Are You Ready to Freelance?

Moderated by Raymond Lee, Founder, UXr Guild
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.

Why Work Freelance With the UX Researchers’ Guild?

Being a freelancer, however liberating, can be isolating at times. You’ve severed ties with an employer and now you’re on your own. Aligning yourself with a partner or group will give you that sense of community you may be missing, and help increase your chances of success in this new endeavor. 

The UX Researchers’ Guild is designed to empower independent consultants through education, networking, and support. We can’t guarantee your success, but having a community will help you progress more quickly as an independent researcher, increase your stability, and help you to not give up.

What are the Pros and Cons of Freelancing?

When considering freelancing, perhaps you have asked yourself some of the following questions:

How much do I value having control over what work I do for whom?
How will pursuing my own mission and values change my work life?
How much do I value working solo? How difficult will it be to find work?
Will my income support my lifestyle and benefits?
How much do I value the freedom to work when, where, and how I choose?

The pros and cons of freelancing vs employment might be best understood by delving into the various facets of each work environment. What might be a negative to one person, could be a positive to another depending on individual work style and preferences. The key is to examine where you feel you can do your best work, as well as how you can address your personal goals and objectives. Review the various work aspects below to determine which route would be best for you.

Control of Work<

  • Employment: Employer controls when, where, and how you work
  • Freelancing: You have control over clients, industries, projects

Hours spent

  • Employment: On the clock; scheduled by the company       
  • Freelancing: Freedom to choose when to work

 Projects

  • Employment: Guaranteed work; clients determined by the employer
  • Freelancing: Find your own clients; prepare bids and contracts

 Work Environment

  • Employment: Access to research/design/product teams
  • Freelancing: Flying solo; developing your own process

 Compensation

  • Employment: Defined salary and benefits, including possible retirement packages; employer manages the payment of employment taxes (W-2)
  • Freelancing: No guaranteed income or benefits; you set your own pay scale; personally responsible for payment of taxes (1099 forms)

Mission and Values

  • Employment: Whatever the company has determined, which you need to follow
  • Freelancing: Define your own personal and professional purpose and objectives

Freelancing may be right for you if having control over clients, industries, products, and projects; pursuing your own mission and values; working independently; having the freedom to work as you choose; and setting your own rates has a greater value than the difficulty of finding work; preparing bids and contracts; and a loss of salary and benefits. The decision is up to you.

How Do I Know If I Am Ready to Freelance?

Even after looking over the above information, you may still wonder if freelancing is the best route for you, as well as if now is the best time. Here are some self-evaluation suggestions that can help you determine your readiness.

Are My UX Research Skills Strong Enough to Freelance?

To begin this process, consider your responses to these questions in the following areas: 

  • Experience: How many years of UX research do you have, and at what level?
  • Industries: What is the breadth and depth of your experience, and with which industries are you most familiar?
    • Business to Business; High Tech Services & Software
    • Finance & Financial Services
    • Retail and eCommerce
    • Consulting
    • Consumer High Tech Services and Software
    • Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals
    • Education
    • Travel, Leisure, Hospitality
    • Advertising and Marketing
  • Products:  How familiar are you with the following products?
    • Websites
    • Apps
    • BtoB and BtoC
    • Services
    • Devices
  • Methods: Which methods have you employed on past projects?
    • Interviews
    • Usability Tests
    • Surveys
    • Card Sorts
    • Tree Testing 
  • Tools: Are you familiar with a wide variety of popular tools?

Ideal: You have experience in a wide range of products, methods, and tools. Your experience is focused on specific industries, rather than spread thinly across many. 

Do Freelancers Work Alone?

If you are working alongside team members as an employee, as you consider freelancing, it’s important to take a deeper look at your level of independence, and how comfortable you are working alone. The following questions will guide you in this search for understanding.

  • Are you confident in your skills and able to work alone?
  • Can you apply what you know to other industries and products?
  • Can you choose the best methods for each situation?
  • Can you design a study and run it from start to finish?

Being independent doesn’t mean you will never interface with others. You will have contacts in the companies you work with, as well as different stakeholders in the various departments that will be impacted by your research. But it does mean that you are confident enough to work on your own more often than not and can go from start to finish alone. 

Ideal: You are comfortable with your experience and abilities to search for projects, present yourself confidently, and assess the best methods and tools needed for specific tasks.

Do Freelancers Need to Network In-person to Find Work?

