By some reckonings, the US workforce will be 40% temped by 2019. In the creative professions, that's probably going to be even higher, and the ability to pick and choose gigs and work your own schedule is powerful enticement for some. But if you've been tempted to join the ranks of hired guns, be warned you'll have to start worrying about a few dozen things staff workers are barely even aware of.
Welcome, for instance, to the wonderful world of self-employment taxes, which are like personal taxes only more so. You'll also have to negotiate your own contracts, maintain your own hardware and software, track down your own clients, do your own marketing, and if you live in the US, pay for your own health insurance. It's almost like having a full-time job on top of your full-time job.
Which isn't to say it's unmanageable or not worth it, but it takes a certain kind of temperament and a healthy dose of knowing-what-you're-getting-yourself-into. If you're contemplating a freelance switch, there are plenty of online resources available to get your ducks in a row: check out the aptly named Freelance Switch blog for one, and Creative Seeds' articles on freelance rates, taxes, contracts, intellectual property, self-promotion, and workspaces. Or ask a freelancer friend.
Of course, if you don't want to go it entirely alone, there are choices beyond just Lone Ronin and Office Drone, especially lately.
The recent fervor for coworking marks the start of a new era of non-traditional working arrangements, available in a rainbow of flavors. Your workweek, for example, could include an occasional shared day at a friend's apartment or a neighborhood coffeeshop, or an online-organized event like Jelly. Or you could set up occasionally in a hot-desk space like SF's Hat Factory, or somewhere with semi-permanent workspaces, like Independents Hall in Philly.
Got a group of friends you really like working with? Why not make it official? More and more creative professionals are finding it cost effective to pool their cash and rent a shared commercial space, letting them create a dream office minus the cubicles and politics. Getting even tighter, like-minded freelancers can conglomerate into something like Portland's TenPod, a "creative services coop" comprised of ten independent companies who work, and sometimes collaborate, in a single space designed by one of its resident architects.
Check the Coworking Google Map to figure out where to start, and drop in for a session. Unless there's an accountant on hand, though, you'll still be responsible for your own taxes.
Carl Alviani is a former engineer, teacher and freelance industrial designer, and has worked in basements, metal shops, coffee shops, cubicles and tin-roofed shacks. He currently serves as editorial director at Coroflot.com and is a frequent contributor at Core77.