successful freelancing career

So this happened because I wrote a short note on ‘How to Quit your Job and Start Freelancing / Consulting / Solopreneurship’. Seeing the response, I felt like more could be shared on the subject and it may help a lot more people. So without thinking too much and planning this in detail, I am beginning to jot down 50 Steps to Freelancing Success. Since this is an article, I will have the liberty to edit it later on, after which may think of converting it into an e-book if required.

The Growing Gig Economy

You have to be living under a rock to not know that the freelancing / consulting model is rapidly growing globally. There are many factors that make that happen, right from people not enjoying their jobs, to them wanting more (apparent) freedom, to a company and employee’s life goals not being in sync, to even health playing a major concern, to the fact that some people feel that they can earn more when they work by themselves. Whatever the reason be, the reality is that an ever increasing number of people globally are hoping to find a way out of their corporate job and find a professional opportunity that allows them to work from home/ be a little flexible and re align their life.

The following steps are largely based on my personal journey as a solopreneur and also takes into account experiences of many people I have interacted with over the past few years who are sailing in the same boat.

Without further adieu, let’s get started.

1. Why do you want to Quit your Job?

Well first things first, don’t quit it because your neighbour did. You’ve got to have a solid strong reason to quit that job. Most people quit a bad job to find a good job, some quit a bad boss to find a good boss, some quit because they weren’t creatively feeling stimulated and some because they were plain bored. If your reasons are one of these, then freelancing may not be the right thing for you. You’ve got to hate your job / jobs over the years so much so, that you just can’t take braving the traffic / going to the same office / or any other reason anymore. The best way to make freelancing work is a grave burning desire of not wanting to do one and do the other.

2. Don’t do it if you have too many bills and responsibilities

To not get into too many details, let’s just say I’ve had to manage my family’s responsibilities ever since I started working. Somehow surprisingly I still quit my job. And it was bad. It was very very bad sometimes. It was so bad at times that I had panic attacks. But I carried on. Not because I wanted to prove a point to the world, but because something or the other worked out on this path and I carried on. Now do you think you are the kind of person who can take so much worry in life, that it may even drive you to the point of a panic attack sometime? (ya you can Google to find out what that actually means). Bills, EMIs and other responsibilities are the biggest deterrents to freelancing. If you are the primary bread earner, think twice, thrice and maybe some more before you do this.

3. Are you made for it?

Do you love your designation? Do you love all the degrees you have? Do you love having 20 subordinates work under you? Do you love all the perks that your office gives you? What if I were to steal them all away in one sweeping instant? All of it, poof, vanish. How do you feel right now? Does it feel bad or very bad? Bad is manageable, very bad is not. Freelancing means stripping you off of whatever you know, whoever you are, whichever positions and designations you’ve held and eventually go after your ego with a hammer and some nails. Think before you leap, think really hard before you leap.

4. Can you manage low self confidence and low self esteem?

A job protects you from a lot of unwantedness in life. Freelancing lays you bare in front of the whole world. People suddenly don’t take you as seriously, don’t respect you as much and in the off chance may even mock you. Really, can you take that? Why do you want to take that? I was ok with that because I wanted desperately to get on the other side.

5. Freelancing because it’s easy. Haha

This is the funniest of them all. If there’s one tough thing in this world, it is working on your own. While no nagging bosses and zero office politics may offer some peace, the uncertainty of this very field will bug you completely. Don’t do it because you are thinking it will be easy. It’s as tough or tougher than a regular job.

6. How to Start?

Now that we’ve got this far, let’s focus on how to actually start this damn thing. Content Writer? Programmer? Designer? Selling Products? Make money through Internet Marketing? Consulting? Just what do you do, how do you choose. To this my friend, there is no simple answer. People try and try and try some more till they figure what seems to be working for them. It could be one of the things you are good at, it could be few of the things you are good at, it could even be a remote job + some freelancing or some other model. We’ll discuss some models as we move on.

7. Will I be paid more? Why else should I do it?

If that’s the question on your mind, then I truly recommend there is no point reading any further. You may or may not be paid more, people do it for the (apparent) freedom more than anything else. Freedom in fact comes at a price, and that price (may) sometimes have to be paid with lower income. For a realistic figure, assume your freelancing income to be anywhere between zero — half your current salary at least in the first year. This may be completely wrong for you, but if you don’t set the right expectations yourself, you will definitely fail.

