Elance Blog

Overcoming Freelance Fears

Are you just getting started on Elance and feel nervous about freelancing? Online work is growing faster than ever, and has become a viable career choice for countless independent workers around the world—but you may have some concerns still. Contributing author Stephanie Taylor Christensen is here to debunk six common freelance fears.

If you dream of a flexible work schedule and a workload that can be filled with projects that nurture your skills and interests, freelancing as a full-time career might provide the career fulfillment you seek. Nevertheless, feelings of trepidation can be a common roadblock when you forgo the security of traditional employment for the life of a freelancer. But, as fans of the television series Mad Men have heard, “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.”

Here are six common freelance fears—and how to overcome them.

1. How I will stay connected to others?
Many freelancers fear losing the social support an office gig. But when you become a full-time freelancer, you enter a new professional realm and should seek out groups that complement your redefined role. Being active in your field not only will help you to build a reputation and uncover new projects, but also will let you swap trade secrets with other freelancers and learn from their mistakes (before you make them). LinkedIn groups, such as LinkEds & Writers and Flash Freelancers let you tap into an active online community of independent contractors. Elance’s Water Cooler also presents opportunities to connect with other freelancers and build client relationships.

2. Can I afford to lose a steady paycheck?
It’s natural to long for a steady, predictable paycheck every once in a while. The trade-off: As a freelancer, you have control over almost everything else, including when and where you work, how much you earn, and which projects you accept or reject. To ease your financial fears, set aside four to six months of wages to cover your living expenses before you embark on your freelance career. You may not need to spend the money, but having it on hand can ease your fears in the event of an emergency. The extra cash can also help you get your freelance career up and running as you develop a steady client base (and learn to manage workload and payment schedules). Securing projects through a service such as Elance can help eliminate payment headaches because you’ll know when and how much you’ll be paid for your work, and payments are guaranteed for both hourly and fixed-price work.

3. How can I be the accountant, project manager and contractor, all at once?
While freelancing can mean freedom, it also means that all of the day-to-day tasks associated with running your freelance business rest on your shoulders — from filing and making coffee to managing your time and jobs as well as invoicing and collecting payment. Fortunately, countless numbers of online tools exist to make the life of an independent contractor more manageable. Applications such as CurdBee, an easy-to-use invoicing and collections solution, and Evernote, a project-management app, can help maintain efficiency and productivity when working on your own. If you’re hiring and managing workers online, Elance offers a number of integrated apps that increase productivity and information exchange, such as milestones, automated timesheets, video chat via TokBox and real-time screen sharing via Join.me.

4. Where will I find affordable health insurance?
If your spouse works full-time, add yourself as a dependent to his or her medical insurance policy. In the United States, if you’re 26 years old or younger, you may be able to “ride along” on your parents’ plan. Take advantage of the group rates offered by the Freelancers Union, the National Association for the Self-Employed, or eHealth, which can offer cost-effective options specifically for freelancers.

5. Who will handle my income taxes?
Becoming a full-time freelancer means you’ll have to become responsible for paying your own taxes to Uncle Sam quarterly-- but you’ll reap some major benefits, too. Lunch or dinner meetings to review business projects qualify for a tax write-off — and mileage to and from those meetings does too. Save your receipts! Working from a dedicated home office earns a tax deduction, and if you’ve left a workplace-sponsored retirement plan, your traditional IRA deposits, regardless of your income, may also be tax deductible.

6. What if a client steals my idea or work?
As a freelancer, you should be aware of intellectual property issues, for your own protection and the client’s. Resources like the Electronic Frontier Foundation can help you stay on top of changing laws regarding copyright and creative resources. Establish and document upfront how bylines or credit for your work will be granted and how sensitive information can and should be handled. Before you commit to a project, find out the client’s policy on whether you can use the work in your portfolio after it’s completed. Elance offers a standard non-disclosure agreement that can help jump-start the process.

While working full-time has advantages in its predictability, freelancing offers an opportunity to pursue a career on your own terms, where the sky is the limit on your potential. Walking away from safety is scary, but by taking calculated risks and controlling the things you can as a freelancer, you can explore a new kind of career that can lead to much greater satisfaction.

About the Author
Stephanie Taylor Christensen, a Null Media author, is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. She covers personal finance, consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville, SheKnows, Investopedia and several other online properties.


My primary fear is not included in any of the points you raise, but i its very real. I have been working with Elance for a few months now and the biggest problem I have is trying to get a reasonable price for a job. There are so many foreign designers, particularly from places like India and Pakistan, who will bid absolutely ridiculously low amounts to do jobs. They may be able to live on that kind of income, e.g. 5US$ per hour, but most other people cannot, and it just ruins any chance we have of earning a living from freelancing via the internet. To get work I have to charge such low prices that I wonder why I am bothering sometimes..I spend hours and hours creating something superb that client is thrilled with, knowing I'll get such a small amount for it, which will be eroded away even more by PayPal and subsequent transfer fees in my country (South Africa) that I'll be lucky to have made enough to buy my supper.
Its very sad. I think maybe there should be a minimum charge on these jobs to stop the "cheapskates" spoiling the opportunities for normal designers.

My fears are borne out when I see companies or people wanting jobs done for next to nothing..makes me furious! You could turn round and say well don't use Elance then, but if you want your business to multiply at the rate you predict i think you need to protect your designers in some way. I have to use Elance because a little is better than nothing, i was retrenched from a very good job about a year ago because of so-called economic cuts in the company I worked for and if it was offered back to me I'd take it tomorrow... freelancing doesn't pay and its horribly risky, I've been cheated out of money already working through Elance and in the end I don't have a leg to stand on if someone refuses to pay.

Chiz Judge

Fantastic post! Thanks for the link to the LinkEds & Writers group - I'll be sure to send a request to join.

One of my questions is how to compete with others who have been on Elance for a long time. I have a ten-year career in writing & editing outside of Elance. Though, with no previous Elance jobs or recommendations, my profile makes me look like an amateur! I've added my CV and work samples, but I'm still finding it tough to nail that first Elance job.

Any pointers?

Thanks again Stephanie.

Does Elance offer any tools to help freelancers file their quarterly taxes - like exporting your earned wages from Elance jobs into the proper tax form for you? Are there any links elsewhere to do this in a sort of 'automated way'?