You Think Freelancing Means Freedom? Think Again
Ask yourself these 5 questions first to find out
“The best way to get better is to decide who you want to become.” — Seth Godin
The phone rang.
Just when I was scrambling to complete my client’s work before the given deadline.
It was my son’s preschool teacher. Ashley caught the Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HFMD), which means he has to be taken out of school immediately to prevent other kids from getting infected.
I had to drop what I was doing and pick him, there was no other way. My mother-in-law has always been a great help to us and we could conveniently trouble her to pick him instead. But HFMD is highly contagious. I will feel terribly bad if she caught it too.
The phone rang again.
“Where’s the draft? I really need this today, okay…”
Not the school this time, but my client. You’ll only love them until this point. Then I saw myself saving my files and closing my laptop with a big sigh.
It was a sigh of “not again?”
Those were times that made me dread being a mother and freelancer at the same time.
When Ashley was born, I knew I had to do something to free up my time for him.
I did swear to myself that I will do something to remove myself from my business. But I have a reputation for producing great designs and putting thought into client work.
Sometimes I wonder:
Am I cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Is that how you feel sometimes?
I’m all ready to fake it till I make it.
That said, the struggles to be a good parent, a good designer and yearning for freedom is real.
“What have I been doing?”, I thought. “I could have gotten out of this shit sooner.”
Seems like there’s some truth to what Michael Brooks says here:
“Every freelancer is a potential entrepreneur or a small company / business!”
As I scrambled for my keys, my husband was keeping the laundry and getting the housework in order.
I looked at him and couldn’t articulate in words what he can do to help me.
We were both freelance designers working on different client projects individually and he was obviously free to help me.
“Right now, I absolutely hate my life. You really need to help me so that life isn’t so random. Could you work on that while I pick Ashley?”
But my thoughts weren’t clear. Worse of all, too much effort is required to explain what needs to be done, it was easier I return later to finish and deliver my client’s draft on my own.
“Arghhh!…It’s still better to deal with the work myself.”
Fast forward to this day.
No, I’ve not yet become a full-fledged entrepreneur that I wish I would be.
But if another call from school has to pluck me away from what I am doing. There’s no need for me to feel bad leaving customer’s work aside and keep them waiting.
Thanks to my team of designers who are willing to do the work, I could leave that to them knowing they can be delivered to the customer on time while I pick my son and spend quality time with him.
Am I really an entrepreneur?
I used to think being a freelancer is the same from being an entrepreneur. Well, both look the same on the surface. Both have their own business, not having to face one boss and have a minimum control of their own time.
Not only until I suffered from a massive burn out in 2014, doing everything from designing client work to preparing invoices, chasing for payment and promoting my own business that I asked myself: “Is this the life of an entrepreneur?”
Though I got it wrong for more than a decade of slogging as a freelancer, I’m glad to realise what I didn’t know all along to make amends sooner than later. For a clear comparison between freelancer and entrepreneur, read this article by Seth Godin.
Meanwhile, any mention of the word “business” here does not equate to being a business owner, just the journey of working towards being an entrepreneur. Now that you know the differences and you are yearning for freedom of time and control of your life, here are 5 questions to ask yourself if entrepreneurship is for you or not:
1. What kind of lifestyle do you want?
From a personal standpoint, it was tiring having to resolve the conflict of being a good parent, designer and entrepreneur knowing that it will never be resolved if it’s all in my head.
I do wish to have the freedom to choose what I want to do with my time. I also wish to control my calendar as much as I can. I also want to create work that I love to do to inspire others and make an impact. Not just any work to exchange for money.
Pursue transformations rather than transactions
You don’t set up a business to sound savvy or look good and your business is created to support your lifestyle on top of paying the bills.
What you want to become will lead you to how you run and build your business because you are setting the stage to the point you want to be in your life. Figure out your lifestyle goals before deciding the switch.
How do you figure that out?
In my case, I had huge commitments that I wanted to take on at the same time:
These happened from 2013 onwards and I did not wish to give up any of the above, despite reading articles and books that say to do one thing at a time. I knew I could take on both, but something has to be done to help me do one of them while the other is being taken care of.
Asking myself “why” many times helps to a certain extent. But the game changer that led me to truly know the lifestyle I want is when I list down everything I want in the following areas of my life on a daily basis:
- Health: Clear my gut and walk at least 10,000 steps daily to feel energised to work
- Finance: Pay up mortgage and live debt-free from 2020 onwards
- Family: Pass down the right values to my kids and spend time with family without having to ask permission
- Freedom: The choice to do what I wish to whenever I want to without feeling guilty that I’m leaving people and clients behind
- Adventure: I want some variations, be it work or lifestyle. I have so many ideas to try to see what works.
Writing these down every day sometimes scares me, because I am not sure if they can be fulfilled. But doing so helps to clarify my goals. You may be surprised, there are times when your goals change, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Doing this every day will eventually steer you in the right direction.
