Here are a few of the things that I Wish I Knew When I Started Freelancing back in 2008 in the back of the global financial crisis
After being an employee for four years, I quit my job to become a freelancer. Here are seven things I wish I knew when I started freelancing. Anyone who wants to be a freelancer today should know.
1. Free Time & Productivity
I would start working as soon as I wake up. I was even doing the basic morning stuff in between my work. After I let my computer do something like a reboot or download a big file, I will find the time for it.
Was working like mad and was earning as well. However, if I evaluate now, I don’t see a reason to be working so much. Not taking days off, no weekends off, and at the most, it was light work on weekends.
I had too much work coming my way and was grabbing anything and everything that paid me and wasn’t saying no to anything. I was working almost 100 hours per week.
Still, I am working very close to 70 hours per week. However, when I was working for 100+ hours, I was trading all my time for money.
After some time, it was not a question of money I was making. I was fascinated that I can make more money if I work more, which was not the case in a job.
2. Work On the Business Vs. In the Business
Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth Revisited, revealed the concept of working on the business as opposed to in the business. It is a critical concept for individual freelancers, and I wish I knew it when I started freelancing.
Working for clients and the deliverables is working in the business. Whereas interacting with new clients as well as working on getting more business is working on the business.
If you are spending too much time working on the business, you can have financial issues, and if you work too much in the business, you can have growth issues.
It would be best to find the right balance of working on the business and working in the business. As Michael Gerber points out, when you are getting started, you should be working more in the business. However, as you move along, you should start working on the business.
3. Manage and Invest money
As an employee, your paycheck amount is similar, and one gets paid close to the 1st of every month. Compare that to be freelancing, blogging, or any business for that matter. One is bound to have more income, but it is quite an irregular income.
You can have disasters hit you, and suddenly you won’t earn so good as you might have expected.
Irregularity in income is quite common, but the worse is some extra money in one month, or two can lead to many permanent expenses. For me, it was purchasing an office space taking up a loan. Though the loan didn’t go through, what if the source of income tanks?
One can have a horrible ripple effect, and I had it because the loan wasn’t sanctioned.
My site’s traffic went down due to a change in Google’s algorithm, reducing my income considerably, which left me with no choice but to work more hours to compensate for the money I need to pay for the office space I purchased.
Investing money is good, but investing based on future earnings can make things ugly if you expect the future earnings to be as good as your best months.
Freelancers should learn to manage money well and keep debt levels as low as possible.
You can have a varied income each month. There will be a minimum income level and a maximum income level. To manage it efficiently, you should not be investing, assuming you can make it close to the maximum level each month for an extended period.
Make a habit of putting extra income into a separate bank account and don’t focus on investing it unless you can pay the full amount or maximum portion of the investment from that bank account itself.
4. How much should I charge?
When I was doing a job, my take-home salary was close to ₹50,000. I needed half of that amount to sustain my family, which I started as a ballpark amount for my hourly rates. It was lower than the lowest hourly rate that is allowed on various freelancing sites, and so I started with $5.
Soon I had too much work coming my way. So I increased by $5 every few months but was skeptical because it was 2009-2010 when market conditions weren’t right. I always took a little longer to increase my hourly rates, and I still take a long time to raise my hourly rates.
There is a formula about how much you should be charging your clients that I have now. However, I wish I knew it when I started freelancing. I still hesitate to increase my hourly rates for my existing clients.
5. What technology should I work on
I had three years of development experience in C++, MFC, and C#. However, I wasn’t sure what technology would work better when it comes to freelance.
My sites are and were in PHP and vBulletin, which took me towards PHP and vBulletin. The approach was I was making up things as they came.
I never wanted to be a web developer or an SEO consultant. I am interested in learning new things, which make me what I am today, from C++ to PHP to vBulletin to Xenforo and WordPress to SEO and Marketing.
The most important aspect is to be able to change to things that are working in the freelancing world and not remain stuck to one technology or service.
You can start with whatever you are experienced and best. However, try to move to things that work, as well. If you are a designer, don’t just remain a designer. Move to better-paying technologies as you move along in your freelancing career.
6. I can Fire Clients
I wasn’t saying no to anything on Freelancing sites like Upwork or Elance back then. Over time, I realized that we not only can say no to clients, but we can even fire clients.
Still, I don’t like to fire clients, but some clients are too challenging to handle, and I have to do it.
There is very little one can do about it, but then one has to do it.
If I knew I could fire clients when I started as a freelancer, things would have been a lot different. There were projects that I wished I have never worked on.
Better late than never, and now when I know I can fire clients and the way I do it now is ask for a very high price. Some clients do pay, but often the client looks for an alternative way to get the task done.
7. Clients are Looking for Experts
Starting as a freelancer, often we assume clients are looking for a cheaper way to get the task done.
However, new freelancers fail to realize is a cheaper way doesn’t mean the client won’t select a freelancer who has quoted the least.
They are looking for someone who can get the job done, maintaining the same quality. Once everything is equal, the choice will be based on price.
The price is the last factor to decide the right person and not the first factor. The first factor is always of the freelancer who can show the expertise to get the job done. I wish I knew it when I started freelancing.