The Secret Life Of A Freelancer: The Ultimate Guide For The Freelancer Life.

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While the dictates of convention had us take up run-of-the-mill jobs, times around professional choices have been changing. Freelancing is progressively becoming a tangible and viable option for several professionals who want to have greater control over their time and their output. While companies, saddled with benefit-heavy employees, are gradually coming under the influence of an adverse economic climate affecting their progress, they are increasingly turning to freelancers to get work done on an ad hoc basis. With the right expertise, and a specialty which makes them viable for specific projects, freelancers find themselves in demand, moving from one job to another, building a professional portfolio while carving a niche in their own field. If one operates with prudence, one can parlay one's specialty for a career as a freelancer by working for a spectrum of clients while gaining monetary and professional satisfaction.


The Secret Life of a Freelancer

As someone who barters her or his skills for a specific time-bound job, freelancing allows one to dictate the use of time which is not otherwise spent delivering services to the said client. Thus, as a freelancer, one gets to decide on the quantity of work one wants to load up on, control the quality of output and the time spent on working. Given a freelancer is an independent contractor, timelines are negotiable with the client. Additionally, a freelancer is not bound by the 'one month holiday' most professionals are allowed in regular jobs, neither are they confined to a desk and chair in an office space which is not their own. Thus, business suits are strictly optional. The client is not a backseat driver of the work. Consequently, there is no one breathing down on one's neck neither is one confronted with the constant nagging, a rampant side effect of working in a hierarchical organisation. Freelancing also takes away the forced, often painful association with co-workers which on most occasions is distracting and unhelpful.

However, the writer will be remiss in only sharing the shiny, fairy-tale bits of the life of a freelancer. The other side of the coin is restless to reveal itself. And when it flips, a freelancer's life is flooded with risk and anxiety. The freedom to control one's own time is akin to the bright, hospitable, temperate sun which energises a soul. However, the nights are dark, long and tedious given that the next job, and paycheck are never guaranteed. Much like an actor in Hollywood, the last job dictates one's personal market reality. Yet, one is never in control of every variable. Not every speciality will be in vogue at a given time. Not every referral will convert to a tangible opportunity. And the directions of the industry will always have to be viewed from the outside given the outlier status of a freelancer. 

Yet, these are insecurities, freelancers make a pact with while moving towards greener pastures as a professional. Making peace with chaos is as imperative as is the perseverance to make each opportunity count unlike that of a conventional professional, who can always count on another prospect to redeem oneself.

On love.

The art of freelancing remains in offering a distinct service to people who need it to fulfil their own mandates. Identifying the service or services a freelancer can offer goes hand-in-hand with an understanding of filling noticeable gaps in the industry which have not been addressed. One must not don rose-petal glasses while hoping that being good in a particular service will easily translate to a readymade market.

"Follow your heart and do what you love' is just a slogan. You need to get real," says Kelly James-Enger, author of Six Figure Freelancing. "If you're not offering a service people are willing to spend money on, you're not going to be in business [for long]."


On research.

Thus, freelancing begins with good research. Scouting the internet to see what the specific industry looks like from the inside out is the first step. Identifying particular openings where one's skills can be deployed will give a freelancer her or his calling card. Next, the freelancer must read up on other freelancers in the industry. Understanding conventional freelancer work methods will allow the particular freelancer to mould their services to be different, thus giving them an edge. Investigating compensation scales and recognising arenas where most work comes from are important junctions of this researching phase. It is necessary to make contacts with the establishment and understand their needs from a freelancer. Networking will also make the freelancer aware of the market segments which are growing and need assistance. Information and knowledge have always been the greatest currency for freelancers. Without them, making inroads inside the industry as an independent entity is impossible.


On flexibility.

A quality that freelancers must equip themselves with is flexibility. The nature of any industry is fluid. What is selling like hot cakes might become as useless as defrosted ice cream within seasons. Thus, flexibility for the freelancer is knowing their skills will need newer avenues and forms to be saleable. Being nimble has never been more fashionable. Ten years ago, web designers were courted by corporations with urgency. Now that the industry has cooled off, and lay offs are rampant, web designers must adapt to the new realities of their profession. If they look around their skills might not be appreciated by the corporates, but new business owners, especially small ones, are interested in showcasing their entrepreneurial ventures online and need help. As do baby boomers who are keen to learn about the web. Thus, working for new entrepreneurs and teaching web designing might keep the cash flowing for web designers.


