As someone who places both freelance and permanent UX Designers/Reseachers, I’m often asked “Which career path is best for me, Perm or Freelance?”
Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here and it’s often a matter of personality and personal preference but if asked my answer will ultimately hinge on the person’s current experience and aspirations.
Below, I’ve outlined some key considerations that I believe should be taken into account when deciding which way to go…
Career Development is perhaps the most important point to consider (depending on where you’re at in your career of course) and I usually advise more junior people that they should cut their teeth in a permanent role.
For a freelancer, clients require them to showcase a track record of delivering a similar project or skill-set and as such if you enjoy working on a particular range of projects or platforms and want to keep doing so, then freelancing can be a great way to deepen that specialism. Effectively learning on the job.
If, however, you’d like to change direction and wish to explore working on new platforms or exciting projects you’ve not touched before, then you’ll have to do a bit of work to build up some experience to make the jump (unless you are one of the very few very experienced/well rounded “unicorns”). Hiring freelancers is a more pragmatic decision than a permanent hire so don’t expect a client to hire you on your potential alone.
In terms of progressing in seniority it’s worth noting that you’ll have to battle to do that if you move to freelancing too early in your career. You’re less likely to be given lead positions, if you haven’t lead before and you’ll often find you might need to go back to a permanent position to gain that progression – making that move back though is always tricky as the sums don’t always add up!
In my experience, you tend to see the majority of leadership opportunities go to the permanent staff as businesses want consistency in the interaction between them and their clients or internal stakeholders.
Training is rarely given to freelancers so for those of you earlier yon in your career i’d recommend that permanent roles might be the best way to go.
Money, money, money
The obvious reason many are attracted the leap into freelancing are the big day rates that are on offer, particularly when you’re currently a permanent member of staff working alongside a freelance UX Consultant on a project.
As you’ll see in our Salary Survey http://zebrapeople.com/digital-salary-survey on paper the pay gap between perm and freelancers at the same level is quite considerable…However, making a direct comparison is misleading.
Out of that day rate freelancers have to set aside cash for tax, training courses, accountancy fees and on top of that they don’t get paid for time off for holidays or sick leave – all of which is easily taken for granted.
So, make sure you do your maths and work out whether those day rates will add up to make the jump worth your while.
Stability & Accountability
As a permanent member staff, you will have been interviewed not only for your skill set but also your culture fit and potential to grow; as such employers have a vested interest in you in both financially and emotionally making your role more stable. For those of you with families and mortgages to consider this can be comforting.
Due to the very nature of a freelance contract, clients are afforded flexibility to scale teams up and down depending on project demand quickly. Something that can work favourably but also against a freelancer.
If a freelancer were to sign a 6-month contract with say a 2 week notice period for example – the length of the contract can be unpredictable, which means you must budget for time spent looking for your next gig and even if you have full visibility on your end date it’s not easy to interview when you’re knee deep in a project.
We find that 99% of our clients will look for a freelancer to start within a couple of weeks of the ideal start date. This means that for someone in a permanent job you will normally need to hand in your notice before securing a freelance position.
If you do make the jump it’s worth noting that it’s not advisable to start looking for your first contract in August or over Christmas, as these are quieter periods.
So which way will you go?
Both paths can work out brilliantly and you should consider your career/financial goals
Freelancers tend to earn quite a lot more than their permanent counterparts – but they face more stress and regular change.
Permanent candidates in my opinion tend to hold the majority of the Lead and Head roles and have access to better development and training.
If you have any questions and are looking for either a freelance or perm position I’d love to help so please get in touch.
Andrew Matlock – Recruitment Lead for User Experience @ Zebra People.