Thursday, June 5, 2014

How to Start Freelancing as a Full Time Employee

How to Start Freelancing as a Full Time Employee

Much has been said in the last couple of years about how to get into the lucrative freelancing business. When I say "much has been said", it is to mean that my experience has been that a plethora of books have been published and many conference talks given that address a latent desire in all employees to consider taking on the risk of the market for themselves and earning the upside that their employers now keep. Anecdotally, these books and lectures seem to have centered around technology and design, which may certainly be a bias, a side-effect of my focus on technology, however the content is useful across the spectrum of industries.

However much you "learn"from these books, both tactically and strategically, it is still quite a difficult matter to do more than bring oneself to fancifully entertain the idea of freelancing as a full-time endeavor. Everyone feels that they are somehow needing to plug a huge amount of holes in knowledge, which I refer to as "gaps", and this lack of knowledge prevents them from proceeding. I might add here that this is sound wisdom. You probably know enough to dip your toes in the business, but as a full time employee you probably don't know enough to jump straight in right now.

I turns out that I've learned this lesson the hard way after a year of failed freelancing and found the following things to be true:

1) Business development is a necessary, ongoing task, and it is easily forgotten at mortal peril.
2) I stank at business development
3) Ruthless time management is a necessary evil that often irritates your friends and endangers your relationships with your loved ones.
4) I am a pushover and love social interaction, and therefore I stank at time management.
5) The ability to sell is a skill learned typically through apprenticeship or through many failures
6) I had neither a master nor much runway with which to deal with failure, and thus... you guessed it... I stank at sales.

Being that I was a triple-threat in the "stink" category, it didn't take long for my little venture to turn belly up. I earned approximately half of my normal yearly wage. Also, don't ask me about paying your taxes out of pocket. Lets just say I did not smell of roses in that matter either.

So, how does one gain some level of proficiency at freelancing if all the above (well, 1, 3, 5) are absolute necessities that only come by way of experience? The answer, most obviously, is to treat your current situation as a freelancing gig. Uhg... this blog post is exhausting and depressing, so lets just skip to the meat of the process.

1) Treat every little work project as a little paid freelancing gig.

This means you work as fast as you would to impress a client. It also means that you cut corners at the appropriate level to allow you to maintain a decent per-hour rate. It also means that you treat your management as the clients and that you follow the same rules such as "make sure the app design stays at the same doneness level as the functional code so expectations are maintained" and "make sure you stay in touch with the customer to let them know how things are going" and "do things that save the customer money, even if it means less work and less revenue" (ok, that last one is hardly applicable, but you get the picture)

2) Do bizdev activities EVERYWHERE, inside and outside of work.

Quickly: the only way to learn how to do business development is to do it. Find ways to stick your soup spoon into the pipeline of available deal-flow and sip what you can from its firehose.

3) Keep “clients” happy, but don’t give them exclusivity over your time.

Many full time employees have what I call the "heads down" approach to work. Which means they are working very hard for their employers, but they aren't developing new skills and they aren't able to provide guidance about what is happening in the marketplace.  They are heads-down working and not paying attention. This is just one-degree of "giving exclusivity over your time" to your employer. The employers only sensible move in this situation is to "use you up, and spit you out" since you can't continue to develop into something that is useful to the business in the future.

If is not only in your interest, but in the interest of your employer to not give your employer exclusivity over your time. You need to spread it around among lots of different "clients", including yourself. You should be learning new skills, trying new things, meeting new potential clients (inside and outside of work) and just treating yourself as a business.

That's all. Back to work!


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