The state of freelancing, a guide to 2017.

This post is a part 3 to ‘Why you should never use Upwork, ever’. You can read part 2 here ‘The state of freelancing, a guide to 2017: part 2’.

Before I go into it, I want to tell a quick story, starting 2 years ago.


I’m fresh and naive to the big bad world, just leaving university. ‘The start of my Digital Nomad adventure’, it was to become. I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok, gave everything away to my friends and to charity and that was it.

Freelancing was hard. Finding jobs, building a portfolio, getting paid, all while learning as much as possible to stay on the cutting edge. However being in Bangkok, living in hostels, it was difficult to even spend $1000. Living expenses were averaging $500 a month. Everyday I would wake up knowing that I had complete freedom and autonomy over my day and my actions. Something I still have today and am grateful for. It’s truly a great and happy way to live.

So I want this to be what I wish I had 2 years ago.

Networking

The absolute first thing you should do is to start talking to people. A lot of people have been asking, ‘so if not Upwork then who’. This is the main problem, it’s not about finding certain sites that are goldmines of opportunity. The best clients for me always seem to be a friend of a friend. Word of mouth, referrals. Not to mention the friends you can make, the ability to interject the day with human interaction and all of the learning materials available.

HashtagLaunch (Free)

Very cool community, has an application process. Mainly for the mainstream tech competencies such as Design and Developing. Has a strong entrepreneurial spirit behind it. Hence the name, Launch.

Who’s it for? — Anyone looking to stop working hourly and to start applying their skills directly building their own business. Look for co-founders and advice here, you won’t be disappointed.

Freelance (Paid)

The description is in the title. Are you a freelancer?

Who’s it for? — Are you reading this post? Then it’s probably for you.

Online Geniuses (Free)

Some of the highest caliber people I’ve ever encountered on the internet. Highly technical questions on Analytics I thought I wouldn’t be able to get the answer to, were quickly answered by 2 or 3 people within the hour. They also have the best quality AMAs on the internet. I honestly don’t know how David Markovich does it.

Who’s it for? — Marketers, those in Growth, anyone that likes Data and Analytics. Everything from Social to CRO is covered here. I’ve also never seen more amazing job postings (Although not all remote).

Frontend Developers (Free)

This may seem like the only Dev related community listed, but actually some of the others cover it very well. Frontend Developers also has a really high quality of people, but they only focus on making functional and beautiful frontends.

Who’s it for? — Do you find yourself surrounded by people who don’t get excited by the benefits of the Shadow DOM? Are you slightly obsessive about staying up to speed with ECMAscript updates? Are you the perfect blend of creativity mixed with technical ability? This is the place for you!

r/sysadmin (Free)

Not to leave these guys out. Sysadmins, Pentesters, Network engineers, you name it. These guys are always left out of these lists, even though some of them probably are on a list , somewhere. Reddit can be a pretty toxic place but not r/sysadmin. Everything from news to career advice can be found here. I think the reason this community doesn’t spill into the wider internet is because they’re all trying to keep a big secret. That being the ridiculous (seriously) amounts of money they can demand.

Who’s it for? — You know if this is for you.


Getting work and progressing

I titled this section ‘Getting work’, rather than ‘Finding Work’, because there’s a huge distinction.

Once you start joining in with communities, getting yourself out there and looking at job boards, there’s still one large hurdle.

Actually securing the work.

The 3 main things potential clients/employers are going to look for are this, from most important to least (Depending on the client, and from my personal experience)

  1. Who you are. This is the thing that will usually be most vital, especially for longer term gigs. You’ll be amazed how at how valued this is. Are you actually able to communicate? Will you fit well within the team? Are you the kind of person that will be available on Slack/Trello/Skype all day? Do you convey that you’re detail oriented, passionate about what you’re doing, hard working? These are all things a potential client will ask themselves. Most will happily sacrifice an arrogant person with more experience than you, for you. If you can demonstrate that you’re willing to get stuck in with the work and really have a go at it. I’ve bonded with clients that have lead to me securing jobs, over things such as Russian Politics; Pornhub stats and 19th century French baking. Be you. Be a human. You’re not going to be wearing a suit to an interview and you won’t be asked ‘What’s your worst trait’. No, clients ultimately want someone that brings value and is a pleasure to work with, make that person you.
  2. What you’re capable of. Demonstrating this is different for every profession, it may be a portfolio, it may be a resume, it may be references. After meeting someone in a community or in real life, the thing that will prove you can actually do what you say can is your past work. Some useful advice is this. Show to clients that you don’t just work for the sake of working. Make sure your portfolio includes your side projects on Github or Dribbble. Perhaps even your personal site. Don’t forget to include your Blog, Twitter or LinkedIn. These seem to be the new extracurricular, or at least show what you spend your time on and what kind of person you are. Make sure to keep it up to date with everything you’ve worked on, including the things that aren’t finished and the failures! Don’t leave them out.
  3. How much you cost.

It’s a hard thing to decide your cost. But remember, it’s not how much you’re worth as a person and never will be. It’s your value to the potential client.

