About five years ago, the position I held was fired and I found out I had no job. With no obvious options, I decided to try freelancing. Five years later I have a broad customer base, an extensive online business and a large portfolio of completed projects. So I will describe myself as a successful freelancer.
However, these five years have seen a lot of trial and error, much uncertainty and much fear. So I think I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned in this process to make your path from redundancy to freelance success easier.
Some people know their layoffs are coming; for others it appears suddenly. But even if you anticipate it, redundancy can be shocking. It has brought many big and very sudden changes in your life.
The first and most obvious is loss of income. This can be the main source of stress. While it may be better to take the time to make the right decision, financial worries will force you to act quickly. If you don’t have any savings to support your life, consider some casual work to keep your finances in check while laying the groundwork for a freelance life.
The second major change is the shift to unplanned living. Although you are used to the rhythm of nine to five every day and the rhythm of two days off every five days, you can now organize your time more freely. Get used to it; effective time management is one of the most important skills for successful freelancers.
Ultimately, layoffs will take away the structure, friendship, and security that the job provides. It is this that affects most people the most – in most cases it is even harder than losing financial security.
Gains and Losses
While many people complain about their work, most people rely on it to some degree. Taking on assigned roles with defined responsibilities will give people a sense of stability, structure and peace of mind. A paid position clearly states what needs to be done to satisfy the executive and “make progress” in the organization. Daily work can bring fascinating tasks, challenging problems, and rewards for achievement. Employees rely on the social networks of the workplace. In most cases, these social networks help to perform work tasks and relieve stress. They also look forward to their career giving shape and meaning to the long-term story of their lives.
When these things are taken away, many people will feel a deep sense of loss. Indulging in layoffs can make this sense of loss worse. Although it is the position and not the person that is being fired, it is difficult not to interpret the dismissal as a personal rejection. You are a member of a “family” and they decide to get rid of you. You were wanted, now you are not. Your work is valuable, and now it exceeds demand.
This idea must be nipped in the bud. Redundancy is a business decision; No more and no less. Whenever you start to wonder why a particular person is doing this, remind yourself of this.
Change from being obsessed with loss to focusing on what you gain. There may be parts of your work that you don’t like – now you have the opportunity to create better things. You are motivated to act and have the ability to make new decisions about the direction of your life. You have time to plan your future or just do something you’ve been neglecting, such as staying healthy, seeing family, or pursuing a hobby. It’s time to remember that life is more than just “acquisition and consumption”.
At the same time, start to reconsider whether the “benefits” of working are really what you want, as it is important if you are considering freelancing. In terms of career, can you cope with an unstructured and directionless work life that may not “develop” or “progress” in a predictable and manageable way? On the social side, are you ready for a completely different social network – perhaps more ‘virtual’ than the social network at your workplace? How do you set your own tasks and goals when it comes to daily tasks and projects? Financially, you can handle variable and uncertain earnings, but is it safer than relying on a paid position?
Shortly after I was fired, I first started reading “self-help” literature. I used to ignore the whole genre, but now I feel like I’m ready. No longer defined by work, judged by my boss or driven by career, I need something to “fill the gaps” – a new way of thinking about myself and the world, that will give me a psychological tool to move forward .
There is no doubt: the mindset of freelancers is completely different from the mindset of employees. You are more than just an employee who happens to be outside the organization. The mentality of self-employed is (or should be) independence, self-management and self-reliance; many employees, on the other hand, look for clues from the company, the boss or colleagues. Employees are part of the tribe; freelancers go out on their own and need to be mentally strong. They need self-confidence, a positive self-image and the ability to motivate themselves.
These are not traits you are born with; they are skills that must be learned. Most of us have a lot of corrupt attitudes and beliefs, some are useful, some are not useful and most are acquired in childhood. They are the “software” installed in the computers in our heads. Usually people treat them unchecked and they stay the same, but with the right psychological tools, the most important steps like becoming a freelancer are much easier. Self-help books such as Stephen R. Covey’s “Seven Habits of Successful People”, Robert T. Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad and Poor Dad”, and Paul McKenna’s “Change Your Life in Seven Days” can help you develop these tools.
It may be embarrassing to read these headlines. Remember, you don’t have to agree that every word can get something out of these books. They don’t have to be your bible – just take what you want or need from everyone and throw the rest away. Some ideas may not be useful now, but they may be useful in the future. If nothing else, you may encounter new and challenging perspectives that help you see things in a different way.
Design your work
Now that you’ve found the right position, it’s time to think about what your freelance job will look like.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it hard to get out of your most recent job, at least in the early stages. As a publishing editor, the only freelance I can think of is an external version of my internal role. The reality is very different, combining the skills I learned internally, what I’ve learned since and what I just learned in the “University of Life”.
To get new ideas about what you can do, you have to mix it up. List all your skills – not just the key points in the job description, but all the things you know how to do. Back to childhood, including hobbies, interests, unemployed activities, and all your jobs – not just those suited to your previous “career”.
Perhaps you have spent some time as a housewife. This teaches you about budgeting, planning and self-discipline. Or maybe you work in a retail store so you learned face-to-face communication and grace under pressure. Whatever it is, write it all down on paper. It’s all related.
