Five Glorious Things That Will Keep You Freelancing Tomorrow, Maybe The Next Day

Posted: November 10th, 2010

Photo by Banlon1964 (Flickr)

Photo by Banlon1964 (Flickr)

Every day is a good day, right? Anyone?

There are many little joys to freelancing. Actually too many to even revel in them.

That fat check you got from Mr. Jones, spent a week later.

That week you finally took off because you were overworked… passed as if it were only a few hours.

A masterpiece of a project that gave you pride but not giving you the same feeling on a sort-of-blah-as-vanilla project being worked on now.

Then, of course, there are the so-called bad days. I’m not talking about Mondays or slaving away with bird flu and a bad back, but those days where the shit hits the fan and you see your career hit a breaking point.

Why? These stay in our memory forever as we look back on them like childhood memories saying to ourselves “boy was I reall that stupid.” Today, you can learn to do almost anything (actually more like learning to do something right) but there is only one way to really learn something.

The wrong way. Don’t tell me these are unfamiliar.

Month-To-Month Living

Many freelancers have jobs to back them up. Fraidy cats, I say. You never forget the experience of jumping in head first and blindfolded. Nor the wait until your head hits the bottom of that empty swimming pool.

Oh, such as the days where I used a decade-old laptop, worked in a dark room and ate hearty meals of beans day in and day out. Then the crumbs of work to earn those daily beans. Even charging clients in beans but, for a good client, an extra loaf of bread.

There is no greater joy, however, moving up to the can of tuna to accompany your meal.

Lesson: It gets better. It can only get better.

Getting Stiffed

It so happened that, years back, the first client I ever had offered me a great rate (better than beans) and all the work I could use at the time. I’ll admit, I did a half-ass job and was probably a quarter-ass skilled freelancer but work got done by golly.

Long story short, a lot of work and no beans make a freelancer hungry. Don’t sweat it. You’ll live to tell about it, albeit while suffering hunger along the way.

Lesson: Know whatever the hell it is you’re trying to do and don’t forget to collect the deposit.

Computer Crash(es)

Hmmm, computer isn’t booting up today. Restart (times 50) and we have… a blue screen. Dammit, you knew those strange choking sounds were the beginning of the end. Oh well, time to take the day off and hit up your friend to borrow that laptop. Problem solved.

Oh wait, there was still that project you were working on in there trapped on a useless hard drive.

Lesson: Backup. If you skip it, you won’t miss those lost photos pulled off the Victoria’s Secret website anyway.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Being needy for projects is nothing new for anyone new to freelancing. Many projects equals a pretty hefty payday, if I’m correct. Taking on a request for a new, improved Twitter wannabe for big-budgeted Mr. Know-it-not isn’t quite the way to go though.

Sure, we all like to think we are the designer, developer and marketer all in one when all that can really be done is installing WordPress with a cheesy logo. Ambition eventaully comes to terms with ability and crashes back to earth.

Lesson: Before starting a project, stop counting your money as if it were in a big pile right in front of you. Count the hours you’ll spend on forums pleading for help instead.

Screwing Up

The granddaddy of all things that pervades freelancers. Right up there with shooting your friend in the face as the U.S. vice president. The bright side is that we’re neither flying airplanes nor have the doomsday button at out side (unless that is you’re fallback job). It’s only our clients’ businesses at stake.

Analyzing the situation brings thoughts of a coverup, escape plan or working like mad all night hoping it won’t be noticed the next day. Then realizing the best damage control is uncontrollable sobbing while offering an explanation.

Lesson: Just keep doing what you’re doing. You won’t mess this up this lesson.

Scarcity: Fucking With The Minds of Freelancers

Posted: February 26th, 2010

Photo by Mike Zienowicz (Flickr)

Photo by Mike Zienowicz (Flickr)

Scarcity causes you to do dumb things… sober!

Usually when it comes to reasons why some freelancers never become successful, things such as work habits, marketing and efficiency come to mind. In other words, the decision making that affect their businesses.

What doesn’t come to mind so obviously is a concept that freelancers take for granted each and every day. A concept that induces negative attitudes and actions that can, consequently, have negative results on a freelance career. That is, scarcity.

Scarcity is simply a shortage of anything when compared to the high demand for it.

To give an example of the power of scarcity, my favorite was in 1999 with the Y2K scare. Computers all over the world were supposed to crash as soon as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s day in 2000. Chaos was suppose to ensue with disruption of major services, riots starting up and food and supplies flying of the shelves of stores.

The funny part was that in this “holy shit!” scenario that was suppose to occur, overpriced survival kits consisting of one, three and six month supplies of freeze-dried and canned goods began to hit the marketplace costing thousands of (U.S.) dollars.

