And what you can learn from my experience.
I'm still a baby freelance and learn as I go. I don't consider my self a success story, yet, but I have learned a lot of valuable lessons from the start of my journey. So learn from my spectacular fails and challenging wins.
1. You're going to work for free!
I'm not talking in the traditional sense of working over your billed hours to finish a job. I'm talking about all the hours you spend writing proposals, building models, chasing up clients, invoicing and lead generation. One important component that freelancers don't take into consideration is budgeting for all the added hours of grunt work you have to do just to land a job. Not to mention to get paid.
I want to live in a world where you deliver a service and are paid on time, but the simple truth is... this is just not the case. Service-based freelance work seems to come along with people feeling as if they can drag out payments.
You don't go to a supermarket and walk out with your favorite chocolate bar, enjoy eating it, then go back to the shop and pay. But many clients have this attitude to payment of service.
What you can learn
Templates, templates, templates. Use templates whenever possible. Template proposals, sales processes, contracts, workflows, any action that is repetitive, and create a template for it. It will save you a load of time and you can always adjust material as needed.
Keep your clients happy and they will bring business to you. This happened organically for me and while I can't guarantee a stable income on referrals along, I have had a lot of business from clients connecting me with new business. I built a whole group of clients in New York from one lead who just kept referring my services.
Know what is ahead of you and plan from the start. I just jumped right into freelancing and figured I would stumble my way through. But in hindsight, I could have saved a lot of time if I had focused on an action plan and templated processes in advanced.
2. Build your own business.
Dahhh, that is what your doing right? Some freelancers are and some are not. There is a huge push from corporations to cash in on remote workers and for people in this position to run their business on platforms like Freelancer, Upwork, Airtasker or Fiver. In practice, these digital service marketplaces sound like a dream. Where people can sell their talent and businesses can gain from tapping into this resource. But of course, this dream comes at a cost.
First of all the platforms have to take their slice and that slice is taken from you, the freelancer. When in reality, the cost should be pushed on the business hiring talent. This slice of the pie is not small, with some platforms charging up to 40% in service fees. Which is outrages in my book, considering you can spend hours writing proposals in the hope that someone selects you for their project.
The markets are often over flooded with mediocre talent undercutting people who can really do the work. This leads to a lack of trust on both sides.
What you can learn
Beyond the charges, the platform it's self is the real business, you may be benefiting through financial gain but do you really have your own business? Or are you simply employed by the platforms you are working on?
The answer is yes, at the end of the day you don't have control of your lead gen strategy or even customer relations as that is largely left up to the platforms.
If you are serious about starting your own business, leverage these platforms to drive leads to your own assets. Create a space for your business (I.E a website of any form) and drive leads there. Always include links to your website/s on proposals you submit and drive clients to engage directly with your business after the first connection is made. This way you have control of your business and client relations.
3. You're going to lose friends!
This may seem harsh but it is a real reality of the freelance lifestyle. From my experience, it comes down to two reasons, you are working on a completely different schedule and/or a few friends are confused by your career choices, in some instances turn to distencing to make up for their lack of understanding.
Think of the realities of becoming a freelancer. You have control over your schedule, but, you are also responsible for securing your own income. Meaning your work hours are very precious.
You also have the flexibility to start work at 11 am and finish at 7:30 pm, or take a day trip on a Tuesday and decide to make up the hours on a Saturday work session. You have the flexibility while your 9-5 friends don't, this can lead to weeks of schedules not matching up and an inability for you to commit to the all too common Sunday brunch or 5 pm Friday drinks. You are out of sync with the rhythm of the normal work schedule.
Secondly, let's face it, being a successful freelancer (side note, I'm by no means, stating I have reached this standard yet) allows you to have a lot of freedom and passion for your work. Leaving your friends to look at you in a different light. I'm not saying friends will always turn to jealousy and slowly distancing themselves from you, but I have experienced in my own journey and I'm not killing it as a freelancer, just yet.
What you can learn
Show compassion for your friends and be prepared to show up for them as much as they show up for you. Make plans that suit their schedules and stick to them, also be very clear about your new availability to close friendship groups and discuss how to best stay connected.
Push your self to make new friends in the freelance space, friends who understand your changing schedule and also have the ability to attend that spontaneous Tuesday get away.
Finally, except that the relationships with your friends, who choose to work in the 9-5 space, is going to change. Whether it for the positive or negative, I can guarantee that change will occur. Let go of the friendships that don't serve your happiness and be appreciative of the connections that remain.
4. You're going to fail, a lot!
And when you fail as a freelancer you don't have a company to fall back on for support and protection. Even if you are a leading expert in your field of work and have years of experience behind you, at some point you will fail. You are the one-stop shop for your business, you have to engage a whole new range of skill sets to stay at the top of your game. Even if you are across every aspect of your work, you may fail with client relations, lead generation or invoicing. On some level, you will come across failure.
I have failed at lead generation multiple times, I have completely miss managed client relations, to my detriment, and I have even over invoiced someone by $1000. You are going to make mistakes, so be kind to your self and learn from your missteps.
What you can learn
When you make mistakes with clients and in client work, be honest and open. Even if they choose to take their business elsewhere at least you handle the situation with dignity and you can always argue 'honesty' if a mistake comes back to haunt you.
Finally, know that negative feedback or criticisms of a mistake is not a reflection of you as a person. If you can wrap your head around this idea you will be set.
5. You can do it, but it is totally okay if you can't
Freelance really is amazing, aside from constant lead generation, hours of investment and slight panic of were your next pay-check is coming from(PS if this is all the time, you need to focus on LEAD GENERATION, but don't stress I have totally been there), the ability for you to truly take control of your work schedule and build your own opportunity, is completely transformative. Being a freelancer will push you well outside of your comfort zone daily and force you to adapt quickly.
What you can learn
Despite the challenges, the freedom it provides is truly liberating, when you engage with clients and exceed their expectation, there is no greater feeling. I truly believe anyone can achieve the transition to a freelance lifestyle, take it from someone who is still learning the ropes, YOU CAN DO IT.
If you are frustrated with the 9-5 routine or want to take ownership of your schedule, try freelance work. It may not be right for you, and that is totally okay, there is no shame in developing a blooming career in the 9-5 routine. but you may just find a whole new direction in life that you never know existed.