Don’t forget to include “meta” skills. It’s not just the ones that are clearly part of your job. For example, you have worked as an architect in a small company. Naturally, this will help you develop your construction skills. But it also teaches you the special aspects of running and managing small businesses: cost control, customer engagement, team cohesion, and hundreds of other things. These are all valuable experiences.
Start integrating these elements into the work now, without any time pressure. If you can’t name the job that you or anyone else can recognize, don’t worry. Just create the character that suits you best – the best way to use all the skills you have. This may not be attainable in the real world, but it is a good goal. If you don’t determine your ideal job, others won’t either.
Roles and labels
Don’t be afraid to accept a new label, even if it looks ambitious or even downright fantasy. It wasn’t until I was a freelancer for a few years that I mustered up the courage to describe myself as a copywriter, although this is certainly the term most business people use to describe my skills, even when I started off with my first profession. Business people outside the publishing world rarely care about the difference between writers, associate editors, editors and proofreaders. They just need someone to organize the words. Therefore, I can immediately use the most direct business role description instead of trying to force my existing position in the freelance market, saving myself a lot of trouble.
Remember, if you say you can do it, you can. People will think you have the skills you claim to have unless you give them a reason not to think so. Therefore, if you know you can do something even if your actual experience with it is weak, include it as part of the quote. There is no reason to shortchange yourself by limiting the scope of your career.
Your first customers
Now that you understand what you can do as a freelancer, you can start thinking about who you can do it for. Your thoughts will naturally lean towards a company like your former employer, or even your former employer itself. While in theory the company will lay off employees when the position is completely redundant, in practice almost every layoff requires a gap that can be easily filled by the previous staff. When your alma mater offers you a job, it’s hard to refuse. However, acceptance is a double-edged sword.
On the plus side, you can be one step ahead in determining the amount of work required. You can also work with customers you know well, and you can provide them with great value. Presumably, you can also be reasonably confident of getting paid. The downside is that you have to continue to rely on your previous workplace in many ways: financially, socially, and intellectually. Building a career as a freelancer means acting independently, relying on yourself to bring you jobs and developing a unique worldview that reflects your unique experience. Keeping in touch with old colleagues will limit your growth in all of these areas. Therefore, even if you decide that you really need to accept a job from the old company, you should at least be aware of the shortcomings and try to make up for them by promoting new clients, new contacts and new types of jobs.
Who might be your new customer? This is a question only you can answer, but the key is to cast it as widely as possible. Don’t limit yourself to companies that are similar to your old company. Just as you’ve considered all the ways to rearrange your existing skills to form a new freelance job, you can adapt the elements of the new value proposition and present new ideas to your clients.
Setting a rate is one of the hardest things a freelancer has to do. This is a problem that will never go away. Even after being a freelancer for a few years, it can still be difficult to quote every client on the same basis or be in the same negotiating position across the board. Customer expectations for pricing vary widely, so it’s hard to take a consistent stance. However, you have to start somewhere, which means you have to set a certain rate before you start.
One of the most obvious starting points is your old job. Do not. There may be little or no relationship between your income as an employee and the equivalent (or close to) the income of a self-employed person. Because freelancers have expenses (computers, travel, accountants) that employees don’t, they expect to charge more, or charge more. But this is not all. An old saying about salaries is that employees avoid layoffs as little as possible, while employers pay as little as possible to prevent people from leaving. There are many reasons for this, so your salary may have more to do with your employer’s perspective than the value you actually deliver. Anyway, it’s all over for you now. But you do need to understand the fees you may charge.
The salary mentality may lead you to charge for services by the day or by the hour. Many people use wages as a benchmark and can calculate their previous daily wages and try to increase their wages. It’s okay, but set high standards. There’s really no need to associate yourself with a salary range that can be completely arbitrary, ad hoc, or intentional in the first place.
The other method – the better method in my opinion – is to charge per item. This allows you to charge a rate that matches the value you provide. For example, as a freelance writer, someone might ask me to write a catchy ad, or they might just ask me to edit internal documents. While both are important, the methods will be very different. An advertising campaign can take a day or two of serious thought, and then just a few hours of writing. Editing doesn’t need to be considered in advance, but can take up to four days to complete. You can already see how difficult hourly billing is. It is best to look at the value of each customer item and charge accordingly. You don’t want to have awkward discussions with your customers about how long it will take to complete a particular task.
Price flexibility is important. Clients and budgets are different, and your personal situation is also different. At first, you may be willing to lower the price to build a portfolio. That’s great, but it’s what you deliver, not what the customer asks for. Don’t let anyone use you on a “you’re just starting out” or “a lot of work in preparation” – clients talk to you and they want you to do this project, so you add value to the table. At other times, you might be a little quiet, so you want to give a price that almost guarantees you’ll get the job done. If you’re busy, the price may not be so compromised.
So you got it. You designed a character, identified the customer and set the price. All you need to do now is the wok. But as a former wage earner you already know that you can deliver. If you can also handle all the baggage that freelancing entails, you can easily lead a flexible, diverse and highly fulfilling work life. good luck!