Reality Check: The Darker Side of the Independent Life

In my last post, I listed a few of the things I love about being an independent. But, as with most things, there is a darker side. Here are a few things that you give up when you step into the ranks of the independents.

Steady pay check. In academia, they say publish or perish. In the gig economy, it would be safe to say the mantra is produce or perish. If you aren’t working, you aren’t getting paid. Period. And, every client pays on a different timeline. I have some clients who pay within two weeks, others within thirty days, and I have one client who makes it their standard agreement that they only have to pay within sixty (60!) days of receiving an invoice. And then you have to deal with slowdowns in the invoicing process. I’ve, unfortunately heard, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought I submitted that,” more than once.

You supply your own benefits. This can be a big blocker for people and is something to spend a fair amount of time thinking about and understanding the financial implications for your own financial situation. In my world, this includes health, dental, eye, and disability insurance. And, paying Uncle Sam for social security and medicare. In addition, when you become an independent there is no such thing as unemployment insurance.

Leave—personal, vacation, holidays. If you want to take days off, you have to plan for it. I have consistently taken four weeks of vacation a year. I usually build my vacations around national holidays—when I know clients won’t be working—and slower times in my sales cycle. In my industry, things get slow by mid-December and then start perking up with new budgets toward the end of January. I also have quite a few clients whose fiscal years end in August which means July and August are busy with people trying to spend money and September and October are busy because they have new money to spend. So, I try to be fully billable during those months.

Leave—sick, family, bereavement. There is no avoiding it. Life happens. And while you can’t avoid it, you can plan for it. And the longer you are in the gig economy, the more likely something will happen. During my ten years as an independent, I went through a divorce, my mother had a major surgery, my father had a heart attack, I took a bad fall down some icy steps that took months of recovery, and at least once a year, I get hit with the flu or a bad cold. Do yourself a favor and plan for the inevitable so that when it happens, you can be fully present for yourself and for whomever you might be providing care.

One thought on “Reality Check: The Darker Side of the Independent Life

  1. Heather

    Excellent points, Gretchen. When I was an independent contractor—-many of my friends and relatives assumed I could take off work at a moment’s notice. Not true when you have commitments! And I found it helpful to have 6 months worth of living expenses in savings for the “downtimes.”

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