8. Why do it if it’s so tough?

Ah, now that’s a good question; and while it will be answered in multiple ways during the course of this article, I will offer the primary answer here. Most things in life work on simple interest. But a life of freelancing can compound annually. So when you are working in a job, your first year’s effort may give you results in the second year, but if by the third year you have to start afresh, then you invariably have to restart unless you are working in the exact same domain. Freelancing starts working slowly, but the growth keeps getting added.

9. Why get paid lesser when I work harder?

In a corporate job, you are a cog in a large wheel. When the large wheel moves, it generates a lot of revenue. As a freelancer, you are an entire small wheel by yourself. No matter how hard you move, you don’t create a big dent in the beginning. You can compare this with a large ship and a small boat. You are leaving that large ship to actually build a small boat on your own and then row it. You start all this by first learning to swim in the ocean.

10. What skill do I most importantly need?

A little bit of every skill, right from marketing, accounts, finance to being creative. I don’t like finance at all but no matter how much I procrastinate or yawn while managing my accounts, I have to learn to do it. You can outsource a lot of these things, but having a fair understanding always helps, always keeps you in command.

11. I have a degree, isn’t that enough to get clients?

Yes and no. For instance, if you an architect, then it of course helps to have that technical knowledge to find a client who will pay for your services. But for instance if you are an engineer hoping to find programming projects, then your degree from 10 years ago wouldn’t alone help in helping this take off. You have to skill up to scale up. Management is not a skill when there is nobody to manage. You need a technical skill to be able to offer somebody quantifiable value that is worthy of somebody’s investment.

12. What do I need to get started? An office for sure right? Or those co working spaces?

Have tried them all, so let me tell you. There is no one perfect solution for this problem. There are people who are as comfortable working from their living room / bedroom / study room. There are those who opt for a coworking space because they feel like they need some people around. Then there are those who invest in an office space themselves to start freelancing. Honest advice simply will be, no matter how much money you have in your bank, learn to be a miser and learn to save when you start your freelancing career. The lesser you spend, the more you will value it, the more you will be compelled to chase revenue and cover your expense.

13. I am very Passionate, that’s all that it takes right?

Well unfortunately no. Passion is just one thing, and believe it or not passion can even dry up with time. What you need is patience and perseverance. In addition to that, you need to get practical and focus on profit for sustenance. Too many good hearted people I know keep chasing their passion, and while it may make them happy, it robs them off money. Try and mix and match the two, and make yourself a nice combo.

14. Working alone means alone right? No teams, no people to deal with?

Well no. In fact you will have multiple teams and multiple people to deal with, just that the interaction level and time spent with them will be lesser. Effectively you are by yourself, professionally you need to deal with a lot of different people, there is lesser politics you will see yourself getting engulfed in but the lack of team members will also make you feel like you are losing out.

15. I love my team, what will I do without a team?

Well that’s one challenge lot of freelancers face. Sitting alone in your bedroom with nobody to talk to may be fun if you can play video games all day long, but for most people who like a little bit of socialising in their lives, they need to work towards finding good alternatives to socialise and just be around people. Right from organising/attending meetups, to working in a co working space (sometimes if not all the time), to catching up with other freelancer friends to building a virtual network of other like minded people (like a group on social media), any of these ways could work out well for you to make up for having no team.

16. So in a few years, I will have a comparable life as my corporate friends right?

Afraid not. Corporate life is full of appraisals, perks, incentives, off sites and ‘constant growth’. Freelancing is an alternate path, you may even say an alternate life. The world is tailor made for the corporate employee — weekends, happy hours and what not. You will need to carve an alternate life and alternate lifestyle for yourself.

17. Enough gyaan, how do I actually begin? How do I find my first client?

They come from the heaven to be very honest. Just magically appear after a lot of hard work. So let’s assume you have identified a service that you intend to offer, now here’s how you start going about telling people about it.

a. Pick up the phone and call your friends — I know so old fashioned right, but works in 1 cases out of 20. 1 client is all you want, so call all those people.

b. Social Media — I know everybody does it right? Do it in whatever way you think it will work for you. Just don’t start ‘promoting’ it through ads from the word go. Groups / Pages / Profile / Even Instagram — Just go for it, tell your friends and the world you’ve started something

c. List yourselves on sites — Upwork / Fiverr / Even Job Sites are great places to find freelance projects. List list, find find.

