You’ll learn career lessons if you grow your own company, but you’ll also gain valuable skills by working for The Man.
People who have both freelanced and worked in an office environment usually have incredibly strong opinions on which experience is better. Office folk love the structure, regular paycheck and team environment. Freelancers love the freedom, flexibility and passion for their jobs.
But these aren’t the only things you can learn from each experience. Truth is, you can learn from both avenues and both can help shape your career for the future.
Two-and-a-half years ago, I quit my PR job in New York to strike out on my own. had been doing better than expected, and the Facebook ads that landed me the job in the first place were bringing in some great freelance work.
So for two years I freelanced, slowly building up my client lists, getting more recommendations and figuring out how the hell to .
And yet, today I work full-time for a . Seven months ago I would have told you I’d never work for The Man. I liked being my own boss and choosing my own clients and working from my footie PJs (note: I do not own footie PJs).
But let me tell you, the two years I worked for myself taught me more about work and careers and real world more . And working at this incredible, small(ish) company has taught me more about collaboration and creativity and the power of marketing more than my puny freelance business ever could.
That’s why, if possible, you should try both these routes. Freelance while working full-time. Get an internship or consulting gig in an office while freelancing. Or do one and then the other. Here’s why:
Freelancing teaches you:
Multi-tasking. From writing your own invoices to figuring out how much you’re worth, and from selling yourself to actually doing the work, you will learn every aspect of running a business.
Hustling. No one is going to find clients for you. To survive, you’ll need to have the guts to go to networking events, cold call, ask for referrals and request recommendations; otherwise you’ll have no clients and no money. Being a freelancer makes you confident in selling your skills and asking for the things you want.
Trusting your gut. When starting out, most freelancers take whatever they can get. But the longer you work for yourself, the more you can be choosey about who you work for. That means you usually love your clients, projects and time you spend at the “office.” Eventually you learn to pinpoint when that email from a prospective client is subtly saying, “I’M GOING TO BE HUGELY DIFFICULT AND CONSUME ALL YOUR TIME.” And if you’ve been a good little freelancer you’ll know exactly when to avoid those guys.
Work when you’re productive. Not all of us are particularly functional at 8 a.m. and do epic work at midnight. “Real” jobs can pretty restricting unless your peak hours are actually 9 to 5. Being your own boss lets you quickly discover the times and places you are most productive, meaning more efficiency, self-awareness and subsequently more time off. Sort of.
Office jobs teach you:
Your idea is never the best idea. During the past few months at Young & Shand, I’ve never once seen one person’s idea come to fruition. Not because the people here aren’t brilliant. They are. It’s because we all meet and brainstorm an idea that ends up morphing into this epic, genius thing we’ll then work on together. Working as part of a strong team can mean all the things that make you awesome are suddenly heightened. Like being a vampire.
Wearing clothes is a good thing. Every freelance website on earth tells you to treat your home job like a real office. Wake up early, get dressed, work at a desk not near your living space. I did not heed this advice. I worked from bed, got up at 10 a.m., and blogged until 2 a.m. Yeah, I personally didn’t have the willpower to work from home. Having an office job keeps you social, sane and hygienic.
Most bosses are better than you. I was a horrible boss. I worked myself to the bone, couldn’t teach myself the ways of the world and had zero tolerance for mistakes. My current bosses are understanding, flexible and patient mentors. I really lucked out with them as I’ve had some pretty crappy bosses in the past, but I do think we’re harder on ourselves than anyone else. When you work for someone you usually grow more as a person and employee.
This isn’t an attempt to convince you one path is better than the other, it’s simply meant to help you think through the benefits and drawbacks of working for yourself vs. working for someone else (and get the gears turning in your head about whether you can do both at once).
What has your work experience – whether getting out there on your own or as part of a company – taught you?
is a blogger, traveler and all-around social media thug. She’s based in Auckland, New Zealand, hails from Connecticut and blogs at .