I have been working as an employee for over a decade. While I have been lucky to have worked with some really great colleagues, towards the last couple of years I kept feeling the need to become a freelancer talent for a few reasons:
- Working at one single company often means solving very similar kinds of problems every day. Sure, the challenges keep evolving with time, but the context stays the same. It can get a bit of a drudge over time. This is also one of the major reasons why I have never worked in the same industry for a long time. I not only like the change in context, but that also helps me learn new things and get more exposed professionally.
- Both my wife and I love to travel. In the last few years, most of our travels have limited to desperately looking forward to long weekends. We haven’t managed to have more than 1 long vacation a year for so many years, due to being married to our respective jobs. We wanted to break that chain. I have a long term goal of becoming a digital nomad once a day, now that both of us have managed to break that shackle and have gone freelancers.
Working from home, and as a freelancer, can be both fun and intimidating. One of the biggest fears that do not allow most people to go on their own way is the loss of assured income at the end of every month. That fear is 100% real. But then again, with some preparation, those fears can be allayed. One good thing that came out of the current pandemic is that more and more companies are now coming up with work-from-anywhere policies and have become more open to working with independent contractors than before. Telecommuting workers with very complex jobs, who don’t require a lot of collaboration or social support, can perform better than their office counterparts. Being a Product Manager myself, many a time, I’ve worked in IC roles and that’s an ideal scenario for me to work as an independent contractor. I agree that the role also involves a lot of collaboration with the stakeholders and the customers, but with some experience in interpersonal skills that hurdle can also be easily overcome.
Challenges I’ve faced as a freelancer
It’s been just about a year since I decided to run solo. In these months, there have been a bunch of things I got to learn about this lifestyle. Some of them I enjoyed, others I’m still trying to cope up with.
Being the master of your own means looking for your own clients as well. This is the biggest pain point for any freelancer because without any client there is no money to put the food on the table. This exercise is especially hard for the techies since, all their professional lives, they have been trained to deliver work and have zero experience in lead generation and sales. Additionally, for someone like me, identifying and up-selling my products’ USPs are infinitesimally easier than my own USPs.
The goal here has been to find high quality, recurring, and trusted clients so that I can focus more on value generation than lead generation. Also, since I’m more confident in the quality of my work than selling my skills, I focus more on retaining existing clients and sell more business to them, instead of continuously looking for new ones. Thankfully, despite my personal inhibitions, I’m slowly getting better at being proactive and pitching my services to potential new clients.
While I didn’t find this too much challenging personally, I’m aware that it is still a major roadblock from being an efficient freelance worker. As I’d mentioned in my last blog post, it is very important to have a set of working principles and stick to them.
Being a freelancer gives the flexibility of choice — freedom to choose clients, projects, hours, work location, and also the general niche in which you might want to work on. Use that flexibility to your advantage.
- Most freelancers recommend that one should identify a functional workspace which is meant only for work. While I agree with that thought process, what I also like to do is to often get up from my home office, walk around the house, find a different place to sit, and continue working. Many a time, I also end up changing the device I was using, just to induce some change in the environment. Before the world got engulfed in COVID-19, I even used to park myself at coffee shops and restaurants to work from there. Bottom line is to find a place and time in which you’re most productive, and then build a habit to work during that time.
- I make time slots in my calendar for almost everything I need to do during the day. It can range from work meetings to scheduling some time out to prune my task list. Depending on the context, I make sure all my devices are on ‘Do not Disturb’ mode so that I can work on what’s important without any distractions. Additionally, every person who has spent time working from a home base will have to deal with a lack of understanding from people who think working from home doesn’t really mean working. Setting the time slots and sharing them with your significant other can help them realize when they can disturb you, and when they shouldn’t.
- Setting limits if you have children at home can be especially tough. On the other side, letting kids see you work hard at something you love—even at the parts you don’t love—can greatly influence their future careßer choices and entire attitude toward work.
- I can not emphasize enough the importance of getting a good quality chair for when you’re working. I wish I could afford the Herman Miller ones already. Nevertheless, I’ve always invested good money in good quality chairs to help me take care of my back. Additionally, I also use a standing desk for the times when I crave a change in posture.
First & foremost, don’t bet on saving money just because there are no more daily commutes, mandatory lunches, and the cost of office-appropriate attire. The expenses to set up a personal office can also turn into an expensive affair for needing a reliable Internet connection (sometimes even a secondary one for backup), good quality computer and accessories, web hosting, business software, etc. Additionally, as I lost my monthly salary, I ended up becoming super skeptical about spending whatever little I was earning for fear of a rainy day. I ended taking up many odd-ball jobs just so that I could attain my usual monthly income as fast as possible. Additionally, I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t like charging people or collecting my dues. I’ve come to learn very quickly that this is part of the territory of being a freelancer.
It is important to create multiple income streams so that the unpredictability of the market can be reduced to the minimum. This sounds hard, but can easily be done in a few ways:
- Impart the existing knowledge you have to others through blog posts (like these) or online courses published on Youtube or Skillshare.
- Explore the past companies you’ve worked in for retainer ships for work they already know you’re great for.
- Do not hesitate to take up work that you’re yourself not very proficient in but is related to your niche. You can always hire other freelancers to help out on those segments and thus provide end-to-end solutions to your customers. This can have a two-fold benefit. One, your client will not have to manage multiple vendors to get their work done and thus will be keener to come back to you for more work. Two, giving business to your peers will mean they themselves will also end up passing on the extra business to you.
I’ll admit that I am not too great at connecting with people. One of the reasons why I like freelancing is because it fuels my tendencies to being a loner. Sadly, it’s now all the more important to network and meet people in person. Not only does it build trust and friendship, but it’s another door to potential clients. Add to that, because of being holed up at home most of the time, it becomes even more imperative to go out and meet people, for the sake of mental and emotional health.
Wearing multiple hats
Truthfully, this has been the least of my problems until now, but I must mention it here since this aspect often overwhelms a bunch of new freelancers. Like any business owner, I’ve been involved in marketing, invoicing, building contracts, making tax payments, etc. In the early months, I’ve spent up to 80% of my time marketing and selling. The rest of the time gets spent chasing up suppliers and clients for payments. I’ve only spent a fraction of my time producing value. It needs fortitude and skills to deal with that.
When starting out, consider taking on fewer projects so you get a feel of the workload involved. Once you get a grasp on things, you can slowly start taking on more work. Also, I can’t stress this enough. Beware of workaholic tendencies. Especially while starting out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the quantity of work that needs to be done and start ignoring everything else around to be able to achieve it. During those times, stick to the basics of scheduling everything and sticking to it.
Freedom has its price
Working as a freelancer can be exciting, empowering, and even profitable, provided you are realistic about the pros and cons. Whether you are a freelancer, a company part-timer, or a full-time employee who just doesn’t hit the office on certain days, it’s a way to escape the daily grind. But there are added responsibilities that come with freedom, not to mention planning, foresight, self-discipline, and focus. I’ve managed to crack a few of those aspects, but still have a lot more to conquer.
If you have been a freelancer or have been working from home for a while, how has been your experience until now?