With the popularity of freelancing, it’s easy to assume most of us want to escape our 9 to 5s and live the flexible freelance life. For some though, it’s the other way around.
Maybe you started out freelance and you’re ready to commit to an agency. Perhaps a client offered you an opportunity you can’t pass up. Freelancing and remote working is not for everyone. Some try it and realize they miss the structure and predictability of a full-time job, that the downsides outweigh the benefits.
We’ve written about starting out as a freelancer, but what if you’re considering a full-time contract for the first time? Here are a few things to consider.
Signing a full-time contract
When you’re freelancing, you have more control over nearly everything: the terms of your work, your schedule, your rates and timelines. When you go full-time, you’re agreeing to sign on to your company’s way of doing things. That has its pros and cons. For example, you will finally have real holidays where you are paid to take time off. On the downside, you have less flexibility as to when those days off will be. And that’s just the small stuff. It’s all positives and negatives you have to weigh for yourself, but be sure to cover all your bases in those early discussions with your potential employer. Some important questions to ask:
Do I get to share my work in my portfolio?
Many agencies will not allow you to share the work you create for them. If you’re working with bigger corporate clients at your new gig, they may even have you sign a non-disclosure agreement. This means you can’t publish or mention the work you’re doing for them until it launches – and sometimes not even then. You can still manage to build a portfolio in this scenario but it’s harder. Ask about this before signing your contract. It's easy to forget and sign a standard contract with NDAs attached, effectively locking your work away.
Can I still freelance on the side?
Once you accept a full-time contract, you can be certain some client is going to appear in your inbox within a few months offering you an enticing side project. Whether or not you plan to continue your freelance work, make sure your employer is OK with the possibility. Some companies will include non-competes in your contract, meaning you can’t work with any businesses that would potentially compete with their work.
What are the company’s paid holidays, and how many vacation days do I get a year? When does that take full effect?
With many companies, you need to work a certain number of days before earning your time off.
Naturally, you’ll want to know about health insurance, benefits like your 401k and the other standard full-time perks as well. You might even have a bonus structure at your new place of work. Imagine that.
Negotiating a flex position
Just because you don’t want freelance anymore doesn’t mean you need to work in an office full-time. The internet has changed the nature of office work; we are no longer forced to choose between the office or home. Many people are working remotely a few days of the week, working flexible hours, freelancing part-time or doing longer in-house contracts.
Now is your chance to negotiate a flex position, if you want one. Assuming the client is eager to hire you, take the opportunity to discuss your options. If you enjoy working from home with a non-traditional schedule, you could negotiate a remote position. Or you might ask to work just a couple days of the week remotely. Companies are becoming more open to scenarios like this now. Just ask or pitch your idea and see what’s possible.
In any case, it would be wise to wait at least a few months before taking on freelance work or side projects again. You have a lot to adapt to already, and you don’t want your employer questioning your commitment to the new job. The 9-5 structure might seem to open up hours of free time compared to freelance, but be cautious until you get comfortable with the new gig. It’s one thing to manage your own fully booked schedule. It’s another to have someone else manage one part of it, then try to manage the rest in between.
Some important questions to ask yourself as you enter the full-time workforce:
What salary do I need in reality?
When you’re freelancing, you have an inflated sense of your earnings. You may be used to making a higher amount for your work, but 30% or more of that is going to taxes and overhead. Just as you did for your freelance rates, reevaluate what you’re worth now that you’re negotiating a salary. Take into consideration your rank in the company hierarchy, the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to and the industry/local averages. Calculate what you would need to make the minimum you took home (after expenses) as a freelancer. That's your starting point.
Where do I fit into the company structure?
If you have the opportunity for an honest conversation with your potential creative director, try to understand how you will fit into the team and what role you’ll be expected to play. As a freelancer, you’ve become accustomed to doing it all and being the direct client contact. You may be relieved to pass this responsibility to someone else, or you might be someone who prefers to run point. Depending on the company structure and your position, it’s possible you will never even meet the client. You might create the work and hand it off to another team member to present it. How do you feel about this?
Am I ready to sacrifice some control?
One of the most challenging aspects of working with a team is relinquishing control. You may have to answer to a creative director now. Your work might not make the cut for the pitch. And if it does, the client might kill it on sight. Your opinion may not be valued as much as it was when you were a consultant, at least not immediately. You will receive assignments you don’t enjoy. Some of them might be “below you.”
You’re a team player now. You’re not looking out for just yourself anymore and you might not be highest in the pecking order. If you are choosing to try a full-time position, do yourself a favor and embrace it. You will enjoy work more when you’re not trying to make it what it’s not. Your team will enjoy you more, too.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!