On patience.

Patience is an important factor in the grander scheme of things. It is imperative for freelancers to take the time to establish themselves. In an age of going viral, several freelancers are desperate to make a splash. However, one must understand, momentary success has limited impact. One must aim to make a lasting impression and this takes time. Patience in the first few innings as a freelancer is necessary. These zones are fraught with disappointments and if one can wade through them, success is achievable. 

"The biggest misconception people have is that they're going to jump right into it and start making money," cautions Laurie Rozakis, a freelance writer and editor, and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money in Freelancing. "Not true. Just because you build it doesn't mean they'll come."


On reputation.

According to Rozakis, reputation is the factor which drives work for a freelancer. It takes month, even years to build up a client base and professional standing. Therefore, several freelancers begin by moonlighting and working conventional day jobs.

"Everyone thinks it's going to happen overnight, but I don't know a single freelancer who immediately started making a six-figure income," maintains James-Enger.

A benchmark used by successful freelancers has been to shore up savings from one's day job for a period between six months to a year before launching oneself as a full-time freelancer. If one is the sole supporter of a household, the benchmark of savings rises.

 Don't leave your job until you're confident you can pay your mortgage and healthcare and put money into a retirement account," James-Enger advises.


On ethics.

Moonlight brings with it its own shares of complications. If one is wishes to freelance in their spare time in the same in the same industry as their own, disclosure to the authorities in their day jobs is essential. Not only is poaching clients unethical, competing for the same assignments as the organisation the freelancer works for is unconscionable. However, if industries of operation are different, as long as the freelance work does not interfere with the daily duties at the work place, disclosure is not required.


On business.

A career in freelance is based on generating business. For a freelancer starting out generating clients one does not know is akin to a Catch-22 situation. However, there are ways around this. Freelancers often begin with work which pays them nothing or barely enough. This is done to establish themselves within the industry while using these set of works as sample pieces or portfolio to attract better opportunities which will be paid. Referrals are important. This can be done by spreading word about your freelancing work through colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors. Professional organisations, online or community-oriented, brings freelancers within the ambit of the industry, allowing to leverage contacts within the fold, pick up on valuable insider information on operating as a freelancer and scout for opportunities thanks to proximity of the industry occurrences. Additionally, volunteering within the community with one's skills always helps attract potential customers. Finally, the traditional cold calling which has a bad reputation in itself might help broaden networks and has always been the traditional calling card for freelancers.


On selling.

However, a freelancer must note that the first few months of freelancing is committed to selling their services and marketing their products. While on the outside freelancing looks like one works on their passion, most of it hinges on being able to put oneself on the radar to attract opportunities. This can be done through websites. Visual examples of work and an attractive way to tell one's story of how freelancing a particular service became their vocation is always a masterful selling strategy to prospective clients. 

"Work won't just stumble upon you," says James-Enger. "You can be as talented as anything, but it won't mean a thing if you can't sell yourself."

 Rozakis agrees. "A lot of people go into freelancing thinking, 'I've got the talent.' What they need to realize is a lot of people have talent. What makes a successful freelance business is how strong your client list is."


On rejection.

Additionally, rejection rates are high. As is the possibility of getting dejected. If one cannot summon the tireless dogged determination to look past rejection and strive to find opportunities which will bring the next check home, this world is perhaps not for them. The trick is to understand where a shortfall has happened and pen the incident down as a learning experience. The sharpest of freelancers accumulate lessons in rejection by the dozen which makes them stronger professionals who understand that a 'no' is not final, and a 'yes' is just another opportunity to further.

"Think of a salesperson at The Gap who gives you a pair of pants to try that don't fit," says James-Enger. "A good salesperson doesn't sulk away, dejected. She hands you another pair and another pair until you buy something."


On marketing.

Every successful freelancer arrives at a stage in their careers when they begin accumulating assignments, pay checks and reputation. With freelancing becoming a viable career at this point, freelancers must see their skills more as a business entity than a product being marketed. This goes beyond ordering flashy business cards. At this point it is essential that the freelancer takes one's career and their clients seriously. This means nurturing clients even after the assignments are done. Foregoing them after the assignment has been completed is a costly mistake. Repeat customers bring greater value and broaden networks which prove invaluable to freelancers.


