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Freelance vs Full-time video editing

Which is better?

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If you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you’re either a full-time video editor looking to take the leap to freelance, or you’re looking to start a career in video editing but you can’t decide whether to start as a freelancer or take a full-time job. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to tell you my story of freelance vs full-time video editing and which I believe is better.

 

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THE REASON WHY VIDEO EDITORS GO FREELANCE

The year is 2006 and I’m working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. No, wait, wrong song. I’m working as a junior motion graphics artist on TV commercials at post-production giant, the Moving Picture Company. I’m pumped because I’m creating animations for some of the biggest brands in the world like Vodafone and British Airways. This is enough to excite me because this is my first real job since graduating university.

I’m starting the job super green, but I’m being taught professional practices AND I’m getting paid. “This is awesome”, I thought.

 

 

My employer was teaching me on the job and I trusted that they had my best interests at heart.

 

 

What’s good for me is good for the company, after all.

I was getting paid a salary of £17,000. In London, this amount didn’t cover my living expenses, but I was lucky enough to be able to sign up for government benefits to bring my income up to a liveable amount.

Looking back, I find it amusing to think I spent tens of thousands of pounds on University tuition just to sign up for benefits.

Anyway, I wasn’t really clued up on my value so I figured this was, well… normal.

That all changed when I wander into one of the client suites set aside for clients to review their ads. On the side I discover a client rate card.

 

 

Premiere-Pro-Editor-in-edit-suite

 

 

The client rate card is a list of all the available services that the company offers, and how much each costs. On it, I spot my role – Junior Motion Graphics Artist. I follow the dotted line across the paper to the amount.

“My time is being charged to clients at £297 per hour?”, I thought.

 

 

“That’s almost how much I earn in a week. That can’t be right?”

 

 

The number didn’t sink in at first.

It must be a typo.

I go on my lunch break and try to make sense of this number. As I take the last bite of my 12” chicken wrap from Jumbo’s, the realisation hits me.

Obviously a business needs a healthy income to survive, but when the company’s staff has to apply for benefits just to put food on the table and the company is paying every week what the employee earns the company in an hour, it’s clear that the company doesn’t have the employee’s best interests at heart.

I thought my employer had my back and my best interests at heart, but they only really cared about what’s good for the company. I had it all wrong.

 

 

What’s good for the company is not necessarily what’s good for me.

 

 

As I recall all of the tasks they had me doing I realise that they were only teaching me things that fell within the sphere of what benefitted the company. I was a pawn being played by the company.

It dawned on me how my employer perceives my value, and I began to see what my real value was.

 

 

I realised, “This is why people go freelance all the time.”

 

 

Freelancing is about more than just freedom, it’s about taking control of your own future and determining your own value, not having it dictated to you by a company that only really cares about the bottom line.

Of course working as a freelance video editor is not all roses and dandelions, you still have to put in the work to make it successfully. Let’s break down the pros and cons of freelance vs full-time video editing.

 

 

 

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PROs & CONs OF BEING A FULL-TIME VIDEO EDITOR

PROsTHOUGHTS
Regular salaryBut your yearly pay increase is capped (more info below)
Office cultureBirthday cake is nice but not every office culture is great
No need to pay for kitBut your personal computer is at your own expense
Employment benefitsAre often a way to bolster meagre salaries
Mentoring/trainingThat can sometimes be limited to within the scope of the business
Instant network
Paid time offThe amount of days you can take off are limited

 

CONsTHOUGHTS
Lower paySee calculation below
Salary increase not guaranteedAnd could even decrease after considering inflation
You pay more taxesBut can benefit from pre-tax company pensions
Applying and interview processCan take months of your free time
Targets to be metCan mean your employer prioritises quantity over quality
MonotonyCompanies tend to specialise in one type of work, which can also limit your portfolio
Work on what you’re told toNo way to turn down work you don’t enjoy
CommuteA large cost to your wallet and free time
Office cultureBoth a pro and a con because sometimes it’s toxic
Dealing with bossesSome of them just aren’t nice
Less freedomWork/life balance can sometimes be difficult

 

 

 

FULL-TIME VIDEO EDITOR SALARY

The main reason I hear most people follow the full-time route is because of a steady paycheck. As humans, we crave security – it’s a basic human need – so that is understandable. However, when you are locked into a salary, the amount your income increases each year is capped by your company. This is actually a pretty bad deal. Let’s break down the mathematics of salaries so you can see why.

Salary increases tend to be capped at around 10% per year (varies per company). Historic average inflation in the UK is around 4.2%. (US is around 6%). This means any pay increase below inflation is actually a pay decrease. But let’s look at the best case scenario.

 

 

inflation-1922-to-2022-uk

 

 

Let’s say you get the maximum pay rise of 10% because you’ve been working like a dog and your boss noticed and is kind. After accounting for inflation in the UK, that’s a best-case-scenario pay increase of 5.8% per year. So how long would it take to reach a senior level salary, and how long would it take to achieve the same salary as a freelance video editor?

 

 

junior-video-editor-salary-london

 

 

According to Indeed, a typical salary in London for a junior video editor is around £25,000 (see above).

 

 

senior-video-editor-salary-london

 

 

A senior video editor in London should take home around £50,000*. That means that it would take around 12 years to reach this salary. By contrast, I reached this level of income between years 3 and 4 of being a freelance video editor.

 

 

A freelance video editor’s salary can increase 3-4 times faster than a full-time video editor.

 

 

The situation isn’t much better in the US either, with most salaries for senior video editors in New York in the $65,000 range. At the time of writing that’s the equivalent of just under £52,000.

