Should you be thinking about freelancing?

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Freelancing and temp work is becoming increasingly popular, for more reasons than one. People are realising the benefits to not having to hold down a full-time job. From financial security to having a more desirable work-life balance, freelancing and temporary work may be everything you are looking for in a role. We spoke to some professionals and how they feel about their freelancing engineering career.

Finding your first freelance role

David Whale – Embedded Software Engineer

I searched my network of contacts and people I had previously worked with, letting them know that I was looking for work and what recent skills and experience I had gained since I last worked with them. I also used several online business search websites that allowed me to set a radius from my home town and select the type of business and located potential clients. Both approaches were highly successful for me. I have never needed to work via an agent.

Epistle – Power and Control Specialist

After my graduation, I met a friend who was working as an engineer. He provided me with a contact number of an engineer who he had worked with previously and met with him straight away. He gave me the job and allowed me to complete my one-year voluntary service in engineering. 

The pros and cons of freelancing in the engineering sector

There are plenty of positives to working freelance and they include but are not limited to;

  • You can earn a relatively high rate – especially for short term contracts
  • There is a lot of variety in the work you do
  • You can achieve a better work/life balance by deciding when you work
  • If you work hard enough, there is a constant stream of work
  • Some companies will provide training
  • Freelancing for another company often means you have access to high value test equipment and development tools that you would not normally be able to invest in yourself.

However, just like everything else, there can be some negatives and they should be considered before you think about working freelance.

  • There is generally not enough time to be looking for the next job while working on a freelance contract, so you may have some time between jobs
  •  Projects may overrun at times, so can cause problems when you arrange for a new job straight after your current one
  • There is additional admin and business processes that you must find the time to do, to manage your accounts and legal obligations as a business.
  • Sometimes you may have to keep reminding your employer of payment

5. What advice would you give to other freelancing engineers when deciding on a fee for their work?

David Whale – Embedded Software Engineer

When you sell your time and expertise, it always seems to come down to an hourly fee rate (regardless of how you try to package it). You would expect to be able to charge more than a normal employee for your services, because you are generally available for fixed short periods and often available on short notice, without the usual benefits and costs that employees enjoy; You have to allow time and funds for business administration, insurance and other legal obligations. If the company you freelance with decides your workload, then it is fine to just charge an hourly rate. If you have significant input into the choice of work and methods used, you may be asked to provide a fixed fee quotation. Both ultimately are costed based on an hourly fee rate that allows you to cover all your other costs as a freelancer. Fixed price quotations are riskier, so you should factor that into the cost. Various industries do have an unwritten fee rate for different types of work, and if you price yourself out of this bracket a company may go elsewhere. The best advice would be to try to gauge any unwritten fee rate in a given industry area by consulting contacts in your professional network (other freelancers or managers that hire freelancers), and pitch your hourly rate based on what they say.

6. What did you learn from your experiences?

David Whale – Embedded Software Engineer

As a freelancer you may have specific expertise, but you always must learn new things quickly, understand the culture and processes of the place you are working at and fit in the best you can in a short time. As an outsider you can sometimes point out things about quality and processes that employees might not be able to say, but you do need to be very adaptable and quickly work out the best way that you can provide good value to your customer. It's useful to have a strong support network of previous colleagues and technical contacts that you can call on for specific advice. Finally, if your reason for entering freelancing is to get variety, don't stay at one company for too long, otherwise you may not get the variety that you crave. In the down-time between contracts, use your time wisely to rest, relax, and plan where the next role will come from.

Epistle – Power and Control Specialist

I learnt that growth is a gradual process, there are stages, and levels to whatever you do. In the beginning of my freelance career I didn’t know anyone and had very limited contacts. After time, I started to gain trust from people, which led to more job opportunities. I mastered my skills to my best ability and make sure I do everything according to standard and in precision. Freelancing has made me more confident in myself. I wanted to learn more and learn from the professionals surrounding me.  

Freelancing in engineering can help you develop your career the way you want. But like both examples have stated, you should think about both the pros and cons before changing your whole working lifestyle. However, if you are someone that likes to change and likes being able to do something different every day, why not give it a go? It may just give you the engineering career you want.

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