On legalities.

Freelancers must also be cautious about the legal side of business. While this could be a possible blind spot, a lot can be learnt from the experiences of other freelancers. Borrowing from the contracts from freelancers already operating within the sphere could open one to ideas which can then possibly be clarified by one's lawyer. 

"Protect yourself," stresses Rusty Fischer, who wrote Freedom to Freelance. "It's well worth a few hundred bucks to get it right," he notes.

Accounting systems forms one of the bedrocks for a successful freelancing operation. Accountancy has a way of simplifying life while alerting the freelancer of the incoming money and what is spent. At the same time, it keeps taxation issues at bay with future audits being painless while keeping the freelancer aware of money owed to them by clients which have not been cleared.

"Get a great accountant or [take a] community college course and learn software programs like Quicken to keep your books," Rozakis recommends. "You skip this aspect of the business, and you'll be very sorry."


On time.

Freelancing also hinges on the lifestyle the freelancer chooses for her/himself. It is imperative to make the most of the day that has been presented to the freelancer. Optimally using time defines the very motive for freelancing. Matching the style of working to one's personality is thus important.

Know thyself," says Rozakis. "Really think this through before you make a commitment to a lifestyle and work style you just may not be suited for."

With no one around to answer to or dictate terms of working, self-discipline is key. One must clearly state that the service provided is not a hobby, but a career.

"It really helps to be a Type A personality because you have to be able to motivate yourself and manage your time," says James-Enger. "You can't be a slacker and have a successful freelance career."

While freelancing gives one control over their time, but like any career which consumes more waking hours than anything else, freelancing is a demanding choice. Thus, indulgences one might dream of while sitting in an office while craving a freelancer's life are what they are, mere indulgences. The reality is far from such cushioned thoughts.

"Not only will you normally work way more hours per week as a freelancer, but your schedule probably won't wind up being as flexible as you think," warns Fischer. "Most of your clients are working regular hours, from 9 to 5. Being available to them means that most of time, you'll be working very regular hours."


On solitude.

Freelancers must also make amends with solitude. If a probable freelancer is a people's person who derives joy, sustenance and energy from the chaos of a work place, freelancing maybe a lonely journey. However, social contact can be derived from innovating daily routines. Finding a noisy working space like a coffee shop could be the antidote to such problems. Freelance support groups, collaborating with other freelancers, and working within the space of the client itself are other solutions freelancers turn to in the hopes of the valuable human touch.


While freelancing is a difficult proposition, it takes time to establish oneself, both professionally and monetarily, the rewards are rich if one displays tenacity and spirit. Like an entrepreneur who drives her or his venture through the rough and barren patches, freelancing demands the same commitment. However, success balms the hardships, something successful freelancers always understand.

"Would I ever go back to working for the 'man'?" laughs James-Enger. "No way. For all the struggles and unknowns, I wouldn't give up freelancing and be somebody's employee for anything."


Freelancing Options


Think the freelance life might be for you? The good part is, if you do it, there is a good chance you can freelance it. Here are some of the most frequently freelanced occupations around:


— Accountant/bookkeeper

— Appraiser

— Cartographer

— Chef

— Computer programmer

— Corporate event planner

— Data entry/processor

— Editor/copyeditor

— Engineer

— Esthetician

— Film animator

— Financial planner

— Floral arranger

— Fundraiser

— Furniture restorer/repairer

— Grant writer

— Graphic designer

— Home inspector

— Interior designer

— Landscape architect

— Massage therapist

— Medical administration (billing)

— Package design— Party planner

— Photographer

— Political consultant

— Private investigator

— Professional organizer

— Sales/marketing consultant

— Seamstress

— Set designer



Join the discussion in the comments below!

Posted 29 June, 2017

Sayan S. Das

Writer, Editor

Sayan S. Das is a lawyer with professional experiences in a law firm and policy institutions in India. At the University of Oxford, he received a degree in Creative Writing focussing on fiction (immigrant literature). Presently, he is studying towards a degree in International Affairs with a specialisation in Human Rights and Gender Policy at Columbia University. He was also given the position of ...

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