By Kristen Harris
Understatement Alert: 2020 has brought plenty of unexpected changes in all areas of life.
One area that has changed for many people is work—where we work, how we work, what we work on, and who we work for. If your work has not changed in at least one of these ways yet, it probably will. We already saw these trends starting, and they’ve fast-forwarded in response to COVID.
Many people are temporarily working from home or remotely, which is predicted to continue well past this health crisis. Due to this work from home life, the way we work has become much more virtual. “Zoom rooms” are our new workspaces, and everything lives in the cloud. If or when we do interact in-person, it’s with distance and safety protocols in place.
What we work on has changed too, with companies doubling-down on digital and online marketing. Even traditional companies like small restaurants and retailers have quickly shifted to online methods to reach and service their customers.
Perhaps surprising, who we work for is also changing. Companies are adjusting how they engage people on their team between shifting to remote work and being forced to do layoffs or furloughs. Many former employees are now in a different situation, another fast-forwarded trend that’s been growing over the last several years.
There are three main ways we see people being employed for creative positions. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each one.
Intentional Business Owner. Either in the past or due to recent changes, you have decided to start your own business. Congratulations! Entrepreneurship is outstanding, as long as it’s a conscious decision and what you want in the long run.
Pro: Get to be your own boss.
Con: You’re your own boss, and everything else. No one else will motivate you, give you direction, tell you what to do next, or hold you to deadlines. In addition to doing the work you love, you also need to market yourself, find clients, manage projects, solve problems, handle finance and invoicing, take out the trash, and anything else you can think of. If you’re truly building a business, you’ll eventually hire people to do the things you aren’t great at and move into a leadership role; until then, it’s all you.
Pro: Have 100% control over the clients you take on, the work or projects you accept, and what you charge.
Con: In truth, your clients are your boss (everyone answers to someone, and your clients pay you). Choose wisely, but you might have to take on less-than-ideal projects or clients to get started and keep growing. Deciding what to charge can be the hardest thing for creatives; it’s essential to know the market and client expectations.
Employee (of someone). Of course, many people are employees of creative firms, corporations, non-profit organizations, and businesses large or small. But that might not be the case right now (#covidchangedeverything). You might also find work opportunities through third-party firms like Portfolio Creative, in which case you will be an employee of that firm.
Pro: All your focus is on the work.
Con: You’ll have less control over the projects or work you focus on. The business that hired you has specific needs, branding, expectations, and boundaries that you’ll need to stay within.
Pro: The company that employs you is responsible for paying you (yay!). They also must withhold and pay all necessary taxes, benefits, or anything else that is legally required. Which means you just do great work and don’t have to worry about running a business.
Con: The company you’re working for determines their pay and benefits. Good companies offer fair compensation and benefit plans, so ask what’s included. When considering pay rates as an employee, you must factor in all of the included taxes and benefits to understand your total compensation.
Accidental Business Owner (aka, freelancing for now). Many creatives fall into this bucket from time to time throughout their career. It’s a hard spot because you’re not receiving the benefits of being an employee, nor are you building up a business. You’re self-employed, just for now, and that can be tough. We think there are more cons than pros here and encourage people to either pick the entrepreneur or employee route as soon as they’re able.
Con: If you haven’t built up a consistent client base, the work can be intermittent and unpredictable. It tends to be “feast or famine,” where you’re working as much as you can, when you can, knowing there’ll be dry spells with no work at all.
Con: It’s hard to set pricing for projects. Since you’re self-employed, you must withhold and pay all of your own taxes. You’ll also have to provide your own benefits, like health insurance and time off. Holidays and PTO days are just days you don’t work; if you’re paid on an hourly basis, you’ll need to make up those hours or plan for them to be unpaid.
Pro: Freelancing can be a great way to explore different types of work and projects outside of your day-to-day job. Most creatives do some freelance work on the side, even when they are working full time.
In times of tremendous change (hello, 2020), we see a change in people’s work structure as well. Be thoughtful about what you want and need, and make that shift as soon as you’re able. Be careful about being caught in the in-between situation of freelancing for now and, if you are, save money for taxes! No one likes an April surprise.