2. How do you become a better person?
“You can’t grow a business past your own personal growth.” — Craig Handley
Sometimes, freedom does not only mean more control of time, space and anything outside of us. Most times, being self-aware is key to having more freedom.
At times, it is only through being clear about yourself and your shortfalls that help you get curious about what you need to learn more to move on to the next step.
In the past, designing client work was all I knew.
“Just get as many client jobs as you can and work hard for them, the money will come,” said mom.
That’s what I did and did really well for ten years.
Asking myself this question then would have led me to learn more about the following:
- Making hard decisions faster — things like managing funds wisely to grow the business
- Marketing and sales — build relationships and share what I know
- Teaching through documenting processes — keep writing even if I’m a designer
- Surviving difficult conversations — without offending anyone and still leading to a win-win situation
- Build lasting self-esteem — could this be the basic trait of a successful entrepreneur?
3. Are you willing to change your “job scope”?
I struggled for at least a year before I see signs of my freelance business morphing into a business that works for me.
The challenge? I couldn’t bring myself to leave the comfort zone of doing everything myself, sending the emails, fixing the margin on the website, working on client’s designs, you name it.
Until I got really sick of only dreaming for that day to come.
Point is, growing from freelance to a regular business is not done by chance. It’s an intentional decision and action to be made by oneself.
As Lori Greiner mentioned:
“Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.”
It is a commitment.
Do you wish to remove yourself as much as possible or do you wish to be part of the work process?
Who are the people I wish to work with?
What are their problems and what solutions will you be offering to them?
If they are looking for a one-stop shop service provider or agency and you wish to do that due to your wide network of contacts, you will see yourself building a team of different skills coming together.
For example, you may wish to hire one writer to create content, one designer to put it on the web, one virtual assistant to coordinate all moving parts.
If they are looking for one graphic designer to solve their blog engagement issues, then you may build a team of graphic designers, one designer assigned to one client account.
Either way, you will have to start changing your day-to-day activities to progress towards building the kind of team you like to have.
The only constant is change.
Make sure you are at peace with this change first and commit wholeheartedly after making the decision.
4. What do they want?
Ever since I watched Jim Carrey’s movie Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, I got hooked to this question.
I started to ask myself this question a lot lately.
Probably not as much as Jim Carrey, but it helped to keep me focussed on digging deeper into what problems people in my niche are facing.
Besides sparking my curiosity, this question has been leading me to respond to prospect’s requests differently.
For instance, just recently, after an in-depth chat with a prospective customer, I emailed him our only service offer.
He wasn’t comfortable with the price and terms and negotiated for something else. If I was me five to ten years back, I would have told him this was how we work.
Thanks to this question as well as relentlessly repeating it day after day, it immediately popped up in my mind that I have to be curious with his feedback, rather than to over-react and push his request aside to have my way.
With this mindset, I responded with a message that carries more empathy and mindfulness of his situation.
That helped because he responded to meet me halfway and that leads to a new offering by accident.
Thanks to this question, I became more mindful and it made me realise that most of my customers will also benefit from this offer. With that, I earned his trust and he became our next paying customer.
If you wish to know more, see this:
5. What does success mean to you?
For a long time, success to me meant to have won, which also means someone else has to lose. Just like how athletes are viewed in the World Cup or the Olympics, it was always a zero-sum game: you are not successful if you don’t bring back the gold medal.
In the case of business, I thought I have to be filthy rich to be considered successful. If my competitor earns more than me, I felt defeated and tend to give up easily.
A lot of it is due to caring too much of what people think.
“Unbelievable happiness comes from a self-belief that’s not swayed by people’s opinion of you.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
In the present moment, my definition of success is to build a business that runs on its own even if I fully removed myself. I’m now working hard to build a team of great people, well-trained to take on all design tasks given by our customers.
The business is now profitable and I’m working to grow it faster to help me save up to return all debts I have, build my own home and garden I love. Being in the news does not mean success to me, though it may propel my business forward with some publicity.
These are metrics I use nowadays to keep myself grounded from distractions of others gaining popularity or wealth. It’s always best to revisit what success means to you because eventually, your definition of success will shape your journey ahead.
What it takes to transit from freelancing to entrepreneurship
At the end of the day, being true to yourself is the foundation of growing as a freelancer to becoming an entrepreneur. This growth may take an immense amount of energy to do things that you may be uncomfortable with and because of this, it may take a lot of time to get there.
In my case, a lot of day-to-day tasks that have nothing to do with growing the business may distract me from staying on track. Hence I always make a point to ask myself these 5 questions to bring me back to doing things that move the business forward. To recap, here they are once again:
- 1. What kind of lifestyle do you want?
- 2. How do you become a better person?
- 3. Are you willing to change your “job scope”?
- 4. What do they want?
- 5. What does success mean to you?
Remember, never, never, ever give up.
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