There comes a point in some teachers' careers when they consider going freelance. That can take many forms of course, including becoming a full-time substitute teacher, a consultant to schools, a freelance writer or something else entirely. Whatever the case, you need to think carefully about the potential advantages and disadvantages of taking the leap. Having been a freelancer since 2004, I thought I'd share my views on the matter.
You know the old saying, variety is the spice of life. With freelancing that is very true. Even if you end up doing one main thing, such as speaking at events, every client has different needs, and their own ways of working.
This may sound flippant, but it isn't. One of the first things I realised as a freelancer is that I could go to the stores when everyone else was working. For example, my local supermarket is like a ghost town on Tuesday mornings, which makes shopping then much nicer than battling the crowds on a Saturday.
Having said that, 2018 is very different from 2004 in terms of the options available. If I worked in a school full time now I think I'd probably do most of my shopping online.
But the main point to be derived from this shopping observation is that as a freelancer you can do what I call 'time shifting'. So to some extent you can do something for yourself during the day, and then make up the time in the early mornings, evenings or weekends. But note that I said 'to some extent'. As far as I know, most conferences don't want a keynote talk at 9pm, and most teachers don't want a training session at 5am!
There's an end in sight
I found in one or two of my jobs before going freelance that there were some people who I didn't get on with. For example, there was one person who moaned incessantly – so much so, in fact, that on one occasion when I was unable to escape her company I ended up with a splitting headache after 10 minutes.
I am pleased to say that I've never had a client I don't like, but it's nice to know that if I did find myself in that unfortunate situation there could be an end to the relationship once I'd completed the work. I'd probably decide to do more work for them anyway if they wanted me to, but at least I'd have the choice. In theory anyway: See under Life's a pitch', below.
You can work in your own way
Again, to some extent. For example, when I write a case study for a client, I have to set it out the way they want it set out, not the way I want it structured. Nevertheless, I don't have to do things in a particular way just because someone has decreed that should be the case. For example, in one school I taught in, the deputy principal insisted that all teachers write out their lesson plans by hand. As far as I could see it was completely pointless, especially as all my lesson plans had been typed with a word processor.
Life's a pitch
One of the things a freelancer has to spend time on is pitching for work. It takes time to build up a reputation which ensures you have word-of-mouth referrals, and even then you still have to keep on pitching. Why? Because people change jobs, and when that 'champion' of yours in organisation X who always calls you to offer work moves on, they may be replaced by someone who has their own favourite go-to people.
It's hard to regulate work
There's a joke amongst all the British freelancers I know, which is that work is like London buses: You wait ages for one, and then three come along at once! Unfortunately, when that happens you have to find ways of managing the situation. If you decline a work offer you could be cutting off a valuable future income stream.
You don't work for yourself
It's myth that freelancers work for themselves. Well, not completely at least. How come? Because instead of having one boss, your Principal or team leader, you have several: Each one of your clients.
You have to do everything
The almost worst aspect of freelancing in my opinion is having to do everything: marketing, technical support, accounts and anything else that comes along. It's true that to some extent you can outsource some of it. For example, you can hire a book–keeper and an accountant. You can even hire an virtual assistant to carry out tasks like social media marketing (I don't because I don't think having someone tweet in your name is authentic). But by and large everything is down to you.
This was brought home to me quite vividly recently. Clicking on a hyperlink in Excel brought up an error message telling me that there were restrictions on my computer, and that I should see my system administrator. Er, that would me, I guess! I had to take time out to research the problem and try out different solutions before I managed to get everything back to normal. When I worked in an organisation, I just had to call the technical support team and let them deal with it.
You could lose touch
If, as a freelancer, you want to work with schools then you have to be sure to keep in touch with what life is like in schools and for teachers. For example, when I was a teacher I would sometimes arrange for someone to come in and discuss something with me during my lunch break. What one or two people didn't seem to understand was that if they turned up half an hour late, for whatever reason, I couldn't see them, even if I still wanted to.
The longer you're out of teaching, the more effort you have to make to keep in touch – or lose all credibility. That's why I write about teacher workload quite a lot. It's a huge issue, especially in the UK where, I think, it has negatively affected teacher recruitment and retention. People outside the profession need to be reminded that something may take 'just a minute', but for a class of 30 kids that equates to 30 minutes, and if you teach 10 classes then that 'just a minute' has become, in effect, one working day.
There's no safety net
The absolute worst part of freelancing is the lack of a safety net. If you are too unwell to work, you don't earn money. Taking a vacation costs you not only things like hotel bills but also the income you could potentially have earned if you'd stayed home.
So, would I recommend freelancing? I think it depends on your personality, and your circumstances. If you have a mortgage and kids, you would have to be pretty sure of yourself, or have a supportive partner earning a decent salary, before embarking on this road. That's because of the lack of a safety net and sometimes having to work long hours when you have more work than time.
On the other hand, it does afford you a certain degree of freedom, and there's nothing quite like the thrill of receiving a check as a direct result of some work you've done for a satisfied client.
Terry Freedman is an independent ed tech consultant and freelance writer based in London, England. He publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website.