Brand Work

5 musings from a first-time freelancer

When I left my job I wasn't sure what the next year looked like for me. Halfway through, I've been busy. I've created my own brand, established a new company, I consult and volunteer.

Having fumbled my way through six months of being a consultant/ contractor/freelancer/digital nomad, I feel reasonably qualified to talk about it now. Other contractors had been coaxing me over for years but I loved my job and I had a mortgage to pay. The time had to be right and when it was, I tucked away a few months of contingency fund and set about creating this new life and business.

Now, I’m mobile. I can and do work from anywhere. Holidays become working holidays, which then pay for themselves. I’m not tethered to a desk anymore and I really love that. I’m more productive with my time.

There are a few things I have discovered on the way that old hats will say “I could’ve told you that” but as a new fish in this pond, I had to find out myself. My brain is enjoying the creative freedom. When I wake up it is just buzzing with ideas. I’m calmer than I thought I would be and I actually spend less than I did before (perhaps it’s because each invoice isn’t guaranteed). It’s safe to say the change has been good to me.

Here are a couple of things I’m sharing as a newbie to others who might be considering freelancing or remote work or perhaps those who have been doing it for years to sit back and say ‘ah yes, I remember that.’

1. It’s a balancing act

Making sure you have enough work to pay the bills but not so much work you can’t sleep is a real balancing act. Having to say no to incredible work you just don’t have the capacity to do (well) is hard.

Being a Jack of All Trades, agile or flexible is a real asset. What I thought people would want and what they are asking me to do have been slightly different. I thought people would want digital strategies, implementation and plans but I’ve been doing more analysis, workshops, training and mentoring. Thankfully, I love doing all those things! The variety keeps my work exciting.

I found it really helpful to do a branding exercise at the start. My brand guides all that I do and helps me select the work I do (and the people that select me to work with them). I only do work that aligns to my values, is ethical, makes a positive difference to the world and is honest.

These were top of mind when we created Social Good Ltd and Dinner Together NZ.

2. Your networks are your strength

One of the loveliest things to come from this new #contractorlife is reconnecting with people I had worked with in different roles. Most of the work I’ve done has come from these people. They are familiar with my work, they like me already and they seem to trust me – woo hoo! There’s a level of honesty and integrity that wouldn’t be around with two strangers building a new relationship. I’m even working with someone I trained next to at the gym – a smile and a chat goes a long way!

LinkedIn has been fantastic for connecting with people, it is my favourite channel to connect professionally. And don’t write off networking events, conferences and meet ups! I think freelancers and contractors in particular benefit from these even more since we’re not part of a team anymore. I’m part of IABC Wellington , a communications professionals group. I love it because it is international, so the expertise and connection is vast.

Here’s a few events I’ve been to recently, all different but all connected in a way! What’s your favourite conversation starter?

3. Setting a rate is hard

I’ve never liked talking about money but now it’s got to be a constant ‘courageous conversation’ for me. On a salary, I was able to see where I was on a scale based on my experience and ability. As a freelancer or consultant, setting a rate is a lot harder because there are so many factors to consider: the length of project, the complexity, the skill level required (e.g. copywriting costs less than strategy), the thinking time!

I’m not money-driven in this new life, it’s about doing work I love and that I can show real value in. I just need to know my mortgage is paid and the basics are covered BUT I can’t devalue my expertise by charging less than market rate. It can also upset the existing market if pricing isn’t aligned.

To get the market rate I talked to several recruiters and other consultants/contractors of varying levels of experience. I also went to market for similar services in my previous role so I had a good feel for what was reasonable. It’s still my least-favourite bit of all of this but I’m sure that will pass.

4. Nomad-friendly cafes are rare (but they exist)

As a happy little digital nomad I only need two things to operate: Good coffee and good wifi.

You would think that those things are easy for a quiet little Wellington cafe to provide but I’ve had a fair amount of blank looks when I’ve asked for the wifi code. If cafes embrace the remote worker community, they would see higher sales in the quiet times. On a ‘town day’, I have around 3-4 cafe working meetings in one day and usually the cafes are empty when I have them (I can’t stand a loud cafe for important chats!). We both have a cuppa and often a bite to eat. The National Library is still my favourite because it has a lively cafe with quieter break out areas. It’s also got printers and all the stuff a business on the go needs. And a 3D printer (!)

And here’s a few of my favourite serene little cafes recently. They all have wonderful service, great food (try Poneke’s ceviche <3), free Wifi and good coffee:

5. Consultants are people too

I spend a lot of time working from home and while having no colleagues to chat to makes me super efficient, it does mean there are some days I don’t see other people in real life. Connecting with a few other friends doing similar things helps with that. I also have ‘town’ days where I set up meetings and work from cafes in town all day. People connection galore!

I’ve also reflected on the attitudes people have towards consultants vs. in-house staff. In a past life, there was a real sense around the office that they were overpaid extras. And I’ve certainly felt a tiny bit of that. The reality is, it is quite a task to walk into an existing team culture, quickly get up to speed on everything you need to know (which is usually quite a lot) and then deliver at a high level with happy stakeholders across the board. Sometimes you’re working across several clients doing the same thing. Phew! When I look back at some of the awesome contractors I’ve worked with, I’m in awe of what they achieved (Caro Robinson and Victoria Dew, I’m looking at you).


So there’s a little list of musings from the first six months. I’m sure I’ll look back on this fondly in a year or so and think ‘what a rookie!’ but this rookie has loved every step of this new journey.

Do you have any hot tips for someone starting out in this world? Or perhaps you’re starting out and have a billion questions. Get in touch either way, I’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for giving me your time today ❤

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2 comments

  1. Great observations! When I started my design consultancy in 2005 I was nervous but excited about collaborating not only within a single organization but work together with the greater ecosystem of freelancers all trying to make things work. Famine scared me, but then a few projects and a few more projects and you gain confidence that this way of working is sustainable. Working as a freelance consultant is great and I enjoyed it for over 10 years. One bit of advice would be to never value your personal time by thinking of it as an opportunity cost. When I first started consulting I would think about how going out with my friends or doing some non-billable activity would cost me in billable time, I had to shrug that off and realize there is a healthy balance between feasting and famine, and when you get into your groove you will know just how much work to take on, not too little, but not too much either. I’m excited for your journey thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for these insights Mike. What a bold, brave move in 2005 – you would be one of only a few movers and shakers doing it then? I know what you mean with the opportunity cost thing – I am thinking in hour slots now which is strange. I’ve said no to coffee meetings that are time consuming – which isn’t good. Thanks for the reminder to carve out that special time with family and friends. I constantly have to remind myself of my purpose in the switch – which is to create that life balance and make time to give to my community. Thank you again, Mike!

      Like

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