For more than five years now, I have been freelancing full-time, working from home or anywhere, as long as I can get a stable internet connection. My first ever client via Upwork (previously oDesk) has been my mainstay ever since. For a while, I decided to focus on just that one client and everything has worked out splendidly. Professionally, the job gave me opportunities to grow, to hone my craft, to lead people, and to help the company meet a goal that we all believed in. At the same time, this work-from-home opportunity gave me the chance to spend more time with my husband and kids, move to a less urbanized, more family-friendly location and help give my family a better life.
Unfortunately, change, just like in everything else in life, has come. Business decisions had to be made and sometimes, decisions like these are life-altering, not just for me, but also for a few others. I decided to end my contract with that client and pursue a different path as a freelance writer. It was a difficult decision, but it was a decision that I had to make to be able to grow as a freelance writer.
And if you are also thinking about taking a different route for your own professional growth, especially if you are thinking about diving into the freelancing scene, it might help you learn about more about growing your career as a freelancer as I share some of the things that I learned along the way during my five years in the industry.
Learn to Embrace Change
There is comfort in knowing that you are in a good place at a certain point in your life. But one thing that we all have to prepare for is that changes will always be there to affect our life. And changes can come in all forms and sizes. Sometimes, it’s good. Other times, not so much. One thing that I realized is that in some of these changes, we can’t really have full control of what the outcome will be and how it will affect the people concerned. But we can definitely can make something out of these changes. Be it good or bad, there will always be a silver lining to it.
In all the things the life-altering changes that I have experienced in life, and there have been a series of them, both good and bad, I always decide to think about what happens to me next. But I don’t just sit on the sidelines and wait for things to happen. It might sound selfish for me to just be thinking about what happens to ME, but think of it of how a breadwinner will think about creating a constant source of income for the family. I decided to let go of a “good enough” opportunity, a job that I have been very comfortable in. In fact, too comfortable that some tasks have become too generic. And this is something that you wouldn’t want if you are career-oriented and are dedicated to growing and learning more.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. Things in life can always be life-altering. Even the tiniest decisions that you make at one point in your life, can change things in your life. And for me, being that I don’t just work for myself, but also for my family, I want to take care of the craft that has helped me give my family a good life. I want to be better. I want growth and challenge and bigger, better opportunities. So, change is something that I have to constantly be ready for.
Focus on Your Career Niche
What brought me into the freelancing world is my ability to write well, understand the concepts of the English grammar, and maybe, my openness to learning more. Before I pursued freelancing, I was an experienced content writer, producing articles for a variety of online platforms, such as websites, blogs and online stores for small businesses. I’ve always had a passion for writing, but it’s a career that I never thought I could actually pursue, because I didn’t really graduate with a communication or writing course.
Due to financial difficulties when I was starting college, I had to think of other ways to start my own career, and eventually, give my family a better life. And I actually didn’t expect that my decision to pursue an information technology course would come in very handy. Things that I learned during my college years in Occidental Mindoro State College has helped me have a better understanding of how well written articles can play a huge role in improving the online presence various brands and businesses. I was an IT student, but I have honed my writing skills through college journalism, which I have been a very active participant of for four years straight. I have represented our college during annual writing competitions and have always made my school proud until my graduation.
So, writing and editing. But mostly, writing. That has always been my niche. I am among the few very lucky people who have found a career that they can be very passionate in. And I am thankful because I have gained so many writing experiences and I am still open to learning more. I have plans and goals, but no matter how I plan my life ahead, I know that things may turn out differently.
So as a freelancer, it’s important for you to make sure that you focus on your reason for doing what you do. It can help you have a better perspective on things, because by understanding what you do and how you can do them, you get to align all of the decisions that you make with your life goals.
