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The Truth About Being A Freelancer That No One Talks About, and How to Overcome It

by Amanda Lim. |

When you tell your friends you're a 'freelancer', or basically, someone who doesn't have a fixed basic income – the responses are usually a small smile that quietly whispers, ‘we’ll see how long this lasts.’. In the current world of competitive corporate culture and the norm of an 8-6 office job, it only makes sense most people look down on freelancers. People fear the unknown; and of course, a freelancer who doesn’t commit to waking up at six every morning and gets stuck in traffic every day is definitely the unknown.

The freelancing life sounds like a fairytale with flexible timing, working from home most days, travelling whenever desired and the 'I am my own boss' sentence. It sounds like a dream everyone wants but the reality is that it's not as easy as it sounds. The freelancing life comes with many hidden sacrifices invisible to outsiders.

Here’s the truth about being a freelancer that no one talks about:

1. When there’s no fixed income, it means you can’t just sit there and wait for salary at the end of the month

This often means you have to be proactive to actively look for income instead of slacking off at your office desk and still expecting to get a fixed salary at the end of the month. You have to constantly think of new ideas or ways to earn income and actually come up with a solid plan, implementing those plans and then executing them. It's not just 'I think of these ideas' and then never putting them into action. If you don't start, you'll never earn enough, then how are you going to pay for your bills? In a way, this can be an incentive for freelancers to work hard but the hard pill to swallow is that you have to be independent, proactive and creative to find ways to get clients and businesses, and learn how to be your own boss.

2. Having flexible work hours often also means working odd hours

Even though you don’t often have to face traffic in the early hours of the morning, that means you’re most likely to work at odd hours. Freelancing often means having a lot of tasks to clear and you need to be ready to work long hours. For freelancers, it's most likely you work from home and you'll end up waking up, having a light breakfast and then going straight into work until late afternoon not realizing you skipped lunch. Unlike office hours, you don't have a fixed lunchtime and end time, so be prepared to work past 6pm, even on weekends. Be it writing blogs, editing videos, shooting photos or videos, packing orders, the list goes on – freelancing is not as easy as it sounds. For small business owners in the competitive health & beauty industry, sacrificing lunch to pack customers' orders and having it shipped out ASAP is a common occurrence.

3. People often ask you for free favours in exchange for exposure

It sounds shallow but the reality is a lot of friends and families often ask for free favours disguised as being 'supportive'. Freelance graphic design artists often face requests for free logo, artwork design for free, not knowing how much time and resources were spent on learning the skill and buying the software (ie: Adobe Photoshop). For freelancing bloggers or Youtubers, brands often ask to create content like posting photos and videos featuring their products in exchange for some meagre exposure. The harsh reality is that people often do not want to pay freelancers the justified price for their services and as a full-time freelancer, this is especially tough.

4. Friends and families often look down on you

We all know the disapproving look from parents when you tell them you don’t want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an accountant – it’s worse when you have to drop the bomb of being a freelancer. For parents and relatives, they often look down on being a freelancer since there’s no fancy job title or position attached. Friends would often just say ‘Wow, it must be nice to work from home. No jam. No dress code. Can wake up at noon every day' in a passive-aggressive tone. Unfortunately, being a freelancer is not exactly the most recognized job to have, especially in Asia.

The reality is, if you choose to be a freelancer – life is not as dreamy as it sounds. There are a lot of things to consider carefully before making the change to freelance; how realistic is this in the long run? Can you sustain a living? Is this worth it? Should you try out other jobs and gain more experience while you’re young? However, if you do decide to make the switch to freelancing, you can succeed if you work hard enough and have patience!

Here’s how to overcome the challenges:

1. Effective planning and time management

Planning and timing is key to managing the freelance life. It’s vital to plan things in advance and give sufficient time for things to take place. If you want to be a freelancer, you can’t just do things last minute as there will always be fussy clients and tight deadlines to meet without a superior to take the blame for you if things go south. As such, plan your work. If you know your deadline is in a week, don't procrastinate. Set goals like finishing one part a day or getting the shoot done in one day and video editing done in the next three days. For small business owners, I always see the founders packing at least 100 orders in a day so there is a lot of time management involved to balance other duties like ordering stocks, creating marketing materials, viewings at the physical shop, etc.

2. Networking

A lot of people think 'word of mouth' is a thing of the past. It isn't. A lot of businesses still rely on traditional word of mouth recommendations since it's more reliable and trustworthy than contacting a stranger. It's crucial to have networking skills to know more people and potential clients. It may not seem like a big thing but getting to know more people is the best way to reach out and offer your service/business. For freelancers, attending unpaid social events like media invitation to a new shop opening or business opening allows for many opportunities. Hand them a uniquely designed business card that catches their attention and you'll be able to negotiate your way to how you can collaborate with potential clients!

3. Don’t oversell or undersell your own value

Clients often take advantage of freelancers by asking for low fees and late payments due. Manage your clients’ expectations by telling them what you can deliver in a reasonable amount of time. Tell them your rate is a reasonable market price for the quality you give. If they play the ‘oh, we can find cheaper freelancers’ card, nicely tell them they’re paying for the quality you deliver. However, don't be greedy to oversell your service and charge high prices. Be reasonable. Think of it this way, if you charge a reasonable price and the client likes your work, it's very likely they will come back a second time. This means returning customers! Learn how to price your service or business accordingly.

All in all, if you are seriously thinking of being a freelancer, don’t shy away from the challenges and give it a try! If you’re passionate about what you do – writing, creating, drawing, cooking, fashion, lifestyle – and you work hard and are willing to make sacrifices, there is no doubt you can someday become a successful freelancer that will make your friends, family, and most importantly yourself, proud.

You can also learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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