Freelancing or agency work – how do I find the best fit for me?

Freelancing or agency work – how do I find the best fit for me?

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Tired of working in an advertising agency or even a corporation, more and more Romanians, especially youngsters, choose to wave goodbye to the employee life and opt for the much more tempting option of working from home (a freelancer job).

Freelancer is a pretty broad term that can define any profession/occupation/job that a person does in a freelance capacity, on a contractual basis with one or more clients. For this reason, we can find freelancers in most known fields, from freelance writers to freelance graphic designers or IT professionals.

They can be found, most frequently, on dedicated platforms where they can easily find jobs according to their competencies and unique skillset. Some popular such platforms are Upwork, Elance or Freelancer where every specialist can set his own rate, either an hourly one, a project rate or a wordcount rate (in the case of content writing specialists).

A large part of my professional experience was acquired as a freelancer, but I also worked in a specialized content writing/copywriting agency in Brașov for over a year. So, if you don’t know what fits you better, you’ve come to the right place.

Because, in the following minutes, I’m about to present you some of the benefits and drawbacks of freelancer jobs versus agency work, as I’ve lived and breathed both:

Working from home vs. employed in a company

When we talk about freelancing, we can include this activity in the broader category or work-from-home jobs because the person is not tied to a fixed schedule and his physical presence at a company’s headquarters is not required. By definition, a freelancer can work from pretty much anywhere.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, life as an employee in a company (advertising agencies, corporations, small private companies etc.) involves a very different frame. Although we can have a flexible schedule, most frequently we are full-time employees, meaning we spend 40 hours a week (minimum) providing a paid service for an employer.

The flexibility offered in this case can be higher or lower depending on the employer’s policy.

Freelancer job advantages compared to agency work

#1 You come up with your own schedule, therefore you can identify and harness moments of peak productivity

Probably the most important advantage of being a freelancer is, just like the name suggests – the freedom, the flexibility. Do you want to work on a project in your pajamas at 10 PM? No one’s stopping you. Do you want to take a 2 hour break just to grind for 30 minutes later? Again, no one’s stopping you.

Agency work, on the other hand, is different. Most employers impose the classic (and outdated) 9 to 5 schedule, which doesn’t always coincide with the natural work rhythm of the employee and doesn’t encourage peak productivity.

Just for discussions’ sake, when I used to work in an agency, I often felt like I couldn’t produce anything meaningful or worthwhile before 11 AM, which was my regular waking and productive interval, so to speak. I always felt like the first 2 hours of my morning were lost on the regular 9 to 5 schedule. Although I worked and I had results, I was never happy with anything and, in the case of creative work, your natural schedule and rhythm are very important.

Which is why, if you’re a freelance writer or graphic designer or doing any work that involves a high dose of creativity, the fact that you can maximize your productive hours is a huge advantage compared to the restrictions of a regular workplace.

#2 You set your own deadlines

When you’re a freelancer, you can set your own deadlines whilst also consulting with your client/clients, of course, as opposed to agency work where those deadlines are, most frequently, established by someone else, usually your higher-up.

Of course even in an agency scenario, you do have a say in terms of tasks, but it is a lot more likely to run into very busy weeks or urgent projects stacked on top of each other, cramped up into a short timeframe. Not to mention, no one wants to be that guy/gal who goes to the employer with an exhausted „Boss, I swear to God, I can’t do this anymore.”

As a freelancer, you have better control over the frequency and duration of your projects and you can even turn down some of them if you’re tired/sick etc. You can even ask for extensions if you have more understanding customers whose trust you already earned.

#3 You decide how and how much you earn

As a freelancer, you can have moments when you earn a lot and moments when you earn very little. However, you’re the one who decides because you set up your rates and how much you’re willing to work – you want more, you take on more projects, you’re happy with what you have, you stand back, relax and hit the coffee shops more often.

It is not a constant stream of income but it’s one YOU control. On the other hand, if you’re employed in an agency or corporation, you can have very busy weeks or months when you do double or triple the usual work volume whilst earning the same salary and not a lot of extra income (such as bonuses) which can be a huge disadvantage longterm, in my opinion.

Freelancer job disadvantages compared to agency work

#1 You can’t bid on certain jobs without being a registered sole trader/self-employed person/individual service provider

Many customers won’t even take you seriously if you don’t have a legal manner of exercising your profession such as being a registered sole-trader/self-employed person. (Romanian PFA or SRL). Even more, on some specialized freelance platforms, you can’t even bid on certain gigs without a registered firm.

Because in Romania our bureaucracy is more or less fantastic (as I bet is the case with other European countries) and we severely lack entrepreneurial education, as well as basic accounting knowledge essential for any service provider, it can be headache-inducing for any beginner to go through all the necessary steps to do his job legally – from registering his chosen firm to paying taxes.

Many freelancers choose to work illegally or don’t declare income for these reasons specifically. Others choose to trade with the customers directly without registering as professionals but this is in no way a longterm solution.

Instead, in an agency, this whole fiscal burden is only pushing on the employer’s shoulders and you are carefree. In comparison, this would count as a benefit for the employee life.

#2 Taxes are...merciless.

Even if you do manage to register as a sole trader or be self-employed full-time, the Romanian government will make sure to show its generosity by taking roughly 30% of your total earnings. And if you work for sunflower seeds and pretzels money, you don’t really want to give the state your pretzel. Especially if it’s one of the good ones with sesame seeds and you’ve worked about a month to afford it and the Romanian state doesn’t offer anything back for the taxes you’re paying (I’m gonna refrain from saying anything else about our health insurance system and other things we pay taxes for unnecessarily).

Taxes are also merciless on the employer, of course, which is why, even if you work in an agency/company/corporation, you’ll be sad to realize just how little of the gross salary actually goes into your pocket. However, you could get private insurance and other benefits you might not have as a freelancer.

#3 You don’t have a steady income

As a freelancer, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t always have a steady income source. This can have a lot of drawbacks. As an employee in an agency or corporation, you have the certainty of a fixed payday and a monthly sum you can count on and there are laws protecting the employee from potential employer abuse.

These types of laws don’t really exist for freelancers – it is a lot harder to protect yourself from scams and unpaid bills from unreliable clients, there are no refunds if you’re left out to dry with nothing to show for it or any authority to call, least not in Romania. Instead, employees, on the other hand, can call ITM in case of employer abuse.

For someone seeking financial independence whilst also having family obligations, credit scores to cover, debt or fixed payments, life as a freelancer can be too unstable in certain times. do I make the right choice?

As someone who worked both as a freelance writer and as an employee in a content writing/copywriting agency, the only advice I can really give is to carefully think about what matters most to you – schedule flexibility, independence, the safety of tomorrow, money or the freedom to do what you like on your own terms and in your own rhythm.

Not anyone is cut out to be a freelancer, just like not anyone can feel 100% fulfilled as an employee working or grinding for someone else’s dream for 40 hours a week, especially if we talk about repetitive jobs that present little to no interest that we all do just because we have to.

There is also a middle ground, however, in which you can find a balance between your day-to-day job and your passion and find a company that values you, that will help you evolve in the direction you want. If you can manage that, you can certainly feel fulfilled as an employee, too.

It's all up to you and what you want for the longterm. And don't forget - try both for at least a couple months. The answer will come to you. Good luck. :)

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