Memoirs of a freelancing freelancer who works freelance

My freelance guru President Bethany Cagnol

Readers of my blog may remember that a while back I moved from the safety and stability of contractual work to the danger and instability of freelancing.

As a contracter the grass always looked greener for freelancers who had more control over what they did or didn’t do. They also didn’t have to go to meetings (something I hate with all my soul) unless they were paid. They also escaped other life sucking and demoralising menial tasks like moving desks and resorting tape cupboards.

I was also very attracted by the diversity of work people had and the glamorous lifestyle of the infamous ‘corporate teachers’ who I imagined jetsetted round the world with their clients whilst sipping fine wines over a copy of Market Leader.

Now, after a few good months of the freelance lifestyle, I can say that it’s not quite as easy, well-paid or glamorous as I had imagined. It is interesting but there are a few things that make it inherently challenging:

1)You are constantly working, job hunting and chasing up new work.

2)Some employers seem to think you are a missionary and work for free and live off thin air or the sheer joy of teaching/

3)Chasing up payment is a real pain!

4)The admin is unpaid and can be quite a lot

5)You generally aren’t paid for travel time or costs so if you teach in 3 different places in 1 day you could spend most of it travelling and it could cost you a fair bit.

6)No sick pay. If you are ill you don’t work and so no money.

7)Some places don’t give any contract or give it at the end so all you have is a ‘verbal contract’.

8)The nice woman who give you regular work is great until she goes on maternity and the new guy doesn’t have a clue about how wonderful you are.

I could go on….but I won’t.

HOWEVER, I do think that the average DELTA/MA grad should go freelance unless they have a very challenging job. Why? Because after a few years of teaching and with good qualifications doing the same old GE classes just isn’t enough any more. You need stretching and challenging. I like teaching different levels, backgrounds, courses, 121s, online, on the phone, in the park, in the wendy house, by messenger pigeon, English for hairdressers, English for cleaners…

Yet, the biggie is DOES IT PAY? Well, you work and work and weekends are given, evenings too yet you may have free time in the day. Sometimes I think “wow, I’ve mad …much this week, I’m loaded” but then you realise that you haven’t been paid for 2 months because some employers don’t want to or they forgot. For this reason there is a huge difference between what you have earned and what you have made. This makes freelancing certainly NOT for the faint-hearted. You have been warned!!!


16 thoughts on “Memoirs of a freelancing freelancer who works freelance

  1. Nice post Phil. The idea of a stretching and challenging job appeals but don’t know if I have it in me (i.e. the cojones) to constantly search for work and not have the security of a contract. Maybe it’s because I’m early in my teaching career and I’m still facing many challenges or I’m just not made of the right stuff to go freelance. I admire anyone who does it though.

    • Cheers Barry. I always respected freelancers but never fancied it but here in France rules and laws and the system basically mean it’s the only way to teach. I quite like the diversity though but I have said goodbye to any proper holidays, free weekends too.Sniff sniff!

  2. I worked freelance for years and I loved it. Yes there are many white-knuckle moments, but it’s worth it because of what was for me the most valuable aspect of freelancing: you have 100% control over the design of your product, your service, and your marketing.

    • Sounds great but if you have people to support do you have a guaranteed salary to pay bills? That is what the real fear/thrill is. Yes, you could make loads in one month but then nothing in another.

      I’d say that I’ve had to become a lot more flexible and a ‘provider of services’ more ie I do what I’m told. I was a bit different when I was on contract but after a while I’d just had enough. I love just turning up 5 minutes before a class then leaving when it’s finished then onto another place or job. It’s very unsociable but it makes teaching more about teaching and not the relationship you have with your boss though that is important too, probably more so as if they don’t like you there’s no chance of getting work.

      I must go now as I need to send a 5th reminder to a boss who hasn’t paid me yet for work done in January. The beauty of freelancing eh?

    • Yes but….would you be willing to pack in a permanent job to go freelance? I’ve met people in France who are Auto Entrepreneur and some who set up their own company but competition is stiff in our industry so I wonder how many would turn down a ‘real’ job if it was waved under their noses.