Freelancing is never done in isolation, even though it might feel so at times. Having a variety of connections will give you resources to draw upon in your freelancing journey. These networking relationships work both ways; you receive help as you reach out, and are then able to assist others. It is a win-win situation. With regards to your in-person network, take time to evaluate how solid this network is throughout previous jobs and volunteer opportunities. To help make this assessment, take a look at the following questions to determine what connections you currently have:

  • Are you well-known and liked at your current and past jobs?
  • How many UX colleagues know and respect you?
  • Do you attend local UXr meetups and events?
  • Do you volunteer in any UX organizations?
  • How many UXr managers know you and could hire you?

Ideal: You have connections in a variety of settings; you know people that know your work ethic and experience and might be willing to hire you for freelance work or serve as professional referrals.

Do You Need to Network Online to Freelance?

In today’s world, and particularly in the past few years, connections go far beyond your in-person network. How active are you in pursuing the following avenues and what can you do to improve your online networking?

  • How many online UXr groups, speakers, and events do you attend?
  • What is your level of activity on LinkedIn, Slack, and other social media?
  • How many LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter/Instagram/YouTube followers do you have?

Ideal: You’re somewhat active in UXr groups in-person and online, post regularly, and are known as a UX researcher. 

Achieve Your Goals by Freelancing

Finally, think about your current professional goals as well as where you see yourself in the future. In some ways, freelancing could limit your professional growth. It all depends on your priorities in your life and work.

Before leaping into freelancing, take an honest look at your responses to the following questions:

  • Why do you want to freelance? And why now? 
  • What provides satisfaction and meaning in your work? 
  • Do you want to be a UX research manager?
  • How important is it to you to be part of a team? 
  • Do your goals require a team or a large budget?
  • Will becoming a freelancer limit your professional growth?

Ideal: Transitioning to freelancing should move you in the direction of your goals, not away from them. Having a better understanding of what your goals are will help you make this decision.

Evaluate Your Personal Readiness to Freelance

As important as professional readiness is, it must never take the place of your personal readiness. The two areas must be in sync with each other. Let’s take a look at a few key areas of personal readiness: finances, health concerns, and familial obligations.

Do You Need Money to Freelance?

It takes more discipline to manage finances as a freelancer rather than as an employee. Without a guaranteed income and benefits, it is even more crucial to plan ahead to be prepared for future financial needs. These questions address many of these issues:

  • How will you support yourself when you don’t have income?
  • Do you have savings or are you paying off debt?
  • Do you have the financial discipline to spend less than you make?
  • Are you prepared to manage the payment of taxes, a task that an employer would handle?
  • Will future plans such as buying or refinancing a home be adversely affected if you begin freelancing?

Ideal: High financial discipline; low expenses/debt; and some savings; a solid understanding of current and future financial needs.

How do Freelancers Get Health Coverage?

One of the major challenges that come with freelancing is the loss of healthcare benefits for yourself and family members for whom you have responsibilities. As much as you would like to think that you will never experience a health crisis, the reality is quite different. While some people may decide not to have health insurance, or at the very least, sufficient savings in the event of such a crisis, is it really worth the risk? This area of readiness must not be overlooked. 

Consider the following areas:

General Wellness Security: What will you do for medical and dental insurance?
Obligations: Are you caring for children, parents, a partner, or others?
Physical: Do you, or others in your care have health issues or concerns?
Mental and Emotional: Do you have the energy to start something new?

Ideal:  You have the time, resources, and energy to start a business. You have access to medical and dental benefits for yourself and those in your care. 

The Benefits and Risks of Freelancing

Any decision is not without inherent risks. What would you do in the event of a future recession or a shutdown such as we experienced with COVID? How will you keep up with rising inflation? Having a plan B, including the possibility of agency jobs (also known as W-2 contracts) might be beneficial.

Whether you choose to stay with an employer or make the jump to freelancing, there will always be risks and benefits. Ultimately, you will choose whether the benefits of freelancing outweigh the risks for you.


Group Pages

How to Freelance
– Are You Ready to Freelance?
– Do You Need a Freelance Plan?
– How Do You Find Freelance Clients?
– Select and Establish Your Legal Entity
– Manage Your Bidding, Books, and Benefits
How to Start and Manage Your Freelance Business
What is a Freelance UXR/UX Strategist?
Can Your Employer Stop You From Freelancing?

Leveling Up with UX Strategy
Session 1 – What is UX Strategy?
Session 2 – UX Strategy for Researchers
Session 3 – December 8, 2022

Quantitative UX Research Methods
Session 1 – When to Use Which Quantitative Methods
Session 2 – October 13, 2022
Session 3 – November 10, 2022

Transitioning to Freelance UX Research
Session 1 – Transitioning to Freelance