04 March 2015

Unhappy at work? Become a freelancer

Freelancers are generally the happiest workers in the country, according to research, with almost all saying they preferred self-employment.

While yet another study has found that a significant proportion of staff are unhappy with their work-life balance, other research has discovered that freelancers are generally happy with their working lives and prefer being self-employed.

Unhappiness with work-life balance

At the beginning of February we reported on a couple of surveys about staff happiness, one finding that just 3% of employees are completely satisfied with their job. Now, research by Investec Private Banking has found that as many as a quarter of workers are dissatisfied with their work-life balance. The study included staff from finance, law, teaching and healthcare and found that London had one of the highest incidences of unhappy workers (22%).

Perhaps workers are partly to blame for this though, with the study finding that work enjoyment was the main consideration when choosing a job (41%). Salary came in second at 23%, but only 16% considered work-life balance as the priority when looking for a job.

Majority prefer self-employment

However, research from Brighton University discovered that freelancers are generally the happiest workers in the country. While they work a 38 hour week, they earn on average (median) £43,000 per year, which is far above the average of £25,000.

The research questioned 304 freelancers in the digital, creative and IT industries, where wages are generally higher in any case. However, many had previously been made redundant but said it was the best thing that could have happened to them.

94% said they preferred being self-employed, because they

  • don’t have a permanent manager or employer
  • have to face fewer unfair demands than regular employees
  • can work from home or a variety of locations, (particularly those working in the creative and digital industries).

Most important skills for freelancing

If you’ve just started freelancing or are thinking of becoming a freelancer, here are some of the most important skills to succeed.


As a freelancer, you need to be adaptable and be able to work with different people and build up relationships. You may work on projects where hours and expectations will vary widely too, so you need to be flexible in terms of when and how you work. With no rigid schedule of 9am – 5pm, you can create your own balance between work and home life. This is often cited as one of the main perks for freelancers.


When you are a freelancer, you can’t rely on a manager or team member, so you are responsible for making sure you get your work done on time and to an acceptable standard. You are accountable for setting your working hours and for meeting your goals. You have to juggle many different roles; from ensuring your business finances are in order and that your taxes are paid on time to marketing yourself and finding new clients. It’s also your task to keep them clients satisfied and to ensure they pay on time. This is something that many freelancers find difficult or time consuming.


As a freelancer, you need to have good self-discipline. It’s all too easy to have a lie-in and watch some TV or potter about the house and before you know it, you've wasted precious time and half the day has gone. You need to be motivated and able to focus on your work each day – whether it’s doing actual work you’ll be paid for or finding new clients. You also need to be optimistic, to help you get through any dry spells where less work is coming in.  

Good communication skills

It really helps if you are a good communicator. It makes networking easier – whether it’s online or in person and it helps you portray yourself in the best light to gain clients. If you’re confident speaking, you can easily convey what you do and why someone should hire you. Good listening skills help you to understand what your client wants – and being able to pick up unspoken signals can help you decide whether or not to actually take them on as a client.

Good written communication skills are also invaluable. The language and tone you use when sending or replying to emails can make the difference between gaining a new client and missing out. Social media is also becoming a powerful marketing tool, so it pays to be a good digital communicator and understand the best ways to use these platforms. 

Effective time management

This isn’t just about managing your workload, you also have to be able to estimate correctly how long a piece of work will take to complete, so that you charge for your time properly and don’t end up losing out or taking on more work than you can handle. 

This list is not exhaustive and when you start out as a freelancer, you may find some of these skills need to be honed or improved. What other skills do you consider essential for freelancing? Tweet us @BizspaceUK.