The much maligned and mystifying world of self-employment is alluring and terrifying in equal measure.
Am I my own boss?
Every client is my boss. Anyone could be a potential client.
I must carefully monitor my online persona very carefully. The trick of social media & digital marketing: if its your business, people expect you’re good at it. All those deeply political ruminations I make on Facebook require iron clad privacy settings. I would recommend checking your privacy setting weekly. I recently had an ex girlfriend circa 20 years ago suddenly start liking, sharing and messaging me out of the blue. I immediately checked my privacy settings. Voila! Facebook had suddenly made all of my posts public.
Do I set my own hours?
Client meetings, sales calls, all in person occasions are typically in the 9-5 range. Predominately in the morning. When I’m working with a contractor, collaborator or developer it can span time zones ranging from UTC +7 (Poland) to where I live in UTC -8. This is tricky to be polite. I’ve learned NEVER to work with Indian, Russian, Ukrainian or Pakistani firms. The time zones and holidays are impossible, the cultures incompatible and the products are usually unusable, filled with bugs. The old axiom is true: You Get What You Pay For.
Poland made an interesting choice: educating it’s workforce for specific technical niches and proprietary software. I find I have few problems with overt chauvinism, response times and the work products are very good. I don’t often contract out but once in a while it’s necessary. Otherwise I do it all myself.
Those are the two biggest questions I’m asked. I know everyone wonders about the money. How much do I make? Is it good money? When I call myself a Web Developer, which I am many days of the month, people are impressed, assuming I carry home large canvas sacks with large green dollar signs printed on them. Actually, I take Paypal, Square, cash or check. If anyone paid me in bags of money- well that would be awesome.
I make a living. Luckily I have a spouse with a regular job. This is typical of freelancers that don’t have 4 roommates, trust funds, are just moonlighting or have one really big client that is their income. Often firms will “contract” with creatives and techs for short to long-term projects or to protect against the boom and bust cycle of gaining and losing clients.
Firms gain and lose clients every day. The big firms tend to hold onto clients but there are literally army’s of sales and business development professionals bombarding one another’s clients every day.
Truthfully, you will get leads. Some of which will result in a sales call or meeting. Some of those will result in a bid. Some of those will result in an honest to goodness sign on the line, pay half up front, sale. It’s exhilarating! Much like a rickety old roller coaster that has killed a few people over the years but stays open anyway. The highs and lows of chasing the sale will bring you the brink. If you are an A- type personality that values stability DO NOT EVER BECOME SELF EMPLOYED.
Once you seal the deal and begin working with the clients you will find:
- This client is crazy. Literally crazy, eccentric and a bit… off.
- This client is totally overwhelmed.
- This client believes you are a necessary evil. They are in fact marketing geniuses that really could do it themselves.
Except they can’t and they aren’t.
- This client can’t afford you
- All your work has paid off and you have an awesome client! Never let them go. Ever.
Also clients can fall into multiple categories. There’s really only one or two ways I ever fire a client.
A- They don’t pay me.
B- They are abusive.
C- They are impossible. When I say impossible, I mean literally there’s no way to humanly translate your
abstract ideas into a reality. Another instance was the client had a weird personal thing with their webhost and I
couldn’t access the server. That makes it literally impossible to do the work.
When you’re a small shop like me, you will undoubtedly have the “tire kickers” come calling. The people who have some random idea for a website and a little bit of money, say a tax return or a credit card with no balance. I’ve done this work. It ends up being short-term. They run out of money, find it frustrating and I do to. I invest in getting these ideas up and running. I translate all that pie in the sky to an actual workable thing, designed, coded and with a marketing plan. For cheap. I’ve stopped doing this because it breaks my heart when it runs out of money. It also ruins friendships.
I have four clients that I’ve had for years. Many have come and gone since I started in 2010. Most were one-and-done type projects. I changed my business model a few years in to emphasize the ongoing nature of the work. Most of the work I do is copywriting, photography, Photoshop, memes and lots of marketing. It’s what my client need and what I love. Recently, I’ve begun producing videos. It’s fantastic.
If you are a freelance Creative Technologist like myself the most important skills is the ability to cultivate and maintain relationships and do the work well. I hone my skills with ongoing education using Coursera. I jump at any challenge and I do my best to be kind. You never know who might be your next client or friend.