Most of my adult life I’ve been working as an independent professional, also called a freelancer, a consultant or a contractor. At certain points, I was working for multiple clients at the same time, agreeing and delivering fixed price projects or chunks of work. Other times I was doing short-term contracts where I was paid by the hour, sometimes with the requirement to be present in the office. I did some simple SaaS solutions on my own time and expense that I’d been selling on a subscription basis. I was even dragged into full time employment a few times with some of its aspects, both good and bad: employer paid taxes, social and medical insurance, being required to be present in the office, a dress code, set working hours, work benefits, performance reviews and office politics.
Having experienced such different types of work arrangements, I tried to understand my priorities, get them down on paper and commit to them. So my “Freelance Manifesto” has emerged from that thinking and experience.
- Personal freedom
- Life comes first
- Income security
- Interesting and meaningful work
- Professional growth
My ultimate principle is personal freedom in general, and work related freedom in particular: when, where and how much to work, the ability to choose something I find interesting and meaningful.
I’d like to build my professional activities around my personal life. Instead of planning personal activities when the typical work arrangement allows it through non-working hours, holidays and vacations, I want to do it the other way around: plan my family time, visit my parents, friends, interesting events and have other personal experiences first, and comfortably schedule the time in-between for my work. I’d like to increase the quality of my life by travelling when most other people don’t, by avoiding the time lost in the rush hour commute.
Much of my efficient work is asynchronous, done when and where I can focus, have no interruptions and don’t interrupt other people. I avoid sliding into being present at work but not efficiently getting things done because of meetings and other activities which can substitute work.
I will never fully rely on a single entity for my financial security: a company can start restructuring and lay people off, a client can go bankrupt, even an entire state with its social system can cease to exist (as I’ve seen not long ago with the country where I was born), a technological (or other) breakthrough can automate or make an entire profession redundant.
I want to diversify my income sources to different clients and channels and maintain a sharp set of up-to-date and sufficiently varied skills.
I’ll aim to find interesting and meaningful things to do, some big or small things which make the world a better place for me and other people. Only this type of work truly makes me happy, multiplies my productivity, and accelerates my learning and professional growth.
To start changing my life according to my values and objectives, I started figuring out some specific principles and practices that would help me do so.
- Personal responsibility
- Diversification of clients and skills
- Time to try out new clients and learn new skills
- Selling work results not hours
- Seeking long term collaboration but not relying on it
- Work in small clear bits and commitments
- Prefer taking losses and walking away to bulletproof legal protection and execution
- Fixing only the most important aspects and allowing freedom in other areas
My cornerstone principle of freelancing is self-reliance and personal responsibility for all aspects of my professional life: my reputation, financial security, professional growth, and an adequate workload.
To reduce risks I will push myself to diversify, I will work for more than one client (throughout the month), and be skilful in more than one profession. In order to grow professionally and diversify, besides preferring challenging work I will devote time to learn and try new things. I will also devote some time for trying out new clients, even when I can be fully occupied with my current ones.
I always seek long term collaboration, because it takes time for a client and a freelancer to understand each other, and be able to efficiently collaborate without specifying all the tiny details of every job. It often also takes time to learn the domain enough to come up with new innovative ideas and efficient solutions. Even though I prefer long standing collaboration, I never depend on it, I don’t treat such promises as commitments.
Even when I can get paid a very high rate per hour I will prefer agreeing on small bits of work and getting paid for results. That will help me to identify the work which will be the most valuable for my clients, work that is interesting or educational for me, work where I can create the most value per hour, or combination of the above. That approach will be specifically helpful for “kicking the tires” with new clients: instead of negotiating a bulletproof legal contract that would provide for all disagreements, I’d rather cut the small losses and walk away from collaboration that doesn’t work.
To work in small steps I will agree on the scope and conditions of small bits of work to which I commit. To make such agreements (microcontracts) I will clearly work out with a particular client what is important, write it down and leave unimportant parts out. It will help me to focus on aspects that really matters while keeping as much of my freedom as possible.
Many of those practices are counter-intuitive and not what most people (and I) are used to. It’s easier to have somebody else responsible for you and your work, to stick to a single employer, and the same skill you’re already proficient at. It’s easier to spend fixed hours in an office and get paid for them than work on figuring out real problems and needed results, agreeing on conditions and reliably delivering on them. But that burden is a price for freedom, growth, security, meaning and life — and a pretty fair price.
Let me know what you think, comment below to share your thoughts!
As one part of my diversification I’m currently working on microcontracts.io — the service to organize a client’s work into small bits (microjobs) that are agreed, priced & scheduled, and delivered in a way to maximize efficiency and happiness. Let me know if you’d like to give it a try before it’s publicly released.