Lessons I learn as a rookie freelancer
Breaking out as a freelancer was not planned. In fact, considering my ever-evolving roles in the media space in Ghana, I didn’t know that there was any other option for me other than to work a 9 to 5 daily. Most freelancers come from a full-time career, started a side-hustle, managed the two simultaneously for a period and then branched out at a certain point. This is probably the way to go. This is ideal because if you estimate in six months, you are going to branch out, you should have at least that amount of time to be prepared in terms of resources. You should have enough finances saved up to carry you through for six months.
However, my story falls into another category: People who pursued freelancing goals, from an inability to cope with the stress of a 9 to 5 any longer. It wasn’t planned. I JUST had to get out lest I die! (I’m half-exaggerating). Yes, I am one of those who started freelancing without a concrete plan. While that is not entirely a great idea, it’s been quite an adventure and a challenging journey. Here are some of the things I have learned that could save you some headache if you’re thinking about going this route.
Negotiating on rate: First of all, please don't go my route. There is no point romanticizing entrepreneurship of any kind that has no plan. When I got my first client, I was totally unprepared for how much I was going to charge. My first meeting with a client, I sort of allowed the money talk to be dictated to me without much protest from me. This is probably because I had not defined the scope of work I was willing to do per the fee that was proposed. Maybe, I was just excited to have my first client, but I have since learned it’s better to have a full scope of what services you can and can’t offer. Have those services explicitly written down, if you haven’t already, with the accompanying rates. To do this properly, I had to check what the market rate was and how I could tweak mine appropriately, especially since I was running this solo. Moving forward, I have taken the time to put together my media kit which details who I am, who I’ve worked with and what my services are. This made my life so easy and it simply cut away the awkward conversation about money.
When I send this as well as a detailed description of my rates, it saves so much time as well as a clarity on both my end and that of the client's.
Pricing services by the hour: I thought it would be difficult for clients to understand paying for services by the hour. For most, it is. But as a freelancer, I've learnt that I can't think this way. Of course, that was me thinking about 9 to 5 again. In most Ghanaian companies, employees are paid by the month and that type of arrangement clearly does not work for freelancing. I found pricing services by the hour leaves little room for negotiation. But it was more beneficial to me because working under agreed pay and stipulated time compelled a high productive drive I didn’t know I had. Does that make sense? In other words, I am satisfied with the conditions, so I work well.
It’s a different ball game learning to be accountable to yourself and those you work for. The rigidity of full-time jobs is missing in freelancing. While this is great, it can be so tricky because you might feel like you control time. (In a way, you do) But as a blogger, first, you are not just managing your clients, you are managing your time, your brand and commitments. There is a code of discipline you must adhere to, to make sure you are taken seriously. When I started a few months, to my regret, I realized how easy procrastination can set into your system. I kept shelving meetings for later. Work that should typically take an hour took a couple of days. Trust me, you don’t see you're slipping when its happening. The reality hits you when you don't hear back from a client. But thank God for time trackers, project- managing tools, calendars and note taking applications. Keeping them in integrated into my daily routine makes it significantly easy to know what the general scope of everything I’ve got my hands in. And what I have to get my hands out of.
Discipline is that having a structure in a routine you keep, even when you have nothing to do. This keeps you purposeful throughout your day. For example, its part of my routine, to exercise first thing in the morning, listen to a podcast and then journal. Without getting much done, I am already feeling like I’ve my business under control. Leaving the day to sort itself out is a dangerous thing.
I learned that it is very easy for clients to take control of your business arrangement if you allow it. They will tell you what they expect for a given fee and without proper communication, continue to blur the scope of what you are actually required to do. You need to be clear on the actual service you are providing, the number of hours required to get the job done, and what you are being paid for to do it. If the scope changes, please communicate that to your clients and let them know if that comes at an additional cost. Do not change plans last minute and if you have to, communicate that as well. While emails can be stressful, it’s better to have things spelled out in email, as though you were daft. I once had a client who never gave feedback on anything I did. Email after email, to check the work got no response. After a certain point, I took my cheque for the time spent and left. But I do know that it is important to leave that behind a communication stream for reference sake.
Freelancing creates a love-hate relationship with money. Your income stream may not always be regular 9 to 5-er, you will have to always find creative ways to save. It’s probably best to keep two accounts, one for your everyday use and the other as your business account. You can decided to choose a day, every month to pay yourself, 10-15% of what you are earning. To do this easily, I use money apps like Wallet to keep track of what I’m spending; Or apps that allow me to transfer monies across board. This way, it makes it easy for me to prioritize my needs as well as commitment. So there you go, it makes sense if I say no a lot these days. You see the way my bank account is set up…
I totally suck at this. I know and follow other influencers to know that branding is a key part of the job. In fact, it is everything. I’m still stuck between what my sense of privacy signifies and letting it rip(in a flattering sense, of course). Sometimes I just want to write, I don’t care who reads. I want to write for my mind and soul but I realize it’s important who reads. How do you make an impact with your words if you can’t share it? This is an ever-evolving process for me.
Finding projects you love
Here’s a bonus lesson I keep learning: When you’re starting out as a freelancer, you are pretty much grabbing at every job opportunity that comes your way. That’s understandable; it’s necessary to get by and keep working. I WILL admit that there is nothing worse than working on a project you don’t enjoy. It’s easy to do work for a client or for yourself if you actually believe that the project can work. If you can get to the point where you select what those projects are, that would be awesome and ideal. In the meantime, Love your work, believe in its potential and give it your best.