So it has been an entire year already! Actually, a bit more than a year. I starting writing this last Tuesday but failed at finishing. randomuser and I just celebrated our one year by….get this….packing up both our houses in the middle of an LA heatwave and moving! Woooo. I’m actually finishing this up from the Uhaul truck…while I am exporting and converting Coca-Cola videos for the web. I suck and scheduling deadlines. I’m not even going to have internet tonight! How am I going to upload videos?! :P
Anyways! Can you believe it? A year later I am still freelancing my little ass off - designing and developing some kickass websites for some awesome people. It’s a ton of fun, a lot more diverse and exciting, and not at all what I expected.
Another semi-big change in my life happened like…the day after I quit my job. I went from working 50-60 hours a week, partying all night, and really, truly living it up all summer to dating randomuser. That stabilized my work hard / party harder mentality. We don’t really like people and are perfectly happy at home. Relationships are good on the soul…and liver…and wallet.
Speaking of wallets!
Part 1: The Money!
I had no idea what to expect money-wise and work-wise, but I had crunched the numbers and determined that I had enough money in my checking account to live for 7 months. I expected to get a few jobs, redo my portfolio site, get a few more jobs, and then probably find a real job again as the money ran out. Fuck that. I have created-from-scratch so many sites, worked with other freelancers on so many projects, done fun side projects, had consistent ongoing work on an hourly rate from three or four clients, that I haven’t had time to breath, let alone redo my portfolio site, let alone actually think about getting a real job.
My monthly salary fluctuated (a lot) depending on how things stack up, if I am on vacation, and when I bulk-invoice for all outstanding work. One example: I actually made about average January, even though I spent the entirety of January in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. But, I only brought home $500 measly dollars in February.
I tend to have way too much work for a month or two and then not very much the next month, and then it ramps back up again. This contributes to a fluctuating income.
However, my average monthly salary is up about ~2.5x what I was bringing home before. And somehow, today, the amount in my bank account is 2.5x what it was last year, even though I’ve taken 2 huge vacations. I don’t know how that happened.
All in all, the money is great and I’m still charging too little for what I do even though I keep slowing increasing my rates every project.
Part 2: The Hours!
I probably work just as many, if not more, hours than I worked before. However, the breakdown of actual work vs managing / organizing / emailing / calls is much different. I spent about 50% of my time doing actual work and 50% of my time switching tasks, dealing with clients, managing the people that I work with / for, invoicing, following up, etc. It was probably closer to a 80 (work) / 20 split before. I spent a lot of time managing my life / work before, but nothing like this. Plus, there are calls with lawyers to go over NDAs or work contracts, calls with accountants to figure out my taxes, etc. I have to send invoices, I have to pay invoices, I have to do everything! Ugh.
The hours I work are very different as well. I used to wake up at 7:30, in the office by 8:45, work all day, home around 8pm, work on side shit until midnight, go out and party until 2am or 3am depending on my level of loneliness, and then back to the office. Today though:
- 8am or 9am: I usually wake up, hang out for a bit, slowly make my way to the shower while answer emails or Skype messages or Slack messages or Skype calls or phone calls or text messages. I have eight (!) emails address and together they receive ~50 emails (only 10 are actionable, thank god) by the time I wake up.
- Around 10am: I sit down to work and I usually get a chunk of work done until about noon.
- 1pm: Then it’s back to emails or phone calls and organizing the projects or whatever. About noon or one I usually get bored and randomuser and I go somewhere. Sometimes we go to the rock gym and work out, run errands, go to the fish store, or drive from my house to his house or vise versa. Sometimes we read outside or go to the boat.
- 2pm - Whenever: More emails and phone calls and dealing with shit. Sometimes I get something productive done. Usually small stuff is completed here. Food usually happens sometime in here.
- Whenever I get inspired again (sometimes 3pm, sometimes 7pm, sometimes 10pm) - 1am: This is when the bulk of the work gets done. I kick ass at night.
When I first started, the hardest thing was keeping a schedule. I am naturally a night owl so randomuser and I were always finding ourselves creeping towards going to bed at 2am…3am…etc. This is fine until you realize getting up at 10am is 1pm for the East Coast (where so many of my clients are). There were a few days where I would just truck on through the night and then go back to bed at 11pm to reset my cycle.
Lately, we’re much better lately though. A vacation is a good way to reset your sleep cycle.
The second hardest thing is actually getting stuff done. With so many things happening, a big project is hard to prioritize over little tasks. The little tasks and emails that only take me 30 minutes tend to creep in and suddenly it’s 2am and I still haven’t finished setting up the base site, editing the video, or whatever.
Part 3: The Not Working
So you know how I said the hardest thing is the sleep cycle? I am a dirty liar.
The absolute hardest thing about freelancing is I don’t make money when I don’t work. Not working is far harder than working, it turns out. When I have to decide whether to go to the beach, or work and make $100 or $200 dollars, I almost always pick the work. I expected that I would drop everything when someone wanted to go to lunch or was in town for the week, but it’s hard. If I plan ahead and know I have XYZ planned, then it’s fine. But if someone calls out of the blue, I usually turn them down.
