Freelance or Bust, Part One: Weighing Your Options

When you’ve worked in an industry for a reasonable amount of time and really feel that you’ve found your niche, it can be tempting to fly the nest and set up shop as a freelancer. Whether you’re a groom or rider, or some combination of the two, or if you’re working in the equestrian industry in a less hands-on way (for example, as journalist – hi!), if you crave variety in your working days and the ability to control your own schedule, making the Big Leap is likely to be on your mind fairly regularly. And, man, it’s HARD getting some straight-up, straightforward advice on how to proceed.

This is where I want to help you, fledgling freelancers. I’ve done it twice: first, as a groom and rider and then again this year as a journalist, because obviously I take a while to make my mind up and if there’s cake on offer, I want to have it AND eat it. (Sorry, but what else are you meant to do with cake?!)

Me – and perhaps you – when presented with career choices. And also cake.

I don’t assume to know the ins and outs of every career scenario, but I’ve learned a few things – largely through trial and error – that are pretty consistent golden rules, that you can pick and choose and apply to your own business model. (That’s you! You’re a business model! Doesn’t that sound exciting, like you’d look absolutely #flawless in a pencil skirt?)

Did you think you’d get this far without a Beyonce gif? Don’t be silly.

First things first: let’s talk options. So you’re thinking of going freelance? Great! But man, doesn’t it feel like a huge decision? Don’t you feel like there’s some magical moment you need to wait for, when everything will fall into place and you can take a step into your new, exciting venture?

Yeah, no. It doesn’t really work like that, unfortunately. There’s rarely a ‘perfect’ moment, and usually, taking that step requires careful planning, a bit of thought, and then the balls to just go for it. If you’ve been thinking about self-employment for a while, you’ve likely thought about the pros and cons of making the change, but if you haven’t, it’s the best place to start. Go old-school, get out a piece of paper, and make actual lists. These will likely include personal factors – maybe you have a work buddy who you’d miss, or maybe a special horse you hate the idea of not seeing every day. A lot of them will be broader, and these are what we’ll have a look at now…

The Pros and Cons of Going Freelance: An (Almost) Exhaustive List, Illustrated with Otters, Because Why Not

  • Pro: You will meet a lot of people. One of the best bits of freelancing is that your work is varied, and so the places you go and people you work with are varied, too. This is brilliant for networking, but also great for expanding your social circle and meeting people you may never otherwise have encountered.

There’s a whole new social circle out there, just waiting for you to join it.

  • Con: You won’t have the same work friendships. There’s a certain type of friendship that’s born from working together day in and day out, and unfortunately, those #workwifey situations don’t tend to crop up when you’re a freelancer. If you don’t find making new friends particularly easy, this may be a jarring change.

Probably no more platonic hand-holding on the way to the coffee machine. Sorry.

  • Pro: You’ll be in charge of your own schedule. Spotted that Wednesday’s going to be gloriously sunny? As long as you haven’t already booked a client in, the day is yours to enjoy. Holiday time, similarly, doesn’t have to be approved by anyone – just don’t book in jobs for the time you want off. Appointments, making it to the bank or post office in opening hours, those bizarrely-scheduled Tuesday morning jumper shows – they’re all easy to fit in when you’re freelance.

Brunch with friends on a Thursday? The avocado toast is yours for the taking.

  • Con: You’ll be in charge of your own productivity. Look, procrastination is a real thing, and if you let it get out of control it can feel pretty crippling. If you’re a freelance groom, this is way less of a problem, as – if you’re any good at all – once you’ve booked in a job, you’ve got to get out of bed and get yourself to those horses, no matter what. If you’re in media, PR, sponsorship, or anything that requires daily initiative, it’s all too easy to find yourself eight hours into a BuzzFeed quiz binge, with a bit of a migraine and a serious case of cabin fever. You’ll probably tell yourself you work better at night, just to make yourself feel better. I see you, girl.

Procrastidating: the art of putting off work by swiping through Tinder until you actually run out of people.

  • Pro: You can make more money. Often, freelancers will make more per hour than their permanently employed counterparts, despite carrying out the same tasks. This is often referred to as danger money, which is way less Lara Croft than it sounds, and just means that you have the chance to bank more cash because the job could suddenly disappear from beneath you. If you have a selection of clients with whom you’ve built up a good rapport, and your reputation for quality work spreads so that you have a waitlist for new clients, you can earn yourself a pretty appealing income.

Another win? Payday happens whenever you send your invoices. That end-of-the-month feeling, weekly.

  • Con: You won’t have the security of a set paycheque – or benefits. This is definitely the hardest – and scariest – thing at the beginning, when you may not have many clients, and you feel you can’t say no to any job. You won’t have a guarantee each month of how much you’ll earn, nor will you be entitled to sick pay, compensation for injury, or holiday and maternity leave. This can also be a major point to consider if part of your pay package as a groom includes training and board for your horse, so consider your long-term goals here.

If small people are in your immediate plans for the future, you need to make a solid financial plan before you go freelance. I can’t help with that, but I can give you an otter with a bottle.

  • Pro: You could find yourself taking on some seriously exciting projects. Freelance grooms are often sought out by riders heading abroad for competitions, so if you’re getting the winter blues, you could, for example, book in a couple of weeks with a client at Spain’s Sunshine Tour or head to Ocala to up your vitamin D levels. These are the #livingthedream moments your Instagram is crying out for.

Look, an exciting job for an otter is probably a bit different from an exciting job for a human, okay? EN is a judgment-free zone.

  • Con: You have to have your head in the game outside of the normal 9 (or 7) to 5. Successful freelancing is about spotting – or creating – opportunities and then following through, so the part of your brain that wears the sexy pencil skirt and does business-y things needs to be ticking over all the time. This could mean spotting, and taking note of, potential new clients when you’re aimlessly scrolling social media, or it could mean being diligent about keeping up an engaging commentary on Twitter. It could also mean taking calls from clients at seriously inopportune moments, particularly if you work in a field in which some of them may be in a different time zone. This isn’t necessarily a con, though: it may be that this 24/7 engagement with your career comes very naturally to you.

Pictured: you, trying to set up a Skype meeting with a client at 2am.

So that’s your homework, budding freelancers: whatever your business model is, whether you’re retraining OTTBs, writing event reports, churning out top-notch product PR, or sending your charges into the ring looking like the beautiful unicorns they are inside, you need to draw up your own list of pros and cons. Then, we’re going to work out how to combat those cons.

Catch you on the flip-side, gang – next time, we’ll be dissecting how you can set yourself up for success before you make the leap.