5 Things about freelancing I wish I'd known sooner
Six years ago, I left my very corporate job at a skincare company and dove head-on into freelancing.
It was exhilarating, freeing, and fun! But it was also difficult and it’s really not for everyone.
While I never regretted that decision, there are some things that I wish I’d know sooner. Here are five:
1. Income is highly irregular
Especially in the beginning when you are still building your portfolio and your credibility. I was lucky enough to have been able to save enough to get through 6 months of almost zero income. In hindsight, I was even luckier than I thought for not coming across unexpected expenses (like an illness or an accident) because if I had, I wouldn’t have had enough cash.
And it’s not just during the beginning where income is irregular. Since freelancers aren’t tied down to one client, they can get as many clients as they are able to handle, which means that they can earn more than they would had they been employed. But this also means that losing just one client can make a huge dent in their income. Freelancers should be ready for these fluctuations in income.
2. You have to negotiate all the time
All. the. time. As you begin to realize the value of your work, you become surer of how much to charge for it. But oftentimes, there is a difference between the value you give your work to the value potential clients puts on it and both your jobs to come to a solution that you’re both happy about. In regular employment, this happens during salary negotiations. In freelancing, it happens every project.
Negotiation is a skill that successful freelancers have learned to develop and hone. Admittedly, I had a hard time with this starting out. It helps to know the standard industry rate, as well as have a healthy regard for your skill to make sure that you don’t underprice yourself and that the client really gets what they paid for. Also, there’s nothing wrong with walking away if a deal can’t be made.
3. Flexible time is vastly different from free time
People have this impression that freelancers have a lot of free time but I, and all freelancers reading this, beg to disagree. When you freelance, most of your time is flexible but not free - and that is hugely different.
Free time means vacation time, when you go to the beach from morning to afternoon and not worry about doing any kind of work. Flexible time, on the other hand, is going to the beach from morning to afternoon and then working 15 hours the following day to catch up on the work you should have done the day before.
That reality was driven home the first time I got sick after working 18 hours a day for a week straight because I pushed back all my tasks.
4. Days lost is income lost
Also known as “you play, you pay”. In freelancing, if you don’t work, you don’t produce. And if you don’t produce, you won’t get paid. Freelancers do not have the benefit of paid leaves like regular employees do. The most successful freelancers I know are those with a good time management strategy. After all, you can’t earn that much if you don’t know how to juggle multiple projects, right?
Once I got into the swing of things, my greatest worry as a freelancer is that I get sick. Why? Because if I get sick, I can’t work. It doesn’t matter if I have a perfectly designed work schedule - lost days due to sickness will mess that up. To at least try to prevent this from happening, it’s best to really take care of yourself. Just because you can stay up late all the time means you should. So eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep and rest.
5. You need to create your own benefits
Apart from steady income and paid leaves, there are also a few benefits that freelancers don’t have. A few examples are the mandatory government benefits as well as health insurance coverage. Unlike regular employees, freelancers do not have an employer to split the premiums for SSS, PhilHealth, and HDMF, or to provide them with insurance that would allow them to walk into a hospital or clinic when needed, get treatment, and walk out without shelling out money.
This is a reality that freelancers must understand and address as soon as they can. Those government mandated benefits, for example, accepts voluntary contributions that would allow freelancers to pay monthly premiums to be able to access the benefits in the future. Freelancers should also take advantage of the many health plan options available to them, to make sure that they are covered should the need arise.
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