personal.
You develop relationships with people in their institutions and can see them creating change across time, with some involvement in that process. It is rewarding and exciting to see those changes and that development of individuals and play a part in it. You learn to contribute to something you can’t control but may influence and support to an extent. Developing those skills is a fascinating journey.
By the nature of the work, you spend time with people who want to make something happen, with all the related energy and passion, so the work often has dynamism and drive to it. It is inspiring to be part of someone’s project or vision for change and to see where you can support it. As an outsider, you are not bogged down with all the politics of the organisation in the same way as the people working there. You can give an alternative view, be more challenging sometimes or offer a different approach, because you are the external pair of eyes on the work. I find the freelance life much less frustrating and exasperating than being in a classic 9-5 role.
Once you get to work in different settings, you start to get a helicopter view of the sector and see trends and patterns emerging. You can share experiences from different contexts and pass on observations, pitfalls and things that have helped others make change, so people have rich food for thought in their own process. You gain a much broader perspective on your sector than you could ever acquire working in one place.
Freelance life is incredibly varied and you can end up having a really stimulating working week. My average week can include presenting a webinar, coaching an individual via Skype, designing materials at home, writing blogs in a cafe, training a group of teachers or managers, presenting at a conference or doing business admin at home. This range of activity means you develop new skills and end up exploring more avenues than you ever realised could exist for you at work.
Possibly the most enjoyable aspect is being able to make choices about work, taking the initiative to carve out your own niche and create your own work identity. This is creative, challenging and stimulating and makes you really accountable for your own professional life. You have to find the work that you want to do and be so good at it that people want to invite you back again! You can’t be complacent or stuck in a rut as you risk losing your currency with your clients. You have to identify your expertise and passions, assess the market and create something that fits the needs of the clients you want to work with – this is a very thought provoking, creative and demanding process. You have to stay current and evolve with the world your clients inhabit, so there is constant challenge and evolution built into your work. Once you have established yourself, you can say no to things that don’t suit you or appeal to you. There is a freedom, richness and scope here that is often difficult to find in other jobs with more constraints.
On a personal level, you can often travel out of rush hour, visit your gym when it is quiet, get shopping delivered at home while you work, put a casserole and a load of washing on while you design materials. Life is more comfortable as you are not cramming in everything after work or on weekends. You can travel out of school holidays and take a break if you have had a busy spell.
I meet many people who are toying with the idea of going freelance and I think it is worth considering all of these benefits in weighing up what this new life could bring once you get established. Yes, it is scary, complex and challenging to make a success of it, but if you do, there are many great things to look forward to and this shouldn’t be ignored.