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Is freelancing really better than a permanent job?

Starting out as a freelancer really isn’t just leisurely breakfasts while watching the Frasier double bill every morning.

It’s a daily grind of rejection, isolation and total uncertainty. Leaving a bad job earlier this year felt like the perfect time to go freelance.

I’d been toying with the idea for months and taking on pieces of work during weekends and evenings. The first few months went relatively well. But when my first big projects came to an end and the next one fell through, I started to panic. I needed to find a quick way to alleviate my anxiety about finances, without sacrificing the freedom to freelance.

So, I joined a temping agency. I was upfront about why I was temping and how I could only accept a position if it was okay to work four days a week, so that I had time to complete freelance projects. Like a third of temps recently surveyed, I found this to be an ideal solution as it gave me the flexibility that a permanent 9-5 can’t give while still paying a regular wage.

I did not expect anything more than those two things: money and flexibility. The world of temping seemed like a deeply unsexy one. I envisioned a nondescript office, copious cups of tea to break up the day and staring longingly out of the window wishing to be free again. But what I found while doing my first role, was so much more than just a way to pay next month’s rent.

It felt good to be around new people, share ideas, exercise skills that I hadn’t needed to use in a while and learn about a sector that I hadn’t worked in before. Far from being just a way of paying the rent, I’ve found temping to be a far cry from the grey image of photocopying, tea making and filing often associated with it. It’s helped my mental health, big time. Some temps end up in all sorts of trouble, like Nicola Thorp who was a London reception temp ‘sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels. But that’s not been my experience.

It is reassuring to be told that I’m good at what I do – something I’d needed to hear during those first few months of going it alone. I’m not surprised to learn that the same survey also reported that 80% of employers said employees who work flexibly were more productive in the workplace – I was so eager to prove myself in a short amount of time.

And I’m not the only one attracted to this way of working. With an increasing number of people opting to work freelance and a recent report on the dip in permanent positions in London, temping can be a reassuring option when starting out as a freelancer or business owner.

Take Julie, a lawyer who takes on temporary projects since recently leaving her full-time job to start a fitness clothing business.

‘It’s a bit of a juggling act but it’s helped me with funding my business while it’s still very young,’ she says. ‘It also giving me the flexibility to spend time on my business by going to meetings and attending events. ‘I also like how I can be very honest about what I spend my time doing – I don’t need to hide the fact that I have a side business from potential employers and clients for fear of appearing uncommitted.’

Of course, there are the negatives to consider when thinking about temping and freelancing, too. Just because you join an agency, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get the next available job. You still need to interview and sell yourself in a competitive market. Then, you’re not entitled to holiday or sick pay and the company can stop the contract whenever they choose.

Working out how it affects your tax self-assessment is enough to bring on a migraine. Ultimately though, it’s seriously worth considering if you find yourself in a similar situation to Julie or me.

‘Over the last 12 months we have seen a 24% increase in jobs advertised and a 36% increase in job applications within the gig-economy,’ David Clift, Totaljobs’ HR director, says.

‘It’s clear that freelancers are broadening their scope of work to provide extra income. This shows that the UK jobs market is ready for more flexibility, on both sides of the equation, both employers and employees believe that the government should do more to facilitate this mode of working.

‘With 40% of employers using temporary workers to fill a skills gap in their team, this growing flexible work lifestyle is certainly a trend that is here to stay, as popularity grows with both employers and workers alike.

‘We can expect the growing trend of millennial freelancers to continue over the next few years, as our younger generation of workers look for greater flexibility in their work lifestyle.’

During the temp job, I felt like a neglected puppy who’d been given to a perfect foster home to nurture before venturing back out into the big wide freelance world again. I ensured that I made the most out of all my time in and out of the office, and felt mentally and financially refreshed to carry on freelancing for a while. But I’m totally open to the fact that that I’ll probably find myself in another office one day soon, because it seems to be the way that works for me best right now.