My landlord, who I lived with at the time, bought the six month variety for a family of three. He figured he would also throw in a few shotguns, in case things really got out of control. Surely, he wasn’t the only one.

Needless to say, no shortages nor riots occurred and boxes of non refundable pork and beans were there to prove it. There is still no word if the newly acquired shotguns were used on him by his wife or son.

If there is a lesson learned, those reactions to scarcity lead to an impulsive decision that may have seemed reasonable, even prudent, at the time. In the end, however, it became a mistake and a costly one too.

Scarcity has the affect of triggering negative emotions, primarily fear, panic and greed. It’s being backed into a corner and being forced to make a decision your life depends on (to varying degrees). When you think about it, though, do rational decisions every really come out of negative emotions?

When it concerns scarcity, the answer is no.

So what does this all have to do with freelancing?

For starters, we deal with scarcity when it comes to employment. The bad economy, layoffs, job shortages are always in the news and on our minds as we deal with our own employment.

It’s reasonable, too, that it should have that affect. After all, everyone has to worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head for themselves and their families.

These fears, however, can be detrimental to freelance careers in four ways.

1. Fear of not finding work

Whenever you have that belief that there is a scramble to find what little work is out there, then this is where the bad decisions begin. This surely crosses the minds of all freelancers, especially early in their careers, but it can lead to poor decisions on what kind of work you accept.

First, there is a tendency to take any kind of opportunity out there just to get income rolling in. This leads doing projects you would rather not be doing and, most likely, working for less than what you’re worth. It’s what I like to refer to as freelance “prostitution”.

2. Fear of not making ends meet

I know, this is a universal worry of nearly all freelancers early in their careers. Some, however, choose to ignore it and stomp out the worry and others decide to let it eat away at them day in and day out.

Our biggest fears and strongest emotions can come from worrying if we’ll make it to the next month and can lead to a situation, similar to the above, when not able to find work. This is often a breaking point for young freelancers, who may find it more appealing to return to the security of a paid position.

3. No growth or learning

If you work just to survive and pay the bills, and your mentality is set to that alone, then we have a situation where our career transforms into a regular J-O-B. What kind of passion is to be realized if you are constantly worrying about the rent at the end of the month? None at all.

Career fulfillment is a by-product of freelancing. You have the liberty to make your own decisions and grow in your career but, if you are stuck doing work you hate at a wage not ideal but gets you by, then you are really only treading water.

4. A too-competitive attitude

Sure, we need to compete for work amongst other freelancers, but viewing your fellow freelancers as the competition does no good in your business nor for your business ethics. In having the too-competitive attitude, some freelancers resort to undercutting or taking advantage of other freelancers to get their own work.

Not only can this be bad for your reputation but it hurts freelancers as a whole reducing the value of work in your industry. Plus you won’t make too many friends amongst your peers this way.

What eliminates scarcity from the freelancer’s vocabulary?

This one is easy. Change your attitude, which is best summed up through a passage from a post by Lite Cue 23:

What I have found myself doing lately is shifting my perspective from a debt oriented view to a wealth oriented view. In short, a shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. The economy may be way down, we know this, but people are still hiring. Companies are still producing and lights still need to be designed.

There may be bad news happening in the employment world but there is still an economy and people out there working in it. Well, at least the last time I checked.

Another thing to do is to get involved in the community of your freelancing peers.

Anybody who has been on Twitter long enough, and follows other freelancers, knows that the community is very positive. Not only this but they share information about their trades and some even give you insight to how they run their own businesses with success.

You may then come to realize that the real scarcity concerning freelancers is the lack of them in the marketplace.

4 Surefire Ways To Stay A Mediocre Freelancer

Posted: July 28th, 2009

Its almost guaranteed that as a new freelancer you will go through some major growing pains until things start to work out for you and your business. Right at that point we feel like we’re cruising and everything seems easy when we can juggle around our work while maintaining the business. We finally made it.

Believe it or not, we still have a ways to go before becoming the absolute best freelancer we can be. Until then, we may be paying the bills and things might be looking good but we may be falling into the traps that keep us just mediocre freelancers. The following are four ways to guarantee this:

1. Getting into a comfort zone.

When the time comes when we have clients that give us a lot of steady work, we take for granted the fact that steady work can disappear at any moment. This is in addition to the fact that, for developers and designers, technology is evolving fast and it is imperative we keep up with it.

That means freelancers have to consitently dedicate a portion of their time marketing their services and searching for new clients. It is a myth that all your time should be spent working on projects and earning the dough. And for those who rely on the latest developments for their work (hello jQuery), visiting a few tutorials every once in a while will keep your skills fresh and your services at a premium.

2. Not organizing your business.

Once a freelancer’s business gets rolling and and the work starts piling on, its easy to overlook essential tasks like accounting and time tracking.  Keeping on top of accounting and hours worked helps make the freelancer more efficient and keeps him from scrambling to find those receipts come tax day. Plus it helps to have some hard figures to see how your business is doing and if you are meeting income goals.