Firstly, never, I repeat, never:

  • Price match yourself with what you see on Freelance job sites. If you’re quoting less than a teenager working in McDonalds, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Work for less at the promise of continued work once the company becomes ‘huge with lots of VC funding’. I promise you it won’t happen.
  • Work for for equity. If you’re a Developer, you’re the one actually building the entire product. They can pay you for that.
  • Calculate your cost based on what someone doing the same thing, but with a salary makes. You have to take into factor 1) Taxes and overheads 2) The inconsistency of work 3) Putting money into investment plans 4) dealing with actually getting paid and the looking for jobs 5) The length of a job. As a rule of thumb, the shorter it is, the higher the average hourly you charge.

You may have read that and could well be experiencing a client asking you to work along those terms now. Trust me, that isn’t the right client.

So, to calculate your value, you need to ask yourself a series of questions. Be brutally honest and self-aware when asking these.

  1. How much value can the client make of what I will be doing? — If you’re a marketer running a campaign that could make them $1 million in profit, why are you asking for $4000 a month?
  2. How many others can do the same job as you?
  3. Of those others, how many are at the same skill level as you?
  4. How in-demand is your skill? If you’re reading this, your skill is probably at an all time high for demand.
  5. What else can I offer? Languages, other expertise, experience working Agile or in Remote teams.
  6. Does my client benefit monetarily by hiring a freelancer? — Do they skip having to pay 401k, healthcare and so on.
  7. How long is the project?
  8. If it’s a longer term gig, will the reputation of the company give you a huge boost in the future?
  9. If it’s a longer term gig, will I be able to learn from others or will I be the Senior?

There may be other questions that are more of value to you. For example, for me, I always ask ‘How much autonomy do I have’, and ‘Do you track hours or are you task orientated’.

If you’re new to freelancing and remote work, you may have a number in your head. You should probably double it. If you’re already freelancing, ask yourself ‘Am I charging a fair percentage of the value I bring to my client’.

Also you have to decide how you want to charge. Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or per project?

Usually, if you’re doing any highly specialized work, you’ll charge hourly. Think FORTRAN devs, Lawyers, Wealth Consultants (Yes, these can be done remotely and freelance too).

If you’re working for a firm for a long term contract, you’ll likely give them a monthly rate. Almost like a salary.

If you’re none of the above, then you have to decide for yourself. The best way is to look at the work that needs to be done and your preferences.

Examples:

A full Analytics implementation — Charge a project fee and give a time estimate of under 7 days.

Client wants random work done here and there. Such as a Payment integration. Then maybe site speed optimisation. Give them a day rate and an estimate in days.

Client wants something made every week. Give them a weekly price.

Length & terms of contract

Freelancing, contracting, remote work.

You have to decide what is best for you. Perhaps you have dependents. Perhaps you only want to work 3 days a week. Perhaps you want to travel. Everyone is different. It’ll also vary massively by what your skill set actually is. Design jobs can last a week, Developer jobs may last 12 months, Consultants may last a few hours.

Just make sure to get the contract written down. Make sure you think of random scenarios and protect yourself. Write them into the contract yourself, yes, you can do it.

What if the site goes down 2 days after deploying, but nothing has changed?

What if the client takes my design work and gets another designer to change it after I’ve finished?

Looking for work

Maybe you just want a place to find gigs, here are a list of places. All have their positives and negatives.

Remotely Awesome Jobs

Remote OK

Toptal

Crew

CloudPeeps

99 Designs

Angel List

Be under no illusion, for the majority of us, not one of these is the Holy Grail.

My advice is to spend a weekend signing up to all of the relevant ones. Alongside polishing up your portfolio. As well as engaging in communities. Local meetup events, cold emailing startups and companies you like. Signing up with Recruiters that look for remote positions. You want as many streams of work opportunities as you can muster. Build your network. Don’t stop until you have at least 1 lead a week asking you for a quote. Even when you have enough work, always be thinking ahead and keeping clients in the pipeline.

Freelancing is a business in itself whereby you’re the service. Yet so many freelancers don’t treat it as a business, rather just a temporary job from time to time. This is not the right way to go about it.

Getting Paid

What is the future of getting paid?

This is interesting because it depends on where you live, what nationality you are and where your clients are. This will try and be as location agnostic as possible, so that everyone will benefit. Also, different industries have different ‘NET’s. Which are essentially revenue turn around times, how long you may have to wait till you get paid.

Ways I get paid:

Transferwise

Get paid straight to your bank, with incredibly low fees. No fuss. Like a bank transfer, except they can transfer any currency from any bank to yours for cheap. It’s also really fast.

Bitwage (With Uphold and Xapo)

More of a complicated setup and involves Crypto. You get paid instantly, money goes straight to your Bitwage which you can then hold in you Uphold account. Any currency you like. Then move it to Xapo to pull it from an ATM.

I use Transferwise for the most part. It’s just that good. But the ATMs of Kiev recently decided to eat my Debit cards, so I had to move to my Xapo. A great backup, especially when on the road.

To be continued

Freelancing and Remote work is a continuous process. Not just working with clients, but also on one’s self. Actually developing yourself. As you don’t have the same opportunities you would if you were working in a location based firm. It’s a completely different world.

It’s a relatively new thing that humans are still adapting to. So don’t worry if everything isn’t going right, right now. Just keep on going.

Also, make sure to join in on projects such as this one on Github. Another example of the community coming together.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any suggestions for edits, leave them in the comments.

Read Part 2

‘The state of freelancing, a guide to 2017: part 2’. — Authority and reputation


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