5 Things No One Told Me About Freelancing

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I’ll be honest. I was terrified when I took the plunge. Excited, yes. But also fearful and anxious.

I was a cocktail of emotions and it stirred me from my sleep with worries of “What if I don’t get any clients? What if I end up earning less? What if I …*gasp*….. FAIL?” Being the idealist that I am, I countered these fears with the mental image of me in a bikini, sand between my toes on the beach with a laptop and a pina colada.

Extra rum please.

That mental image could not be further from the truth. I wish someone warned me but I didn’t know many freelancers so I took notes from maestros such as Chris Guillebeau. And as the saying goes, you can listen to stories of the sunset a million times but you will never truly understand until you experience it yourself.

So here I am, 5 months later with some form of experience and a list of things I wish I knew before I started.

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#1 “Freelancing doesn’t equal to freedom.”

One of the biggest misconception about freelancing is the concept of freedom that comes with it. Freedom to work on what you want, where you want, when you want. What I discovered is quite the opposite.

You really think you want to work when the waves are crashing in front of you? When the sun is glistening upon the ocean, biting into your skin, beckoning you to its sunny shores? No. The answer is no. It takes a lot of self-discipline to tear yourself away and convince yourself “No! The ocean can wait. It will still be there tomorrow. This copy for the website is far, far more important than Bali!” Yeah, you tell yourself that.

Fact is, I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been. I didn’t expect it but when I sat down and really thought about it, I realized that I haven’t just started freelancing, I’ve started a business!

I’m now a one man show. I’m the front end, middle man, back end, everything. Your work doesn’t stop when you leave the office because technically, you have no office so it follows you every waking moment.

But here’s the comforting part. If you love what you do (and please make sure you do if you want to become a freelancer), it will be worth it! Trust me. The dream is real even if the pina colada isn’t.

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#2 “You’ll miss the office.”

What? No way! I hate the office! Those cubicles, florescent lights, 9am meetings and weak coffee. *shudder* 

Trust me. You’ll miss it. Why? Because it can get pretty lonely as a freelancer. You’ll miss talking to colleagues instead of your cat. You’ll miss dressing up for work instead of working in your pajamas (the novelty wears off after a week). You’ll miss having someone to have lunch with. You’ll miss brainstorm sessions that challenges and expand your mind. Now your brainstorm involves scrolling the web while working over the muffled background sounds of “ermahgahd” and “seruhsly?” from KUWTK on telly. When you finally have time to check out that new cafe uptown, everyone else is at work. *crickets* Hashtag #foreveralone #crazycatladywhotalkstohercat

My remedy to this? Reach out to other self-employed people. Aside from having people to have coffee with, it’s also a great way to network. Surround yourself with like-minded people that impart experiences and discuss ideas. People that will help you flex your mental muscles. Your cat will understand.

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#3 “You have to learn to say No.”

How difficult can it be? Just say you’re busy lah.

Saying yes to everything is not necessarily a good thing.Your fear will stop you from saying “No” in fear that there won’t be other paid work coming in.

When I first started out, I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay my monthly home loan that I said yes to a whole bunch of work. Everything from hand-lettering marriage vows and writing copy for EDM’s to strategizing campaigns and building decks for start-ups. There were no jobs too large or small, too simple or insignificant. I took on heavy but small paying work and started struggling with the bigger paying jobs that require more attention. Very quickly, I overwhelmed myself.

So I came up with a simple formula. I identified 3 different categories of jobs and weighed them accordingly:

  • Pays The Bills – Work that isn’t sexy but is necessary to pay the bills.  (40%)
  • Passion Projects – Work that is sexy but won’t pay the bills. (30%)
  • Pretty Penny – Sexy work that pays! (not to be mistaken for a fille de joie a.k.a prostitute) (30%)

Basically I make sure I have at least 70% paying jobs that will feed me in order to sustain the 30% of work that will creatively fuel me. Win win!

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#4 “Know your worth.”

This is something I am still struggling with. People ask how much are my hourly rates (again, fille de joie). I find that rather difficult to gauge. Do you charge the same hourly rate for toasting a bread vs baking a turkey? While still the same act of cooking, they both require different ingredients and know how.

So now, my rule is simple. How much do I think my quality of work is worth? There will always be someone else that will price themselves lower or higher but I decide how much my time expertise is worth. If your client tells you someone else is doing it for a fraction of the price, you have to be confident enough in letting it go if you can’t match it. Know how to be flexible but never under value or doubt your worth.

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#5 “Don’t pigeonhole yourself.”

Another misconception about freelancing is that you need to be good at that one thing. That’s a myth. What’s more important is your willingness to learn new things and not shy away when opportunity comes knocking.

Let me give you an example.

A start-up client asked if I could do their visual branding. Although I am a design enthusiast, I wouldn’t call myself a designer per-say. I didn’t attend design school and my design skills went as far as creating keynote presentations and adding filters on instagram.

The thought of creating a brand identity from scratch was extremely daunting! Before hastily turning it down like a bad pick up line, I asked myself …. “Isn’t freelancing about opportunities to do things you’re passionate about?” So I took up the challenge, learned on the go and lo behold, it was one of the most rewarding experience! Much to my relief, the client was thrilled with the output and am now getting referrals from their contacts. I would never had the chance of doing this if I only kept to what I think I’m good at.

My take out from this? You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it!

So there you go. There are many articles out there about freelancing. Mine is probably no different but it is my own first-hand experience and I hope that this gives you a clearer glimpse into the life of a freelancer. I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice that’s currently my whatsapp status….

“Less doubt. More do.”

*If you have any experiences of your own to add, please feel free to comment or shoot me a message from tercia.strikingly.com 🙂

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4 comments

  1. I’ve just read your post about platonic love and “dear old self” and I loved it. Please keep writing! Your blog is great!

    1. Thank you Sheba! That’s very encouraging of you 🙂

  2. Glad to hear that you are doing well. People in advertising doing freelancing seems to be common. So no doubt, you should be able to find someone to talk to.

    1. Thanks Kwok Heng! It’s been quite a whirlwind adventure and learning so much as I go. Hope you’re well too!

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