Freelance writer or employed writer? It’s one of the first questions to consider when you’re investigating a career in health writing.
With COVID-19 closing health practices all over the world, many health professionals are exploring alternate career paths right now.
Health writing is an ideal job for health professionals – you have health qualifications, and you know how to communicate with patients.
Choosing between becoming a freelancer or employee will depend on what you value most in a career.
You’ll need to compare the pros and cons of uncapped earning potential and flexibility versus stability and certainty.
As you explore a career in health writing, you’ll also need to think about what type of health writer you want to be. Consider the following points:
- Medical writer or health writer – many people use the terms interchangeably, but here’s a look at the key differences
- Ideal clients and employers – which brands and businesses do you want to work for?
- Industry demand and opportunities – what writing services are in demand now and what are the main health writing opportunities?
- Writing styles – what styles of writing can you offer?
- Health topics – what health topics do you want to write about?
- Writing skills – do you have the necessary skills to offer professional health writing services, or do you need to upskill and take a health writing course?
- Health knowledge – do you have a background in health sciences or significant healthcare industry experience?
Freelance writer or employed writer – a comparison of the key differences
Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked as both a freelancer and a full-time employed writer. Here’s a look at my take on the common pros and cons to help you decide which option is best for you.
You’re always looking for work
As a freelance writer, you often work on short-term contracts or one-off projects for clients. It’s possible to get retainers, but long-term work is rarely guaranteed.
You apply for a full-time role once, then you’re done
To get a job, you respond to a job ad and go through the interview process. Once you’re accepted, that’s it – no need to look for work anymore (until you get sick of your full-time job, that is).
Easy to get started
To get started as a freelance writer, the basic steps involve setting up your website and LinkedIn profile, marketing your niche skills and pitching for work. If you have strong writing skills, and health qualifications or significant industry experience, you can get started today.
With fewer full-time roles available these days, employed medical writing can be difficult to break into. Employers tend to look for writers with several years of experience, and entry-level positions aren’t common.
One day you may be working but earn no income. The next day you could earn the equivalent of a 6-month wage in one lump sum. Some clients pay you on time, while others pay you two months after you’ve completed a project. The uncertain pay is one of the most difficult aspects of being a freelance writer.
You know precisely how much money you will earn every month, and you know exactly when your wage will hit your account.
Unlimited earning potential
Essentially, you’re free to charge whatever you want (within reason, of course). You can grow your income quickly, set premium rates and collaborate with other writers to take on bigger projects.
Income is capped
As an employee, you’re usually on a fixed salary with limited options for a pay rise besides promotions and your annual CPI increase.
Work on diverse projects, for a variety of clients
As a freelancer, you will work for a wide range of clients on different topics and writing styles. You can also offer new services and products – including web content packages, eBooks and online courses.
Less diversity and more of the same
As an employed writer, you may only be working on a single health topic, writing style or type of document. You have a set job description.
Develop new skills faster
As you take on new projects, you will gain exposure to new medical topics, industries and writing styles. You could work on apps, websites, video scripts, social media ads, content management systems, newsletters and much more.
Limited opportunities for skill development
Unless you have senior mentors, your opportunities to learn new skills and diversify could be limited.
One of the key selling points of freelance life is flexibility. Work from anywhere, take holidays whenever you want, choose your hours, answer to nobody and be your own boss.
As an employee, you have set hours and annual leave entitlements. You usually (but not always) need to commute to work. You’ll report to a boss, navigate internal structures and deal with office politics.
You spend a lot of time alone
You work alone, so your work social life is limited. If you don’t make an effort to meet other freelance writers and join networking groups, you can feel quite lonely and isolated.
You have a work social life
You have work colleagues to see and catch up with every day. You’ll attend work functions and corporate events. You’ll hopefully develop strong friendships and bonds with your colleagues.
You pay for your equipment
You are responsible for absolutely everything. You need to organise, fund and manage IT support, equipment, internet, expenses, digital subscriptions, professional insurance and marketing.
The company pays for your equipment
You have an IT department to call when things don’t work, and a company that is responsible for all your equipment and expenses. You don’t need professional insurance, and there are people to help if you get stuck.
No HR support
If you run into trouble with a difficult client who won’t pay or are having trouble managing a project, you’re on your own. You’ll need to research business and dispute laws and feel confident you can stand up for yourself in difficult situations.
If you ever have a workplace issue, there are dedicated staff and policies to help. There are clear company procedures and laws to follow.
No sick leave or holiday pay
You need to allow for unplanned periods where you can’t work or get sick. You’ll need to have a plan if you can’t meet your deadlines. When you take leave, you won’t get holiday pay.
Entitlements and perks
You can take paid sick days when you’re unwell, and you get paid when you take annual leave. Your employer might have other perks, like an on-site gym, subsidised cafe and discounted health insurance.
You are accountable for everything
In short, you have to do it all yourself. It’s up to you to decide if your work is high quality, if your marketing strategies are effective, if you should send that email or post that blog. There’s nobody pointing out typos or telling you that your ideas are great (or rubbish). You don’t have others to bounce ideas off. Having said that, there are some great clients out there who will make you feel like a valuable member of their team.
You are part of a team
You’ll have colleagues to check in with, you can ask people to read your work and accountability is spread in the team. If you’re lucky enough to have a great manager and friendly team, you’ll feel valued and appreciated. You’ll make memories, learn from others, discover how you navigate difficult group situations and grow strong bonds with your team.
Next steps: Freelance writer or employed writer?
Hopefully, you now know if you’d prefer a career as a freelance writer or an employed writer. Of course, the above list isn’t exhaustive – it’s merely a starting point.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong – choosing between the two options is purely personal.
It’s also important to keep an open mind. Sometimes, writers looking for freelance work end up finding a job as an employed writer, and vice versa. And, that’s perfectly fine.
If you want to learn more about setting up a freelance business, take a look at my How To Become A Freelance Health Writer course.
You can also learn more about a career in health writing with my short course, Breaking Into Health Writing.
What appeals to you more – being a freelance writer or an employed writer? Let me know in the comments.