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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

From Freelance to Full-Time: The Right Move for You?

Oh, how much greener the grass is on the other side of the “freelance” fence: There’s job security, getting your bi-annual teeth cleaning for free, and paid holidays (not to mention the company and departmental parties!). Blessed be the life of the full-time employee.

You know you want it.

Or do you?

As someone who’s worked on both sides of the fence, I’m here to say that that grass you’re thinking is so green oftentimes isn’t. And since you probably now have Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” stuck in your head (sorry), I’ll use his lyrics to share four things to consider before making the move.

You’re Far from Plastic

Being an independent contractor (the legal term for freelancers and consultants) affords us the luxury of being “real.” Think about it. How many times have consultants been hired into your prior places of full-time employment only to come in, make the same recommendations you’ve made (for what seems like years), and (unlike the responses you’ve received) be applauded and rewarded for their “why-hasn’t-anybody-else-thought-of-that-before” ideas that finally get implemented?

It’s sad, but true. Your external “objective” voice often has more authority than the voice of the employee whose nose has been to the grindstone and name has been on the internal payroll for longer than 30 days and at sometimes half the cost.

Internal politics and corporate culture are two factors to seriously consider when deciding whether or not you should pursue full-time status. No longer are you being paid “just” to successfully execute on a project; rather, now your compensation is tied into how well you play in the same sandbox with others—not for a couple of hours a day, but for 40-60 hours each week. To thrive on the inside, you need to put your game face on, get a little plastic, form alliances you otherwise wouldn’t need, and enter into a whole new world of reality.

That Man is Not Your Maker

Independence is a big draw for a freelancer or consultant. Maybe the biggest. We have the flexibility of determining our own hours. We’re not expected to be seated at an office cubicle from the stroke of 8 or 9 AM until 5 or 6 PM with one hour for lunch and a few (but not too many) breaks. Our time really is our own. And how we choose to get our work done is up to us, too. Part of the appeal to staying independent is that “The Man” is, indeed, not our maker. We are.

So, consider: Will you be able to manage the confines and boundaries that come alongside working for The Man? What other activities and obligations are you engaged in that may now need to be put on back-burner status, regardless of whether or not you agree with your boss’ definition of “priority?”

True, independence is a lot of work, given that you’re solely responsible for everything from hunting down new business to killing it on project execution to mastering all the clean-up, but the trade-off is that you decide the who, what, when, where, how, and why. Are you really going to be able to relinquish that control?

Talk About Getting Blasted

As a full-time employee, I’ve felt like I’m getting the short end of the stick when I accidentally come to find out that the freelancer sitting to my right—hired to do part-time work that’s exactly what I’m doing on the very same project I’m working on—is getting paid an hourly wage that’s three times higher than mine. Talk about getting blasted!

It’s true. We all know that freelancers can command a much higher fee than in-house employees. In addition, independent contractors may be able to keep more of their dollars come tax time, especially with write-offs and other incentives. So, especially if you have checks coming in from multiple clients, it’s worth thinking through the financial ramifications of moving to one source of income.

You Don’t Need No Papers

All this said, keep in mind the reasons you probably want to go in-house in the first place: Independent contractors haven’t anything on paper, no legal ties or responsibilities from any company who hires us to do a job. If we get sick, we’re on our own. If we want our day on the beach, we do so on our own dime. If the project we’re working on doesn’t end up resonating with the higher-ups, it could end without a moment’s notice, and we have no claim to unemployment insurance. And worst case scenario? If the project we’re working on doesn’t end up getting the funding it needed to bring an outsider on for the gig, there’s a possibility we might not even get paid.

The power, independence, and high hourly rates that come from being on your own are great, but having some papers is pretty nice, too.

“I hate those blurred lines,” or so the song and its singer state. And lots of blurred lines exist when it comes to deciding whether freelance or full-time is right for you. It all comes down to what you really want and what will really work for you at this particular time in your life.

Know for sure that you want it? In my next article, we’ll tackle some how tos that’ll help you move from the freelance life to a full-time gig, and maybe even have you whistling a happy tune as you do.

Photo of freelancers courtesy of Shutterstock.