It was exceptionally nice the week that veen was in town because I didn’t get just a quick dinner and then go back to working all day and night. We explored and hung out and I was happy to be able to do that without taking a vacation day for it.
I still have issues though and would rather work than watch TV, for example. I also get anxious and my mind thinks about all the things I should be doing when I’m not doing something, which often leads to me doing something.
The whole ‘to work or not to work’ situation is getting significantly better since I stopped obsessively tracking my time and I now have a few people doing work for me. I’ve also switched to charging almost exclusively on a (very detailed) project-rate. I find that the project-rate is better because I don’t have to track my time and I get to actually devote whatever my heart desires to the project, without worrying about money vs hour. Then at the end of the day, I get a check for 10k or whatever and I am stoked.
Being able to travel is by far the biggest benefit. We did 30 days off in January and 11 more days off in June for Curacao. I let my clients know in advanced and it typically works out okay. Clients respect vacations (they don’t respect nights and weekends though.) I did more work in Curacao than I did in Hong Kong and Bangkok and Sri Lanka and Costa Rica, but that was because a metric buttload of money appeared in my PayPal a couple weeks before we left. Since randomuser and I don’t like clubbing, working at after dark in Curacao was fine.
Part 4: The Things You Would Expect That Are Totally Wrong
Common misconceptions about freelancing include: ”OMG! You don’t have a boss, that is awesome!” and ”OMG! you can work in your PJS!” and “OMG! You can work whenever you want!”
I do have a boss. In fact, I have multiple bosses. My clients are my boss. Right now, I have about 9 bosses who all would like my undivided attention at all times. I get emails, Skype messages, trello notifications, asana notifications, base camp notifications, slack messages, Skype calls, google hangout messages, hangout calls, phone calls, and text messages ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT. My phone could be used as a vibrator (if I hadn’t turned vibrate off to conserve battery).
I do often work in my PJs and go without makeup. It’s nice, but I spent probably 2k-3k on awesome clothes, heels, dresses, makeup, and jewelry to wear to work. Now I never wear those. My outfit today is a tank top (no bra) and gym shorts. This is the same outfit I wore yesterday…except the tank top was white..and the day before…except the shorts were jean shorts and I simply wore a bikini top all day because it’s fucking hot. So basically, it’s cool that I can wear whatever I want but it’s kinda gross, too, and I miss not wearing real clothes.
Part 5: How do you get clients?
This is another area people ask me a lot about. I honestly don’t know. I haven’t updated my portfolio. I don’t advertise or anything. I don’t go on job boards. I have yet to do any work that doesn’t involve the client coming to me and asking if I can do something for them.
Some are family friends who I have known for a while and have small businesses. I think my mom talks about me a lot. One client was a guy I had done a tiny amount of work for a couple years ago and somehow we reconnected and now I’m building landing pages and sites for him. Some are referrals from other clients. I did a site for my dad, who has been very successful running a company for 26 years with no logo, website, designed invoice, letter head - nothing. Blank slate.* I did / am doing a site for a prominent Hubski user / his wife. I do work for other freelancers / people with web dev shops. I met one guy randomly on the hashtag freelance slack channel and we started working together or various projects. On one of those projects, I worked with a girl, and now I work with her all the time. I am about to do a site for a different girl that I met via the first guy. Lastly, I still do a decent amount of work for my old company, but at an hourly rate with a set scope each time. That’s awesome - it’s like the best of both worlds.
* Take this as a lesson - if you are starting a business, the most important thing is to make sure what you are doing is valuable. Don’t run out and spend heaps on a design, website, business cards, letter head, postcards etc. If you are doing something that people want, you don’t need anything and people will still pay you for it.
Part 6: Any Regrets?
Nope. I should have done this sooner.
It’s amazing to have so much more diversity in projects and be the sole owner of my work. Even though client’s occasionally fuck with my work, it’s a lot rarer than at my old job, where both internal management and the client would fuck with shit. That was also more frustrating because I would often get assigned a project and scope of work from management, do it, and then tell management what I did or what we need feedback on or whatever. This led to a lot of information getting lost between me and the end client, the end client and me, and a lot of miscommunication leading to unnecessary changes.
Today, I dedicate a good 5 hours on the frontend to building trust with the client via phone calls and actually listening to what they want, reiterating it back to them, and then talking to them more. I usually do another phone call after the first delivery of design and development so that I fully understand what they hate, are hesitant about, love, etc. Getting someone’s reaction in person or via phone call is thousand times better than getting it via email.
Building trust is one of the most important things I can do with a client. I am fairly certain that my work, code, design could be shit but I could convince them it was good. I naturally spend a lot of time making conscious design / development choices and debating them with myself, so when I get on the phone with a client I can back up any choice I made. This was one key area that was missing when my old job would deliver work to a client. Typically, they didn’t get on the phone, they just sent off the site or design or whatever.