18. What will I do with one client? Don’t I need more like 5 clients?

Umm, no, not at step one. When starting this journey, start off with one client, get comfortable and then move ahead. Too much on your plate will not only be unmanageable but also overwhelming. Take it easy, even if the opportunity presents, learn to restrict to first get comfortable before scaling up.

19. So once I have a client, it’s stable income from that point on, right?

Umm no, doesn’t work like that. Work has always been unstable, you only realise that now. Companies opt for freelancers so they don’t have to commit for longer terms. You need to know that everything is dynamic and therefore work on meeting new people, improving your knowledge and building better relationships with existing clients. 2 stable clients are better than 5 unmanageable ones. Once you are comfortable with couple, you can slowly scale your operations up.

20. Should I even be a Solopreneur, why not an Entrepreneur?

Thought its a personal choice, depends largely on your traits as a person. Are you personally highly skilled at one thing and want to reap the benefits of that, or do you ‘like’ to delegate / manage / build things on scale and aim higher. There is no right choice in this but just a matter of choosing what suits you more. Doing something smaller, better is much better than being unable to do something bigger.

21. So how do I sustain this business and find more clients?

a. You give it your 110%.

b. You work for the other person’s business like it is your own business.

c. You remind yourself there is higher purpose for why you are doing this and therefore go the extra mile.

d. Once you have a happy client/(s), you ask them for testimonials. Video testimonials, text testimonials or any other form and share it with others.

e. Get super active on LinkedIn / any other social network that seems to solve your purpose.

f. Think long term / be long term selfish. Help people today and they will find you business tomorrow.

g. There is bigger currency than goodwill.

h. Don’t cheat / lie / steal. You are the business, you are the individual, there is nobody else to pass on the blame to.

22. Should I tie up with others if I can’t offer a service

Yes absoutely. Find other good people to partner with and then offer people a bouquet of services. This will not only help your clients further but also help you expand your network.

23. Network is not equal to net worth, net work is equal to net worth

Lot of people will somewhat rightly tell you that networking is the path to success. While that does hold true, it is not entirely true. I know of people with large networks, but ‘unsuccessful’. Good network + bad service = bad combination. Small network + good service = Great Combination

24. Do I have to be an extrovert to make it big?

Not necessarily. Sometimes all you need to know is one person, a one client. People eventually want people who can offer good services, not necessarily people with the gift of the gab.

25. Do some clients not pay / stick to their commitments?

You will be surprised to know the number of freelancers who have had a bad experience (s) with multiple clients. You see, the world is not a bed of roses, there are thorns all the way, and when you are not on that ship you were earlier, this boat will have to face stormy seas, rocky beds and even thunderstorms. Non paying clients belong to any one of those categories.

26. How to deal with uncertainties / non paying clients / irregular work?

No simple answer, but you just need to understand the simple fact that in order to move towards some stability in the future, you will need to endure lot of uncertainty in the beginning. Only those who are able to make their way through the initial phases, go on to reap rewards in the long run. Life was always supposed to be like a sine wave, ups and downs and ups and downs, freelancing may be the first time you are experiencing it at a high frequency.

27. Can one not go to court to make a contractually bound client pay?

You can, but it doesn’t exactly work that easily. Contracts help give validation to the agreement, but it doesn’t necessarily mean everybody will respect them. Clients will find a hundred reasons, right from non performance to insolvency in order to not pay up when they don’t want to. You must fight, you must fight with all you’ve got, but there is no fool proof method to save you. You must therefore raise regular invoices and collect payments on time. Don’t get one month become two months and make sure the client understands that it is the money this client pays that pays your bills.

28. Should we partner with anybody willing to partner?

Big No. Lots of people may approach you for lucrative partnerships and deals and even co founding opportunities for their companies. Doesn’t mean you latch on to everything you see coming your way. By all means understand everything fully, but don’t take decisions based on desperation because nothing else is working out. In this world there are all kinds of crooks, many of them wear ties and suits and blazers.

