[Ask TBM] Should You Go Freelance or Work for a Company First?

Freelancing has increased in popularity, but some still prefer working for a company. For those in doubt, we asked a freelancer who used to work for a company to give advice.

The last few years have seen the growth of freelancing here in the Philippines. In fact, around 1.5 million Filipino freelancers are now registered on international online platforms that allow them to offer their services. And really, the increasing number of freelancers may come as no surprise, especially when you consider the pandemic.

With many employees laid off during the lockdowns, many have turned to online in order to earn income. And this is where freelancing comes in, as it allows you to control your own time and take on as many projects as you can. 

If you’re considering whether it’s better to leave your current job to jump ship to freelancing or actually start off your career by freelancing, we consulted Jai Lawan—an interior designer who has been practicing for eight years now and has experienced the best of both worlds by working both for a firm and as a freelancer. 

Did you start as a freelancer or work for a firm first?

After I graduated, I worked right away while reviewing for the board exams. I worked for the firm where I took my internship while I was still in college.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working for a firm?

Working for a firm as a new interior designer helped a lot since I learned a system of working. I learned a lot from my seniors and I also met different suppliers whom I am still working with as a freelance interior designer. Working for a firm [also] gave me the exposure I needed as a newbie interior designer. 

The downside of it for me is that I did not have much time to do other activities outside of work since I had to be in the office [from] 9 to 5 and mostly had overtime work. That was the main reason why I decided to do freelance work. It was also hard to manage my time for my personal projects since I spent most of my time in the office. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer?

An advantage that could also be a disadvantage is that you can and you have to take your work wherever you go. Though for me it’s still more of an advantage because you can be the one to fix your own schedule to your liking. 

Another disadvantage is that freelancing means you won’t have any benefits, such as medical benefits and the like.

What are the pros and cons of freelancing versus going corporate in terms of pay, getting clients, and juggling responsibilities and deliverables?

For pay, the pros of being a freelancer is that you can actually get a really big break or big opportunity when you’re freelancing, and you also get to have a side hustle that can support you if ever you don’t have any projects. The downside of it is not having a stable income as compared to being employed. However, having more time outside the office means you can actually do more jobs and other things that help you earn money.

As for getting clients, as a freelance interior designer, I get my clients so far by word of mouth or by referral. Others use social media to advertise, and I think that works also. When you work for a company, as an employee it is no longer a burden for you to find your clients. As a freelance interior designer, you can pick your clients you can say yes or no to, but if you work in an office whatever the office assigns you to, you have to stick with it.

Lastly, when it comes juggling responsibilities or deliverables, this is a very challenging thing when doing freelance and doing other jobs on the side. Having control over your time does not always mean you have more free time, but for me busy is good. Being able to do a lot of things all in one day and fixing my schedule to fit everything can be challenging but very exciting. Working in an office requires you to be present in the office for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Add the travel time to that and it will take up about 10-12 hours of your day already, give or take, which automatically limits what you can do outside the office hours.

Would you recommend going freelance right away to fresh graduates? Why or why not?

Since I learned a lot from joining a firm first, I would recommend joining a firm first for guidance—just so you wouldn’t be too overwhelmed as a newbie in the industry. But either way, it is better to try both and then decide from there since each person has his or her own work style and situation.

What practical tips and advice can you give freelancers when it comes to customer service?

When it comes to customer service, always treat everyone with respect. Not just the clients, but even the other people you work with. Always try to communicate with everyone involved in the project.

Jai Lawan is a freelance interior designer who has been practicing in the industry for eight years. She has previously done interior design work for residential projects, commercial projects (restaurant, nail salon, and laundry shop), beach resorts, and offices.