An objective look at freelancing

I’ve been a web developer for over ten years now, and never worked a day in my life for a company. I started as a freelancer, and in time I grew enough to start my own agency with over than twenty four engineers working for me as of now.

Over the course of my career as a freelancer, I learned a lot of things, and grew in ways I never thought imaginable. I can confidently say that it was the hardest, but most rewarding experience of my life.

However, I can’t help but notice that a lot of people have an unrealistic idea about being a freelancer, and fantasize about the day they can quit their job, and start pursuing their freelancing career.

Common misconceptions

Being a freelancer is being your own boss, you can wake up at anytime, take vacations whenever you need, do the work you love without any limitations, get paid more money than Bill Gates, and you’ll be beating clients off of you with a stick.

Where to begin, being a Freelancer is being your own boss that’s true, but that means that you have to be more responsible than you’ve ever been in your life. It means that you have to work eighteen hour days if you have to, work weekends, and wake up at ungodly hours to meet deadlines and deliver on time.

Being your own boss also means that you have to forget about vacations. You can never get away from your work, whether it’s answering emails, following up with clients or having to work because of your deadlines, you won’t be able to completely detach yourself. And why would you? You’re a business owner, and every email you answer, project you finish and client you get, will grow that business of yours, and get you a step closer to bigger clients and bigger contracts.

What most people don’t understand as well is that you might be self employed, but every client is your boss in a way. It’s true that you can refuse contracts or fire clients if you want to, but why would you do that when you have bills to pay and payments to make.

I know that you’re second guessing your decision right now, and to be honest you should.

Advantages of being a freelancer

Potential for progress: In an office job, the only potential for progress you have, are promotions and raises, and we all know how rare those are. However as a freelancer, only sky is the limit. You can grow and keep growing beyond your wildest dreams, provided you put in the hours and the effort. Your income will increase, your client list will grow and your reputation will start to flourish.

Success and failure: As your own boss, you’re the one responsible for your success and failure, and this is important because when we have no one else to blame for our problems, we start seeing things objectively. The client is not angry because he’s crazy or because he likes to be angry, it’s because you decided to blow off work and missed your deadline. Actions have consequences, and you reap what you sow.

Flexible schedule: Unless you take more work than you can handle, you can put off work for a few hours, if you have something to do during the day. There are no cards to punch, and no boss to yell at you for being late.

Draw your own map: As a freelancer, you’re the captain of your ship, not just riding the waves with no idea where you’re heading. You get to draw the map of your future, set goals, and work toward them.

You can be selective: Once your income starts to stabilize and you have enough savings to survive for months, you can start being picky about your clients to minimize the stress in your life. When I started, I took any and every contract that came my way, but after a few years, I started saying ‘No’ more often, and my life is better for it.

Disadvantages of being a freelancer

It’s not all milk and cookies folks, like any job, it has its ups and downs.

Rocky start: More often than not, you won’t be scoring many contracts at first, if any. This of course will change in time, but your bank account won’t have many zeroes for a while.

Long hours: You’re going to have to work for long and tiresome hours, day in and day out. Freedom comes at a price.

Distractions: When you’re working from your home, you’re bound to get distracted. There are many ways to prevent yourself from losing your focus, and in time you’ll find the technique that works best for you. My only advice is to block websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook while you’re working.

Stress: There’s a lot of stress that comes with owning a business. You have bills to pay, clients to handle, deadlines to keep, a reputation to maintain, and a brand to grow. Stress is an unavoidable side effect of being a freelancer, but in time, you’ll learn to manage it.

A day in the life of a Freelancer

I don’t know about other people, but this is how I used to spend my day as a freelancer, and as far as I know, it’s very standard:

· Go to my home office around 9am.

· Start my day by checking my emails, getting back to clients and setting a to-do list.

· Get started with the most urgent tasks, push changes, and notify my clients.

· Take a quick launch break. Cook something or order in. I usually watch or read something while eating.

· Get back to my office, proceed to check items off my to-do list until everything is taken care of for the day.

· Take the meetings I have lined up.

· After I’m done with my meetings, I browse social networks, blogs and forums and answer questions, post about development, and try to get my name out there as much as I can. This is one of the most important things I do all day, because branding will make all the difference in your career.

· Once all of that is done, I can relax and do whatever I want with my day. However I do still follow up with clients and answer emails.

There are days where I start my work late, don’t work at all during the day and make up for it at night, or simply not finish some of the items on my list. But the best thing about being self employed is the ability to make up for the lost time later.

Tips

· Never accept a contract without taking a down payment. Some clients will walk away half way through, and you’ll never see or hear from them again. Having the upfront payment will discourage them from doing that, and if they do, at least you didn’t lose everything. Furthermore, you should never send the final product without getting the final payment. You can show them a demo on your server or demonstrate it on your computer over a meeting, but never send it before being paid. Unless you know and have worked with the client before, then of course this doesn’t apply.

· You should treat every contract you get as your masterpiece, and strive toward making it as remarkable and excellent as you can. Your clients will notice the extra effort.

· Never accept a contract you’re not one hundred percent sure you can complete. Your reputation is more important than money, and fake it until you make it does not apply to these situations.

· Work toward creating a routine and following it religiously, it will help you stay on track.

· Set aside some time everyday for branding. Write about your field of expertise, answer questions, tweet, and establish yourself as an authority and people will perceive you as one.

· Keep reading, and keep learning. You have to stay on top of your game and don’t let your skills get outdated.

Final thoughts

Being a freelancer Is a great career, as long as you understand the responsibility and are willing to take it on. It’ll be hard at first, but it’ll get much easier in time.

I know that you’re second guessing your decision right now, and to be honest you should.

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