Make Your Well-Being a Priority
As a parent and breadwinner, the most important resource that you should take care of is your health. For without it, your capacity to work and earn a living for your family will be impacted. In fact, if a freelancer gets sick and is unable to work, you don’t get paid, especially since freelancers are paid by the hour or by output. A day of sickness is a day without pay. So truth be told, a freelancer can’t afford to get sick. Unless, you have a client who really considers you a full-time employee and provides you with health benefits and provides paid leaves, then you are lucky. But if you are not, then all you can do is rest and get back in tiptop shape.
Our health, along with our time and efforts are all very important resources. That’s why you should make every effort to give yourself the opportunity to rest and de-stress anytime you can. Eat the right food, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and spend quality time with your loved ones. By keeping your mental and physical condition in good working order, you will be able to make the most of your time and energy to spend enough time working.
Ever since I started working freelance, I have had a number of health concerns that hindered me from working. This is why I have become more conscious about my own well-being, doing my best to avoid getting sick. Take vitamins, maintain a good posture while working, take breaks once in a while, drink water and eat on time. I am lucky to have a husband who is very supportive when it comes to my career and overall welfare. Because we are both freelancers, we both understand the importance of being physically and mentally available whenever we work, because our careers will always be on the line.
Right now, my biggest health concern is chronic back pain. This is also the reason why I decided to do yoga as often as I can. I don’t get to do it daily, but it has done me a lot of good when it comes to building my core, improving my posture, easing my back pain and helping me focus better. I just lay out my yoga mat in front of the TV, wear comfy clothes, watch Yoga with Adrienne and follow the session that run for about 40-50 minutes, depending on the episode. It definitely works wonders for me.
Create Good Professional Relations
You wouldn’t understand the power of word of mouth until it becomes a big source of your career opportunities. For a number of times now, I have had friends and former workmates refer me to potential clients who are in need of a good content writer. And most of these clients have been return clients ever since. So apart from the clients that I get via Upwork, I also have a number of professionals and businesses that I provide writing services for.
This is why we should never underestimate opportunities from referrals. This has helped me grow my portfolio, apart from what I have already built through Upwork. I have experienced creating articles for various small businesses such as travel agencies, web service providers, managed service providers, e-commerce websites, starting entrepreneurs, and many more.
This is why I always give time to connect with people who ask help from me or want to share these sort of opportunities with me. At the same time, I do my best to maintain good relations with my previous employers and clients, as they may also provide good leads towards prospective clients. I might not always have the time and effort to accept all of them, but I always keep my lines open and consider such opportunities first before totally declining them. Speaking of opportunities, this is something that you should keep in mind, too.
Take Advantage of Opportunities that Come Your Way
Opportunities can present themselves in various forms. It can be through a job search website, a freelance marketplace, social media, or even just random encounters with or inquires from old friends or colleagues. As for me, it came through all those forms. I experienced taking on projects from various professionals and I even help out some startup businesses create content for their website.
These can be one-time projects, part-time or full-time regular contracts, or can also be a daily, weekly, or monthly output-based setup. What I do is, if I can accommodate additional clients, I take them on. But before agreeing to anything, I take into consideration the time and energy that I will need to exert. If the opportunity will be worth my while and will provide me a fair compensation, and I can give them the commitment they are asking for, I take it on. To make sure that you and your client understands what you are both signing up for, here are a few things that you should discuss with them:
- Set your client’s expectations. Be transparent towards your prospective client. Let them know if you currently have other projects at hand or what other activities you may be involved in at the moment. Let them know how available you can be for them in terms of hours and/or days per week, or how long it might take you to accomplish one project or task.
- Make sure that you and your client are both clear about the terms and scope of the job. If possible, have your client provide you a document that identifies all of the tasks and skills that they expect from you. At the same time, provide them your resume and/or portfolio, if they haven’t seen it yet, to give them an idea of what you can do and how much experience you already have. This way, there will be no surprises from both parties which might affect your reputation as a freelancer and the experience you are providing your client.