If you are not quite at the level to hire your own accountant, here are some recommended free tools:

Time tracking: Paymo Timetracker

Accounting: Quickbooks Quick Start

3. Faulty communication with clients.

Most freelancers work over the internet so the primary form of communication is usually email and instant messaging to a lesser extent. Let’s face it, its hard for typed words to clearly express what you or your clients want to. Plus there is huge potential for miscommunication. Speaking from experience, it is very important to word emails and explain whatever you have to in a very clear, simple manner.

Likewise, on your part, it is important to get to know the style of communication from the client. Many of them are unaware that, they too, need to explain their needs clearly to you. It is you job to pry it out of them by asking questions until you understand the tasks at hand fully.

It also helps to read every email completely and even multiple times if you have to. Nothing is worse than making mistakes and having to redo work due to something you missed in a message.

In the long run, good communication will inspire confidence from your clients and helps those projects go smoothly and more efficiently. More importantly, you virtually guarantee yourself repeat business in the process.

4. Not bothering with networking.

Many freelancers do not want to bother with networking their business since it is more or less viewed as asking complete strangers for work or, in other words, begging for jobs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, getting to know other freelancers, especially in your own field, have the following benefits:

  • You keep up with the latest going on in your industry
  • Sometimes collaborations on projects in your network can come around
  • Sometimes work gets referred to you
  • You can turn to your network for advice  (and even social stimulation)

Networking is not hard, either, especially with Twitter and Linkedin perfectly suited to freelancers. It just takes a little action on your part to say hi and meet others.

Take it from a once-mediocre freelancer

These ways of the mediocre freelancer weren’t observed from others but were all things I went through personally in my journey. The truth is we are all constantly learning and evolving in our careers and mistakes are a just part of the process. It helps to learn from those of others so I hope this can help you recognize what can hold you back so you it doesn’t happen to you.

If you have any stories of personal mediocrity in freelancing, I’d love to hear them. Send a comment below.

Cut Back Your Television… Like You Should Those Marlboros

Posted: February 5th, 2009

I would be lying if I said television wasn’t a big part of who I am. I would estimate that I spent around five years of my life up to now actually glued to it, too. Yep, part of the original MTV generation. Despite the fact that probably half of those five years were watching reruns, I wouldn’t call that whole period a complete waste of time. I suppose I could have been outside making treehouses but what’s done is done. I’m happy to be a product of the original cable TV.

Now fast forward to today and it’s a completely different story. While I haven’t stopped watching TV 100%, I rarely turn the thing on anymore. The primary reason is my desire to be productive. While I have my freelance job as a programmer, I still have my own side projects and other goals aside from that. Television would cut the time devoted to those to practically zero.

Well, just today I ran into an article by Trent Hamm who gives ten financial reasons to turn off your television and ten things to replace it with. I’ve pretty much weaned myself from the TV but here were a couple reasons to turn it off that caught my attention:

Continue Reading »

Top Ten New Years Resolutions For Freelancers

Posted: January 26th, 2009

OK, January is almost over but we’re not suppose to forget our resolutions, right? Neither do the freelancers! So here  we have our best resolutions that we will get around to hopefully.

10. Tax time… time to file that overdue 2007 return.

9. Start counting surfing the internet and naps as billable time.

8. Start a “Ponzi” scheme thing for a little side gig (but don’t get caught like that Madoff idiot).

7. Finally replace sawhorses and door with a real desk.

6. Start adding invoicing inconvenience surcharge to invoices.

5. Stop drinking so much coffee. Start looking into nose candy.

4. Call up all my clients and ask for a raise.

3. Quit smoking (dope).

2. Start hiring interns to do all the damn work.

1. Shower more (or buy stronger incense).

Top Ten Freelance Habits You Might Need To Ditch Eventually

Posted: October 13th, 2008

Hey, we’re freelancers. Cut us a little slack, we’re not alll perfect. If you find yourself giggling at any of these, though, maybe its time to update those upcoming New Year’s resolutions.

10. Windows 98 was from a decade ago. Get with the program.

9. Taxes… did April 15th pass already?

8. Cut back to maybe one instant message program to chat with friends.

7. Internet porn is not considered working. Unless of course you work for internet porn.

6. Work over the internet? Why aren’t you working out of the Bahamas?

5. Ever heard of the sun? You’re allowed to leave the house to look at it on occasion.

4. Even though you can, a freelancer should not make it to EVERY happy hour.

3. You work at home. Your shower is right there. Use it!

2. Working out a Starbucks is no longer cool if you want to pick up chicks (or dudes).

1. No more bong rips before starting your day.