It seems like the ideal life you should choose when your boss is breathing down your neck, work is a bitch and you’re dying to get some me-time apart from the rigours of the 9 to 5. Becoming your own boss, working your own schedule, staying home, working in your pyjamas and ditching the stress of the daily commute, they’re all great arguments in favour of going self-employed. But is going freelance all that it is made out to be and should you be taking the risk of stepping out of your full-time job to make the shift to a freelance career, and if yes, what are the things you need to keep in mind? I dropped out of the 9-5 workforce when my son was born and I have never really got back to a formal work-life since. It’s been around 16 years of work from home, with freelance writing, project consultancy, professional consultancy, and more for me now and along the way, I’ve learnt some lessons that might be of help when you’re weighing the decision of whether the freelance life is for you.
Have a nest egg enough to keep you financially provided for at least a year of essentials.
The gig economy is growing and how. Co-working spaces are on the upswing, offering workstations, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms and great coffee, making it easier for freelancers to work in a professional space, hiring a desk when they need to. The traditional definition of jobs too has shifted with more companies and organisations opening up to the advantages of remote working.
But there definitely are a few pointers you need to keep in mind before you write out that resignation letter and hand it in. And here’s what they are:
1> Have a nest egg enough to keep you financially provided for at least a year of essentials. This means, rent, groceries, essentials like bills, petrol, etc. Build towards your nest egg. Having a nest egg in place, even if you don’t need to dip into it means that you will not be surviving on chewing gum and fresh air until those elusive payments come in.
2> Which brings me to point two, do you have the discipline to be fanatical about invoicing, accounting and keeping track of payments and following up on payments overdue. If you aren’t, drop the idea of a freelance life. The non-glamourous part of freelancing involves invoicing, keeping your accounts straight and clear, following up with infuriating accounts departments for payments which will always be in process, infinite delays and eventual ghosting by some. Have your terms and conditions clear before you take on a project and negotiate for an advance. Be very strict about payments within due date mutually agreed upon and don’t extend infinite credit. Call the day the payment is due and hasn’t come in. Know what the industry rate is and don’t undercharge in order to get work. And on the flip, don’t overcharge. Stay well within the industry norm. This leads me to my next very important point.
3> Do your research. Suss the market for who is commissioning the kind of work you do, speak to other freelancers about those who pay on time, about the organisations that are good to freelance for. It is always good to get a feel of the market rather than going in cold turkey. It would seem more lucrative to be broad-based in what you offer, but in the long run, it is always good to build a niche for yourself in a specific area and become the expert in that domain rather than spread yourself too thin.
4> Factor in the intense loneliness and aloneness that freelancing brings and make provisions to pepper your life with enough meaningful adult interaction. Sure, this working alone might feel like a great temptation when you’re at loggerheads with toxic colleagues and bosses, but working alone at home requires a different mindset altogether. Opt for co-working spaces if you feel that you are getting very isolated through work from home.
Get onto all the social media platforms you are comfortable with and post stuff that showcases your work as well as gives people an insight into the person you are.
5> Network, network, network. I must confess, I don’t believe in networking though, I believe in connections. Connect with people and they will connect back. Stay in touch with old colleagues. Reach out to people you admire. Don’t be a creepy stalker though, but social media is a good space to interact with folks and stay in top of mind recall. Put out the occasional message to catch up. Meet up with people from the industry outside of work events. Connect people you think could benefit from knowing each other. Follow up a connection at an event with an email or a Linkedin request and stay professional in your interactions. Just being visible and out there gets you top of mind recall when people are thinking of someone to assign work and projects to. Don’t get complacent with existing clients, keep looking out for other work.
6> A natural shakedown from the need to network is to leverage social media to build an online presence. Get onto all the social media platforms you are comfortable with and post stuff that showcases your work as well as gives people an insight into the person you are. Be very aware of the image you are putting out of yourself on social media because when you are not associated with a company, you are your company and you are your brand. Make sure you build up a positive professional image of yourself.
7> Get a financial consultant, either a professional who can help you file your returns or a friend who can advise you right. Set up a system to channel your money into savings and investments, after meeting everyday expenses. It is unpredictable, freelancing and being your own boss. It is always a great idea to be on top of your finances. Understand taxes, invoicing, deductions for expenses, etc.
Be fanatical about delivering on deadline and delivering your best work always.
8> Find yourself a mentor in the space you wish to be in. Another freelancer who has been around in the market can always be a good sounding board, and help with connections, or even just guide you as to how you should go about things. Remember to always be respectful of the other person’s time and inputs and not impose yourself endlessly on them.
9> Be fanatical about delivering on deadline and delivering your best work always. A slipshod job will ensure you get struck off the list of people they will turn to when they have the next requirement for a freelance assignment or a project.
10> And finally, take your work very seriously. Upskill constantly, stay on top of industry developments, keep track of who has moved where. Stay informed and in the loop. Unless you treat yourself as a professional no one else will.
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author's own.