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In-House or Freelancing? The Pros and Cons

C.S. Jones March 31, 2021 · 6 min read

“Should I just get a job?”

Every freelancer wonders that at some point, especially during the beginning stages. It’s one of the hardest questions for a beginner to answer at the fork in the road that leads to the two common career paths for designers.

Michiel In this corner…
Image by “Michiel
Unsplash - Aleksi Tappura And in the opposite corner…
Image by Aleksi Tappura via Unsplash

And the question’s trickier now more than ever. In the recent past, freelancing was the modus operandi of most working artists and designers, but now, increasingly design-conscious companies are pouring serious money into hiring competent designers who can make their app stand out in an endless field of similar apps.

So, it’s a good time to reexamine the issue. What are the benefits and drawbacks of either path?

Entrance Requirements vs. Sporadic Work

Let’s start with the downsides:

Despite the current global design boom, competition for jobs is as brutal as ever. Let’s be honest, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find full-time work in a desirable position in your field, especially if you don’t have a degree in it or much experience.

So for some of us, the debate ends here: freelancing—for the most part—has no such entrance requirements. A talented designer, no matter their credentials, should at least be able to find some kind of gig. However, there’s where things get tricky. What kind, exactly? Will you find yourself working insane hours trying to make a living off job board assignments with insultingly low pay? Will your clients only offer you sporadic work, leaving you broke during the lean periods?

Starting Right Away vs. Delayed Gratification

If you do manage to land a job, you’ll be starting soon after you’re hired and expected to perform at full capacity soon afterwards: not many jobs of any type are training people anymore. That’s a double-edged sword: you’ll start earning a living wage immediately, but you might also face a steep learning curve.

If you choose to freelance instead, you at least have control over how many assignments you take on and the difficulty level you’re willing to work at, letting you ease into it. You can also work yourself up through the ranks much faster if you’re willing to put your all into it, whereas putting more effort into your job might just result in more unpaid overtime.

But that first year of freelancing can be a nightmare. No matter how good you are at what you do, your business will take a while to get off the ground, and you’ll find yourself earning pennies while you struggle to build a portfolio and find clients. And the ones you do find might be wary of hiring a newbie, or want to pay you much less before you’ve “proved your worth.” If you can avoid problematic jobs like that, do. (The raises often never come.) But if you really need the money, be prepared to be put through a lot of tests.

Regular Pay vs. Savings

Although a lucky few full-timers get to work from home, “in-house” usually means the company’s house: you have to go where the design firms are: usually large, high cost-of-living cities. Then you also have to commute: that’s gas and car repairs—or monthly transit passes—higher risk of an accident, and a chunk out of your day.

Samuel Leo - Traffic …Not to mention anger management programs.
Image by Samuel Leo

That regular paycheck can make up for a lot of drawbacks, though. Your rent might be twice as much, but at least you know it’ll be paid this month.

As a freelancer, you’ll have full control over where you live, and how much you spend on rent, as long as you have internet. Want to live off the land and only work for “the man” only as much as you need to survive? Sure. Want to try a new city every year? Go ahead. Want to live and work in an RV? Plenty of us have done it.

…But if you have to move back in with your parents, that might void those benefits.

Working However You Want vs. Knowing It’ll Get Done

What’s your work style? For some of us, this could be the question that solves it: Do you need a set schedule in order to get things done, or are you a self-starter?

Freelancers can work on their own time and in whatever conditions they find most comfortable. …But for some people, that might just mean watching Netflix all day, then half-assing the job at the last minute. Max and Julia - CM Image by Max & Julia on Creative Market If that sounds like you, you might need the supervision an office setting would bring.

Peace and Quiet vs. Socializing

Are you an extrovert? An office lets you network and socialize. I think we’ve all had the experience of going out with co-workers after a hard day, and it can lead to lasting and rewarding friendships and business contacts.

Or are you an introvert? Not everyone likes being surrounded by other people, especially if you end up being forced to work with ones you don’t like. The freelancer’s life might be for you: there are no lunch thieves or office gossips, just your clients, who you’ll usually interact with via phones, email, or chat.

However, that also means that you might not have anyone to ask for help when you get stuck on something.

Decision Time

If you’re a more traditional type, you envisioned a more traditional career path for yourself, and you have the degrees or experience to make it happen, then by all means, go for a job. If you’re a believer in Flaubert’s advice to “Be regular and orderly in your life … so that you may be violent and original in your work,” the stability that a job brings can be a great asset to your creative life, since you’ll consistently have evenings and weekends to work on your personal projects. And who knows, the skills you learn at your job might actually improve it. You could even do some freelancing on the side.

However, if you crave the open road, new experiences, or a work environment where you might have no idea what you’ll do from day to day — or if you’re an entrepreneur at heart, and you love the thrill of hustling and finding new ways to bring in money as much as you love your creative work. Your mind is probably already made up, and you’re just hoping this article will affirm your decision. Well, congratulations, because you’re a freelancer at heart. A word of warning, though: try not to get to get stuck doing the kind of low-paying drudge work that infests job boards, a common pitfall for freelancers who don’t know how to find the right clients. That’s all the downsides of a 9-5 with none of the benefits.

Good luck, and whichever path you choose, we hope it brings you happiness.


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About the Author
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C.S. Jones

C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer.\r\n\r\nIn the past, he co-founded an art gallery and worked at a product photography studio. These days, he does photo tutorials (and gigs), online copy, and content marketing for a living. He also writes about webcomics at Webcomicry.com…

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1 Comments
  • Hi! Nice article! However one of the main points that I think you have missed that plays a huge role in keeping me as an in house designer are the health insurance benefits and what not. It is much cheaper for me to have insurance from the company I work for than to pay for my own. Plus all of the ther benefits along these lines. 6 years ago