So I’ve been freelancing for three whole weeks now and I’ve been trying to keep a list of all the things I’ve learned since the turn of the year. And in sitting down to write this post, I realised what an eclectic mix it was! From work habits to new skills to personal insight, I’ve picked up a fair bit in the last few weeks…
1. I’m still stuck in the 9-5(ish) mindset
Tough thing to break! When you’ve been a salaried employee for so long, you attach a certain amount of comfort to knowing what hours you’ll be working. But freelancing presents both the flexibility of working when you choose to (within reason!) and also the challenge of being the sole arbiter of your own time. This doesn’t mean that you are completely free of “office hours” of course; after all, you do need to be available when your clients are available, and that generally means 9-5(ish); if your clients are in the same country/timezone as you though right? And in this modern globalised economy, that is hardly a given. I’ve worked with clients from East Africa, Sweden and the US in the last few weeks, as well as from the UK, and sometimes fitting them all in is a challenge in itself and I have actually ended up working more hours than I would have in a salaried role.
2. No commute = substantially more energy
I didn’t leave the salaried world to escape my commute, but I have found that by no longer dragging myself into Central London every day, I am able to put much more into my work. Not only do I have more opportunity to rest (I get up 1.5 hours later every morning!), but I also save 2.5-3 hours a day by no longer having to travel into work. And in the freelancing world, that equates to an “extra” 2+ working days in the week!
So not only do I have more energy because end-to-end my days are shorter, but I have also “generated” the equivalent of a 7-day working week without having to sacrifice my weekends if I chose to go back to longer days. Bonkers.
3. Running a business builds its own skills
Now I knew the book-keeping/admin side of the business wasn’t going to be straightforward, but I didn’t realise quite how much I would learn. From understanding the best way to pay myself to working out whether Matt (the person) or Matt (the business) should buy/invest/claim for something, I pick up knowledge about running my business almost daily. With the really positive start to this year, I’ve even considered when would be the right time to bring on some additional help, and that got me into looking at what the actual cost of an employee is. And whilst I wasn’t naive enough to believe that salary would be the only factor, I hadn’t quite realised the breadth of costs a business has to consider when hiring staff. Not something I need to know right this second, but going to be very useful later on this year (hopefully!).
4. The BIG difference between “consulting” and “doing”
As a freelance “consultant”, you would think I would know this already right? And to be fair, I did have a good idea of it in principle, but in three weeks of freelancing I have been given my first proper taste of what it is like in practice. I’ve worked with at least one new client every week since I started, and each of them have things they need and things they don’t. The majority want a do-er; someone who will not only tell them what to do but will implement it for them as well – this is what I was used to in vendor-side consulting too. The odd one or two purely want a fresh set of ideas or just an educated second set of eyes. And for me, these are the most interesting ones.
I had a 2+ hour call with professional blogger from New Jersey last week who was solely interested in consultancy and it was one of the most enjoyable business conversations I’ve ever had. He had the technical skills to work through my recommendations and was genuinely enthusiastic about getting my input. And I loved the opportunity to think aloud and express ideas without any restrictions on technical feasibility or the dreaded “budgets”. Loved it.
5. Side projects are a great chance to do something out of your comfort zone
A few years ago, I came up with an idea for a game as part of an exercise in learning PHP. I spent one Sunday afternoon sketching out how it would work and what code I would need to do it. In the end, it proved far beyond my technical capabilities to build it, so I shelved the idea.
But in an off-hand conversation last week, I asked a freelance developer friend of mine if he had ever built a game. He had (once), but was keen to do so again so told me to send him my idea. Which I did, and now we are putting in a few hours where we can to synthesise thoughts and hopefully get a prototype going.
This little project may of course go absolutely nowhere, even if we do get a prototype version working. But even if it doesn’t I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to put a bit of time into something light-years away from my day-job and you just never know where it might lead…!
As I mentioned at the start of this post, it’s something of an eclectic mix of “stuff” I’ve learned from freelancing over the last three weeks. But in part that is a big factor in its charm and attraction. Yes of course there is the opportunity to build something of my own, and to have greater control over my work (and my earnings), but it is far more than that. I know that I place a huge amount of personal value in learning “stuff”. And that “stuff” may not always represent the most vital piece of knowledge at this stage of my career or indeed my life, but having the opportunity to learn it at all is fantastic.