 

 

senior-video-editor-salary-new-york

 

 

*This figure matches with a full-time senior video editing position at Amazon UK I interviewed for during the Covid pandemic out of desperation, which offered a salary of £55,000. I want to be honest and mention this here. I encountered unexpected expenses when the pandemic dried up work, which drained my emergency fund quicker than expected. I was approached for the job and figured there’s no harm in interviewing. However I’m glad I didn’t take the job because that year ended up being my highest earning freelance year. I’ve detailed a way you can avoid running out of money, here.

 

 

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PROs & CONs OF BEING A FREELANCE VIDEO EDITOR

PROsTHOUGHTS
Create your own scheduleTime off whenever you want it
You decide when to raise your payIncrease rate when you like plus work more hours and get a bonus
Can demand higher salary
Tax efficientYou have to organise an accountant
You’re in charge of your career progressionYou may need to network for a few years
Work where you likeAll you need is decent internet
You decide what work you doTurn down jobs that don’t sound great
Variety of workDifferent clients offer different types of work
Your PC and other expenses are tax deductibleThe more you buy, the less tax you pay
You hold the power over clientsYou can say no to what you don’t align with

 

 

CONsTHOUGHTS
Irregular incomeYou only need to save a financial buffer once
No office parties or eventsYou can socialise with like-minded editors in the Unsplice community
Often working on your ownMost editors prefer this, plus you can join like-minded editors in the Unsplice community
Networking is essentialFor the first 1-2 years anyway
You need to source the workAfter about 2 years the work tends to come to you
Gotta do your own taxesPay an accountant with the money you save from paying less taxes than full-timers
No paid time offI work 6 months a year and still earn more than full-timers
You are responsible for insuranceYou pay less taxes so the savings go towards this if it’s necessary
Chasing paymentsThis is automated by accounting software and only happens rarely. If they’re late you don’t work with them again. Simple.
Can be more difficult to get a mortgageThese days buying a house is a pipe dream for anyone under 40 anyway. Start saving early using your higher income and put down a larger deposit instead.
No mentorship/guidanceYou can get weekly mentorship from Unsplice

 

 

 

FREELANCE VIDEO EDITOR SALARY

Freelance video editors earn more than full-time video editors, and for some people that’s enough of a reason to become freelance. But how much more do freelance video editors earn compared to full-time video editors?

I’m going to use the UK market to calculate how much more a freelance video editing salary is because it’s a market I have solid empirical data for.

Earlier we showed that, at the time of writing, a junior video editor will earn around £25,000 in the UK. There are around 252 working days in the UK (once you take off weekends and bank holidays). That works out as a day rate of just under £100 per day for full-time junior video editors. By contrast, a freelance junior video editor can earn around £150 per day.

 

 

Junior freelance video editors earn about 50% more than junior full-time video editors per day.

 

 

Good to know, right? But how does that income change as you become more experienced?

Earlier I spoke about the senior video editor role I interviewed for at Amazon UK. That job was offering a salary of £55,000. That works out at just under £220 per day. My freelance day rate at the time was £450 per day.

 

 

Senior freelance video editors earn roughly 105% more per day than senior full-time video editors.

 

 

That’s more than double. And the rate at which a full-time salary can increase will be capped by the company. A freelance video editor can raise their rate whenever they like. I recommend twice a year.

Click here for a full guide on freelance video editing rates and how much to charge for video editing.

 

 

 

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HOW HARD IS IT TO BE A FREELANCE VIDEO EDITOR?

The main fear that stops people from jumping head first into freelancing is the idea that their income will not be regular. I’m gonna be honest with you, the first 1-2 years are the hardest because you are building your network from scratch and your portfolio is sparse. However, there are some things you can do to help the transition to freelance:

 

1. Save up a financial buffer of 6-12 months living expenses – Hopefully you won’t need it and you can use the money to buy a house eventually, but if you hit a dry patch, you don’t need to panic. This also puts you in a strong position where you don’t have to take on jobs you don’t want to out of desperation. It puts you in a position of power. Everybody should have a permanent financial buffer for life’s little emergencies anyway, but especially as a freelancer.

 

2. Network hard and prep your portfolio before you take the leap to freelance – The better a job you do of this, the less likely you are to have dry patches of work. It really is as simple as that.

 

 

 

Ladies-In-Cafe-On-Laptops-Laughing-Video-Editing

 

 

 

IS IT BETTER TO BE A FREELANCE OR A FULL-TIME VIDEO EDITOR?

The evidence is overwhelming that freelance video editing is better than full-time. A freelance video editing salary can be over double what you earn as a full-time video editor. You also have an incredible amount more freedom, free time, and job satisfaction.

Employee wages have been stagnating for years. Due to the ever increasing gap between salaries and the cost of living, I believe we are heading more and more towards a freelance economy, where freelancing will be the norm and workers dictate their income, not companies.

 

 

If you’re an independent thinker who truly values your worth, then freelancing is the best way to carve out your career, and your life.

 

 

Unsplice understands that as a freelancer, it can be difficult to find the guidance and mentorship that employment may offer, so that’s why we have your back when it comes to developing your video editing skills and career. Except we only want what’s best for you, not us, because the better you do the more people you tell.

If you’re a freelance video editor or thinking of becoming one, come join our community of like-minded video editors through the same thing. In the membership you’ll receive weekly mentorship and monthly creative training designed to take your creative editing and your career to the next level. There’s nothing else on the market like it.

 

 

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