- Discuss your rate and payment options. If you are new to freelancing, you might want to conduct a research first as to how much is the usual rate for freelancers in your niche. Apart from the rate, you should also discuss how often your client will be paying you and what platform you will be using (Paypal, Transferwise, Western Union, direct bank transfers/deposits, etc). Every client has a different payment setup. Often, it’s a weekly payout, which is also the usual setup for most freelancing platforms such as Upwork, which is where I usually find my clients. Some may still be going for the traditional frequency which is twice a month, every 15th and 30th or every 5th and 20th, while some prefer to pay freelancers as soon as a certain output is delivered.
Be Professional and Stick to Your Commitments
A good thing about being a freelancer is you can commit to as many projects and clients as you can. As long as you can deliver, you can work with more than one client. But the downside of this is that, with so many things to juggle and think about, not to mention your personal commitments with your loved ones and family, it might have an impact on the quality of service that you get to provide. Unless you have a system in place and can work efficiently, no matter how many tasks you have to accomplish, then you might be able to pull it off.
Another positive thing about working from home is that you won’t have to spend time preparing to get to the office and commuting or driving towards the office. Traffic won’t be a problem to you, since you can just work anywhere you want, as long as you have all your work tools with you. This gives you more time to spare. This is also why most freelancers prefer to take on more than one project, considering that there really isn’t always going to be a guarantee that your client can provide you with a constant flow of jobs.
The moment you decide to do freelancing, you will have to remember that you are your own business. What you can do, how you do it and the overall impact of the experience or service that you deliver is what can make or break your freelancing career. This is why it’s important that you establish a good relationship with the people that you decide to work with. No matter what line of work it is that you do, you have to understand that delivering good customer service is essential. Your work will speak volumes about how good you are at what you do.
But the quality of the service that you provide does not just rely on the output itself. It is an overall experience. To provide a memorable service, you should keep your communication lines with your client open. Set their expectation and deliver the output according to the expectations you have set. If you say you will finish the work tomorrow by 9am, you should deliver tomorrow on or before 9am. And be sure to keep them posted about the progress of the work you are doing. This way they can rest assured that you are doing the job as agreed upon.
Take Breaks and Communicate with People Around You
One of the challenges of working from home is that you will have less encounters with people. With no need of commuting or travelling and no workmates to talk to, apart from your client, some people might find it difficult to adjust to a life with less connections and communications. In fact, some freelancers tend to experience depression due to the fact that they just work alone and don’t get out of the house and meet with people.
This is why it is important that you take breaks from your work and spend some quality time, not just by yourself, but with your family, your significant other or your friends. Here are a few other tips that can help you get some happy hormones flowing in you and fight boredom or depression as a freelancer.
- Schedule date nights with your family, friends or loved one.
- Take on a hobby that you enjoy doing.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness.
- Jog, do aerobics or any form of physical activity.
- Join virtual communities for freelancers.
Save Up, Invest, Get Insured
One of the few disadvantages of freelancing is that you don’t get the same benefits that regular employers are mandated to give to their employees. In the Philippines, labor laws dictate that that employees should receive SSS, PhilHealth and PagIBIG, as well as an annual 13th-month pay. Freelancers don’t get have those. Unless, you pay for these benefits on your own.
My husband and I decided to continue paying PhilHealth membership for our household. One account (Stan’s) to cover him, me and our two daughters. We also decided to sign up for our individual life insurances through Sun Life, which also acts as our savings and investment account.
The thing is my husband and I would like to make sure that we get to provide our family with a good life, even if, God forbid, something happens to us or one of us. We would like to give our kids the option to pursue a career that they want to pursue. So we saw the need to invest a portion of our earnings to something that we can benefit from in one form or another.
I don’t claim to be an expert in freelancing. But I have been a part of the trade for more than five years now, and I have come to value everything that I learned about this industry and my craft. I love how this kind of work gave me the opportunity to earn better, grow professionally and be able to spend more time with my family without sacrifice one thing for the other.
I hope this list helps you prepare for what lies ahead in the world of freelancing. Whether you are a newbie or you have been in the industry for more years than I have and you have a few tips that you would like to share, I’d love to read about it, too.