BEFORE I started freelancing in 2012, I promised to give myself a year and to return to a full-time job if things didn’t work out. Thankfully, things have more or less worked out — I’m still on my feet, still reasonably healthy and not starving and eating instant noodles every day.
Despite the challenges of working independently, things have turned out fine (except that I earn less than I used to) because the way I work and the kind of work I do allows me to do what I love, which is travelling.
If you’re thinking of freelancing, here are a few tips I can give you.
Do something that requires an Internet connection
My interests are simple — I love travelling on long trips which allow me to go away for weeks or months. This means that in order to be happy and earn money at the same time, I need to find a job that will allow me to work anywhere in the world. In this day and age, that usually means a job that only requires a laptop and good wifi.
To give you an example, I’m actually typing this piece on my bluetooth keyboard and my iPad mini, on a van zipping through south Thailand. I’ve developed a headache doing this in a moving vehicle but the idea is to finish it during the day and email it to The Rakyat Post when I reach my hotel in Hatyai tonight. The main reason I can do this is because my editor doesn’t need me to be physically present in the office.
Having a job that isn’t location specific gives you a lot of freedom. Being able to work from wherever you are — whether it’s writing, designing or operating an online shop — allows you to do other things at the same time which really, is the whole reason behind freelancing.
Before you quit, condition yourself that you’ll be earning less
Leaving full-time employment is rarely an impromptu decision; those who leave their jobs start dreaming about it months, maybe years in advance. This dreaming makes preparing for it easier.
Start off by settling as much of your debts as possible. When I left my last job in July 2012, I had already paid off my car loan and apart from my measly credit card bill, didn’t owe anyone any money. Secondly, stop spending on unnecessary things in the months leading up to your big day so that when you finally quit, the idea of saving money and spending less won’t be so alien to you. After a while you’ll realise how little you actually need to get by.
Have more than one source of income
It is absolutely essential to have several clients when you’re freelancing. Having just one client, especially one that doesn’t pay on time, is a bad idea. Also, out of the many people you freelance for, have at least one ‘star’ client — a person or organisation who gives you regular work and respects you enough to pay you on time. Stick to these clients and treat them well. If you lose one of your good clients at least you’ll have another one, but make sure you find a second star client quickly. Look for someone who will give you regular work.
Be ready to do work that you don’t enjoy but pays well
This ties in with my point about different sources of income. Not only must freelancers have many clients, they should also be open to doing different types of work, including that which they don’t enjoy. Most of the time, freelance work that pays well is dull, boring and tedious. When it comes to writing, some examples I can give are drafting company reports, technical writing and translation work.
Keep track of what is owed to you
This is particularly important because if you don’t keep tabs on who’s owing you how much, no-one is going to do it for you, and especially not your clients.
Keep a notebook or open an Excel file of your work. Divide it into columns to show when the work was completed, the dates of your invoices and dates of emails reminding clients of outstanding invoices. I keep a record of all my work in an A4-sized notebook which allows me to see at a glance what is owed to me.
Be prepared to work irregular hours
People who work from home get thrown with a lot of statements. This is one of the most annoying: “So I guess you must have a lot of free time, then?” What office people don’t know is that we have our share of irregular working hours — we just happen to spend them in house slippers and baggy t-shirts.
I have a client who has a habit of giving work on Friday evenings and setting deadlines on Monday. This annoys me because it means that I need to work over the weekends when my nieces and nephews come over, which is the only time I get to see them. Having said that, this is one of my better clients, someone I don’t mind staying up for.
Freelance work is highly satisfying when you know what to expect and how to manage your work. It’s been a long day for me, so on that note, I’m going to stop typing now before I throw up in this van.
*Anis also writes at Five Foot Traveller.