Lesson learned after one year and half of freelancing
The hardest thing to do as a freelancer is to find a constant stream of work. Constant being the key word of the sentence. You always hear about that one month when this freelancer made so much money, but you rarely year about all the months in between when they billed for zero. It all balances out in the end, but it is a constant struggle.
I knew it was going to be hard. Knew it from the start. I heard the stories. And I already started prepared. Or so I initially thought.
When I jumped ship into freelancing (leaving on good terms with the previous company I worked for) I already had several good clients lined up (including that very company). The problem was that not all of them were good companies to freelance for. You see, how a company treats their employees or other companies employees is completely different from how they treat external contractors. Be wary of that.
Even if you know how it works as an insider do not assume that’s how they treat external people too. For some companies it might be the case and I was lucky to find a few that do, but for many others it is not a given.
Another problem is simply the amount of work not being consistent. The previous company I worked for helped get the ball rolling in the start, but they could only offer so much work. There were other months on the other ends where I had to turn down work simply because I wouldn’t have the time to complete it.
A lot of time is ‘wasted’ trying to get clients, waiting proposals, having meetings, administration and the like. All time you can’t really bill for. It might be that one month you turn away work because too much comes at you and another month where you can’t sign a single contract.
Being good at what you do it’s no longer enough. You might have wore different hats as an employee, but it surely won’t be as many as you will need to wear as a freelancer. Taxes, company business, networking, drafting proposals, deciding pricing, subcontracting work for the parts you can’t do and having people reporting to you, .. the sky is the limit really.
You obviously don’t have to do all of this and if you decide to do it you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can contract it out (the taxes to an accountant for example, the design to a dedicated designer and so on), but these decisions have their pro and cons. On top of the monetary cost of contracting it out you are going to need to check on the work being done on schedule and on budget. When you do everything yourself it is all easier, but if you decide to do that you will be cut out from many jobs where they also require a designer or an application for a different platform since you can’t provide those. In some cases you might be fine with it since the market for your specific skill might be enough to be sustainable, but in other cases it won’t be. Every situation is different so you need to decided what’s best for yourself. Just don’t get too stuck with one way or the other, remember that you can always be flexible.
In one project you can handle all yourself since it’s in your capabilities to do so and in another you contract some work out. This is what separates you from consulting companies, the flexibility. That and lower prices by not having the additional overhead of managing a studio. Know your strength and weaknesses and play to your advantage.
Know when to walk away. There are customers that are not worth having.Let it be because they pay too little, have unreasonable deadlines or are just a hassle to deal with. There will be times when you are forced to take any job that comes in (especially in the beginning), but there are other times when you will have enough work and in these times you can freely decide which clients are worth taking in and which are not.