The Great Temptation: Salary vs. Freelance Consulting

Girl using her laptop at home with her cat.

Freelancer.  No, salaried worker. Stability. Creativity.  Potential. Dreams. Flexibility. Balance. Zen. Independence. A steady paycheck …. it’s not complicated really.



Having a full-time job is far easier than being a freelance professional and small business owner.

Think about the days when you go into work, and you don’t quite “have game”.  Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.  When you are a salaried office professional, there are easy days, and busy ones.  Days that are quiet with the natural ebb and flow of digital and paper workflow.  Your boss takes it all in stride (or at least mine always did).  You work your ass off when you are busy, and then there are times when your work load is lighter.

The conventionality of a salaried position is meant to provide stability for those who are less than entrepreneurial.  A salary means you can budget accordingly, knowing that every week or two weeks, you are going to be paid the same amount of money consistently.  You’ll be paid that whether you are a star performer, or a “slightly above getting fired slacker”.   I think that’s part of the reason why salary doesn’t work for my personality; if I am busting my chops, shouldn’t I be paid more than the office gossip, sitting in a corner pretending to work (at least when the boss is watching?).

The idea of only making [X] per month bothers me too.  If I have a greater need, such as wanting to escalate my payment schedule for my car or perhaps saving for my “first ever” Caribbean cruise, shouldn’t I be able to apply myself even harder to make more money?  Sadly, that isn’t how salary or even hourly work plays out in North America.  And even more disturbing is the fact that increasingly, salary employers expect workers to ‘volunteer’ extra time constantly.  Your work hours are really a guideline, and while I never minded putting in the extra hours for a project or deadline, or clocking over 130 hours in a week (ah the Peer Review at the College… yikes) I resented the resentment that came whenever I tried to leave on time.

I mean, if nothing extraneous is going on and everything is under control, why shouldn’t I leave at 4:30?  Why does 4:30 departure eventually become a “dirty look” and make you seem like a less committed employee?  If you paid me overtime, I might have had a different outlook.  But ‘salary’ for all the stability it offers the average employee is also an excellent vehicle for employers to ‘guilt’ staff into working longer hours, for no extra pay.  This is consistent in my personal experience from small, privately owned businesses to large non-profits and corporations.

I value my time because I know how much it is worth and how much I can earn by efficiently applying myself in my business.  Perhaps that’s why I think that people who work for themselves struggle to reintegrate into the salaried position again; we don’t need the stability (although sometimes I miss it) … we’re confident we can hunt our own income , and pursue an increased income, rather than settling for a flat-fee, flat-lined salary with escalating employer expectations (which are not commensurate with income raises).

So today, very much unlike myself, I threw my hat in the ring for a full-time position near Dallas.  It was both the salary and the job description that got my imagination working overtime.  Should I be doing the slow build of my business, as I continue to seek out long-term clients I enjoy working with?  Or instead, should I be submitting my resume to all these content management and marketing positions that are opening up in the Frisco, Plano and McKinney areas, with salaries starting at $85k and up?  With benefits … might I add.  The really good ones (not the cheap ones we were able to factor in our budget to meet Obamacare requirements).

I wish I had a small business coach.  Someone in marketing or commercial writing who could tell me that these temptations are quite normal; it’s good to want to make more money.  Or someone who knows me intuitively and reminds me that I am no longer “single marketing maven work 24/7 girl”.  I have a family now.  A husband.  Kids.  Three dogs and a cat who expect me to run the circus.   The life I wanted works best when I work from home; more money didn’t make that run more smoothly… the kids missed me, the animals missed me, and my husband missed me too.

I can switch gears in a second and dive into an organization and work those late hours.  For most of my life as a single professional (or a woman without kids) I have been able to submerse myself in my career without apology.  The “balls to the wall” approach that helped my career escalate from Jr. Marketing Assistant and up the ladder, building a pretty cool portfolio in the process.  But am I still “work until you drop” chick or have I changed into something a little more Zen and balanced?  Someone who still takes a lunch break, but does pre-prep for dinner while watching an hour of cheese ball daytime television?

The conflict in my head kept me up tonight.  I very rarely have problems sleeping these days, but tonight… the sleep simply wouldn’t come.  The good thing is that I DO work for myself, and I have only one meeting scheduled this morning, after which I can take it a little easy.  Monitor the accounts, perhaps do some more prospecting on freelance websites and on LinkedIn.  From the couch.  In my jammies. Like a chick that didn’t sleep a wink Tuesday night.

A high paying job would be stressful, take me away from my family and possibly make me sick again.  Stress is the thing that creates so much havoc in my personal health; it’s a given that my health will tank with a long commute again, and the stress of working 50 hours per week in a noisy, gossiping, passive aggressive …. maybe not all offices are the same?  I know where my dream boss lives … wish I could teleport to Binghamton New York daily.  We’d be a dream team.

January and February are very slow months in my industry.  I think I recall having a similar crisis last January; insecurity still bites me in the ass from time to time.  I’ve only been running my business full-time for three years now.  I’m still very much learning the ropes and developing my chops.

But $98k to $120k in salary? That would make a lot of things happen far faster than the slow build that is my independent business.   I guess it can’t hurt to throw your hat in the ring and see what happens.  I’ll worry about it when I get a written job offer, and shelf it until then.  It’s wasted worry.

What did feel good was the check list of all the skills, education and software expertise.  Is it a job I can do?  Totally.  And really well.  The brand is a killer multinational and super cool; chances are I’d love it.   But I wouldn’t be an independent freelance professional… and I am kind of proud of my business and my independence, the flexibility and the ability to (from time to time) work in yoga pants and slippers.

Wishing for a freelance fairy godmother … to talk some sense to me.