Build a better balance: how to freelance after 50

As we embrace the lifestage of want-tos, rather than have-tos, freelancing as a professional seems a great way to be be more in control of when and how you work. There's a rising tide of older professionals constructing a rewarding encore career through consultancy, freelancing and volunteering their skills. Citro looks at how to build a freelance career to better balance your professional life.

The freelance industry in Australia

Plenty of us have a bad day at work, but for some of us the workplace is full of ageism, rapid restructures or salaries and time demands that just aren't, well, working anymore.

University of South Australia Professor Carol Kulik researches Australian workplaces and has found older people experience 'stereotype threat' - or the fear of being judged for their age - in the workplace.

“The research emphasises that ageism isn’t just about denying older people access to jobs. Ageism is also about expecting older people to do jobs in exactly the same way, at exactly the same pace, as younger people,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But with an unemployment rate at a 3.6% low in Australia, there is still demand for workers, which is why freelancing might suit people looking for a workplace where they can be in control of their own hours.

Others might be people who've tried retirement but want to do more than take leisurely walks or sit back and travel. Plenty of us are rethinking careers and what it means to choose to do something that truly uses our passions, skills and fulfils our purpose.

The Australian Government has increased the work bonus allowance for Aged Pension recipients, hoping to lure retirees back to the workforce. The Work Bonus increases the amount an eligible pensioner can earn from work before it affects their pension rate. The first $300 of fortnightly income from work is not counted under the pension income test. The Work Bonus operates in addition to the pension income free area.

If spiralling living costs are an added incentive and you’re considering un-retirement, read on. Developing your hobby, or finding your passion and freedom as an independent contractor might be something you may want to consider.

We talked topeople who have embraced the gig economy, including those who have changed their previous employment to march to the beat of a different drum, and who claim they’ve never been more fulfilled. They gave us some great tips, and they also shared their challenges. But firstly, let’s dive into exactly what freelancing and gigging is all about.

The big gig

The term ‘gig’ was originally used by musicians to describe a performance engagement. A musician will perform a gig at one place one night, and then have a gig someplace else the next night. The term is now used more widely to define an independent contractor who enters into an agreement to provide services to a client for a specific time. Many gig workers offer their services through online freelance platforms who provide protections to both clients and freelancers for a small commission. 

The likes of Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, and a gazillion others, are enjoying large-scale growth, offering freelance work in diverse areas, including, marketing, content writing, graphic design, video editing, translation, tutoring,  consultancy … you name it. Labour hire corporations are booming, and most of those businesses pay in American dollars. With the exchange rate, Australians receive an additional windfall with conversion of their pay from US to Aussie dollars … win/win.

Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life

Online study is booming, with many Aussies choosing to up-skill and re-qualify, or to embrace new areas of study and achieve new qualifications, in the comfort of their homes. 

Skilling up to have a go at something you’ve always yearned to do, could be a gig opportunity knocking. If you’re looking for complete flexibility, freelancers can work when they choose and for whom they choose. They can work on projects that interest them, they can decide their own fees, and set their own schedule. 

Getting established with a freelance business is easy. You register yourself and your credentials online, write a short profile and your list of professional skills, and Bob’s your uncle.

You can set up your own business entity - it's always best to talk to an accountant - but you can set up an Australian Business Number (ABN) to start your career for free.

Apply for your ABN on the Australian Business Register website (beware of scam sites trying to charge you money to do this). Most small freelancers use a sole trader structure for their business, but it can be worth getting an accountant to advise you on the best structure for your circumstances.

It’s not all a bowl of cherries, however. Finding clients and becoming established is the one constant headache for many working gigs. Freelance platforms can also be extremely competitive spaces, where maybe a hundred or more people with your skills are all applying for the same advertised job. Workers who use these platforms generally do so because they hope to spend time doing what they love in preference to establishing their own business with all that goes with it. 

You may of course choose to do that. You can go it alone, in which case you’ll probably be relying solely on word-of-mouth referrals, or you’ll need to huff and puff and do some self-promotion.  We talked with a couple of people who have chosen to go it alone.

The language Ninja

Having been born and raised in France and subsequently living in Australia for most of his life, opportunities to speak his native tongue were few and far between for Jacques. After retiring from his job in hospitality, he decided to offer his services as a translator and language teacher to small groups and individuals. He put the word out amongst his friends and soon was inundated with enquiries.

“I’ve discovered that I really enjoy teaching and I’m meeting nice people and making new friends. I don’t actually call this work because I love what I’m doing.” Jacques couldn’t come up with any downsides or challenges to his freelancer job except that he has reluctantly had to turn down some enquirers, because he’s as busy as he wants to be. We asked Jacques if Bob was his uncle, and he replied, “Et voila, Bob est mon oncle.”

The original gigger

Reilly’s freelance work more closely aligns with the original gig description, and going it alone with a website and social media marketing. A multitalented vocalist, harpist, composer, writer, and 3D audio entrepreneur, Reilly relishes the flexibility and independence of freelancing. She notes though that the gig economy doesn’t provide paid sick or holiday leave or superannuation, and that currently she still needs to retain some part-time work in an unrelated profession to ensure a steady income. That, sadly, is the nature of the beast for those whose talents lie in the arts. Reilly’s cutting-edge business is gathering momentum but she’s spent endless unpaid hours associated with networking and marketing her business and brand.

New employment frontiers may be coming

As a freelancer, you can be in the driver’s seat of your next career. Finding your edge, finding a niche gap in the market, finding clients, and then doing what you love might be your new exciting employment opportunity. Remember to charge what you’re worth, and to take breaks. Enjoy being your own boss. 

Work like that being done by Professor Carol Kulik shows it's not that hard for workplaces - including your own consultancy or business - to retain and harness older workers.

Older people are less likely to 'job hop' or move around but may require adjustments like being able to take longer holidays or reduced physical demands around manual tasks like lifting.

“The research emphasises that ageism isn’t just about denying older people access to jobs. Ageism is also about expecting older people to do jobs in exactly the same way, at exactly the same pace, as younger people,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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