Should you freelance for your old employer?

Once upon a time, I made the big decision to move away from where I grew up. Leading up to this, I had a decent job at a studio, but I was looking to move to a larger city and bigger opportunities.

Naturally, my boss didn’t take it the best when I told him that I was leaving. Not that many would. Rather than wishing me luck and being done with it, he did something a bit different. He asked if I’d consider working as a remote freelance designer, continuing to do the work I was doing as an employee. Rather than a paycheck every two weeks, I’d send an invoice.

It was an exciting position to be in. I ultimately agreed. I was already taking a risk moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone or have a job lined up. Having my old job as a client” allowed me to pay rent and put food on the table.

The gig only lasted a few months before we parted ways. That said, it was enough to help with the move and getting my feet under me in a new place.

One unexpected perk: it ended up kickstarting my freelance business. I’m pretty grateful for that. I can’t imagine how things would have turned out moving as far as I did only to not find work. Who knows? Maybe I would have moved home after six months.

That said, I didn’t handle setting my rate and billing very well. Typically, you need to account for exciting things like taxes. This is why what gets deposited in your bank account is always less than your actual salary. Since I didn’t take this into consideration setting my rate, Uncle Sam and I had a lot of fun the following April (for him, anyway).

If you do decide to go this route with a former employer, make sure you keep things like this in mind. A common percentage of 25 – 30% is what you’ll see in most places, and its not too far off what you can expect to lose from each paycheck. 

Another thing I should have considered sooner was taking on new clients in addition to my old boss’s company. When you’re running a freelance business, its easy to get one large client and be done. Unlike being an employee though, you don’t get the same guarantees that your job will always be there. If you have a contract, it maybe set up to run for a specific amount of time. When it expires, you have to renegotiate it for another period of time. This assumes that both of you want to continue working together. It’s all fine and dandy until your client stops the music.

By having additional clients, it helps you be a bit less vulnerable if someone decides to stop using your services. It’s also a good way to start raising your rate as you gain more experience or your schedule starts to fill up. This is what the best part of being my own boss means to me. Having the freedom and flexibility to pick and choose clients, projects, and my hourly rate is second to none. 

Cycling back, taking the first step is the hardest. Having an old, familiar job there to help with the transition can certainly make it easier, especially as you figure out what your business looks like. If you do find yourself with an offer from your old boss, it might be a good thing, and one that helps springboard your career to its next phase.

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