  3. I particularly liked point number two. I often find that there are people who think the ‘free’ in freelance refers to your rates of pay!!

    I’ve been freelance for about 5 years now and it’s a constant gamble and I still live off my credit card more often than my bank account, but it has given me a better life in many ways and freed me from having to deal with a lot of irritating things (and people) and allowed me to do things that I feel have value and that I believe in.

    One piece of advice I would give to anyone going freelance is this:

    Doing work for free often leads to you getting more work (which you’ll also be expected to do for free)
    Doing badly paid work often leads to more work (which will be badly paid)
    Doing well paid work well often leads to more well paid work.

    Try to believe in the value and quality of your work (if you don’t nobody else will) and stick to that.

    Good luck


    Nik Peachey

    • Thanks for the comment Nik.

      Hehe! Yes, I’m sure they think I live on air or.

      I think you’ve summed up how I have felt perfectly. Irritating people who think teachers are gophers or need to spend more time doing admin or stuck in endless meetings. That’s not what I want from teaching.

      Those are brilliant morals to stick by. I may print this off and stick it above my desk.

      As someone who literally seems to be everywhere you definitely set a good example of good quality work.Perhaps many us forget that even people like you are freelance so face the same issues we do ie not getting paid. I’m currently chasing up 2 contracts (soon to be 3) and I have a feeling they’re not going to pay me, even though I have contracts. I’ve thought about it and have realised that I sort of new in the initial interview that ‘trouble lay ahead’ so I think I need to be pickier and trust my instincts. If I add on all the ‘chasing payment’ and the financial repercussions of getting paid very late it just isn’t worth the bother. what we need is an ELT debt collector. I think I may know just the person…

      • honesty of many companies. I’ve had to walk away from payment a few times and it hurts, but you and they know that as a freelancer you have very little power to actually bring companies to task. The law is too expensive for us and there is no bad credit rating for companies like there is for us if we don’t pay our bills. Generally though, if it smells like a rat, it’s usually because it is a rat. Hard though as we aren’t often in a place where we can pick a choose.



        • Exactly.There are severe slander laws here in France so you have to be very careful what you say. I’ve tried setting up a ‘good places to work’ blog but it’s dangerous territory.

          I’ve had a couple of dodgy employers so far. One I had to chase 3 members of staff for 6 months just to get 30 quid. Ridiculous! For some the contract is meaningless that’s probably why many unis in France don’t seem to give them. Some just say “I promise we’ll pay”. I had one like that which cancelled a 100 hour course 5 days before it started.

          The more I do the more I’m thinking of doing something myself. I like the idea of a co-operative, similar to crowdsourcing. But I don’t like all the admin/PR side. That’s why I go through organisations but some just take the Michael. I mean 8 or 10 Euros an hour for online teaching is insulting really.

  4. It’s such a different approach to employment than anyone I know here. I can’t really imagine doing it (I did some privates in Korea and hated every minute) again. I like stability at a job. Having said that, I don’t fear change.

  5. This is all very interesting for me – I am part time free lance at the moment, and am wondering whether to go the whole hog…

    I totally agree with the downsides you mention, Phil. Chasing up payment is particularly demoralising. I think freelancers need a will of iron: friends with “normal jobs” like to drop by for coffee on their days off, unaware of the fact that however scruffy I may look I am actually working! It’s hard to turn them away…

    But the freedom is lovely (I have yet to experience the glamour!) and just think how lucky we are to escape all politics of the workplace!

    • Yep. I work a bit from home and sometimes just don’t have time to eat, drink or other duties, especially when the emails start coming in. Now, the cancellations issue is another.I don’t think we freelancers have any legal ground to claim for cancellations. I’ve seen teachers turn up at uni for a class which was cancelled and they didn’t get paid, That really isn’t fair. Unpaid meetings too.

      Maybe I need a post on chasing up payment.

  6. Hi I really enjoyed your post. Firstly i would like to congratulate you for doing this job with full of honesty and enthusiasm. It our pleasure to learn something to you. These mention things are really important to me.

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