29. Don’t take decisions because of desperation

Freelancing will drive you to desperation (also depression maybe, but we’ll take that up later). Now invariably you will find yourself short of a client / short of work and want to just take up the next available opportunity, whether or not it makes logical / monetary / any other sense. Please be patient and think things through before jumping on to anything. Discuss with friends / family / somebody reliable before deciding to take the plunge.

30. Does it ever get dark, dreary and depressing?

There was a phase in my freelancing career, when I suffered from panic attacks. I didn’t do anything wrong, but it just wasn’t easy. If its not the work, you may miss friends. If it isn’t that, you may miss growth. If it isn’t any of those things, you may miss something else. It’s a tough, lonely road through a jungle, you need to make yourself bold, courageous to go through it.

31. Does one ever feel like getting back to a job?

Many times. Specially on the bad days. If this feeling continues for far too long, one may even simply go back, there is nothing wrong in it. Life is more importantly about being at peace than about having to prove a point / chasing the impossible. Other than that, whenever you are low, down and out, just take a break. Instead of taking a permanent break, take a small one and see how you are feeling after it. If the bad feeling continues, act accordingly, if it subsides get back to doing what you are good at

32. How to answer relatives / neighbours / family?

Barrage of questions is what you will receive when you freelance. What do you do? How much do you earn? Why don’t you do a job? Why don’t you go to office? Life will slowly teach you to absorb all of them and become immune. Actually become immune or get really good at sarcastic replies

Either ways, you will grow immensely through this process of uncomfortable humiliation.

33. Will I find a girl friend / boy friend / get married?

Yeah yeah. I did, so can you. When you are doing fine, you will also have the time, you will also value people more and you will be better at handling uncertainty. Just about convincing another person about your goals, objectives and more. Oh, and yes it could very well be that you work from home and your partner goes out to do a job. It’s absolutely fine, you will soon learn to live with it

34. I feel like I am not doing enough

That happens. Because neither do you travel long distances like before. Nor do you sit in too many unnecessary meetings all day long. So you have plenty of time. Extra time will make you feel like you are not doing enough, but the truth is you are doing enough and now need to a find a way to kill the extra time. Try pursuing a hobby.

35. I feel like I am doing a lot but nothing is happening

Small wheel, slow progress. Sometimes you may also be working in the wrong direction, working on the wrong projects, or just doing something fundamentally wrong. Sometimes you may get lucky that someone guides you, or in other cases your experience will slowly guide you in the right direction. If you want all your answers on day one, then this may not be the path for you.

36. My friends earn so much more than me but I work harder than they do

And they are wondering all this while how you are all free and fancy. It may not just be a perception but could actually be true. I have had verbal spats with people where I told them they are overpaid, and it resulted in unfortunate turn of events. Freelancing is working harder, to sometimes earn lesser, all because that freelancing gave you something that the job didn’t. You very well may earn more over time, but don’t focus too much on the earning in the beginning.

37. So many people all around, everybody influences and inspires me

Now if you let others overpower you, then you will even forget why you started your freelancing journey in the first place. Don’t let that happen. Get inspired but not intimidated. Let them have their fancy offices, many employees, foreign trips, swanky cars. Find a job if you want all that, stay where you are if you want something else.

38. Some people claim to earn millions as a solopreneur. Is that even possible?

Yes of course. The internet makes it possible. Don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a freelancer by their lifestyle. Once you step on this road and keep walking / sailing / wading through it, you will come across many interesting methods / avenues to earn money. Depending on what clicks for you when, you can also make more money as a freelancer than you could have ever done in a job. No, not everybody gets lucky. And this luck is preceded by a lot of hard work.

39. But this doesn’t yet solve my problem. How do I build a career around freelancing?

Truth is there is no one clear answer to it. It’s not a dish that somebody can offer you a recipe for, people can give you the ingredients, what I have shared here are instructions to play safe and be aware of mishaps, rest is up to you. Put on your chef hat and start cooking. You could be a stand up comic, consultant, marketer, designer, blogger or even a Chef, who knows? Keep looking.

40. How to grow once there is saturation and stagnation?

Learn to learn and you will keep growing. We invariably stop learning right after college when it is most important to learn after we pass out and are working actively. Find relevant courses, find a mentor, read a lot, and keep growing. I owe more to the internet in terms of teaching than any other formal institution.

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