How Freelancing Helped Me in “The Real World”

By Rachel Wong 

freelanceMost entry level jobs are connoted with menial tasks, small things that higher-ups give to them because they are unsure of the newbies and their skills. In big companies, it is also hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd of other fellow entry level workers and rise in the ranks.

When I interned with a start-up, within a month, I was learning new skills – like Facebook ads and community management – that I wouldn’t have learned in a similar position at a bigger company. That’s because smaller businesses and startups had less man-power; everyone was so busy doing their own thing to make the company grow that they did not have time to micromanage. It was then that I got my taste of freelancing work.

Here are a few things freelancing taught me about “adulting:”

  1. Know your worth. When you do regular contract work, there are always people who are going to try to get you to lower your prices, or make you work longer hours without appropriately paying you. No matter what the position, freelancing or otherwise, I found that researching how much other people with similar job experience have charged and use that as reference.  More than once a potential client tried to pay less than my rate.  However, like any relationship, part of knowing your worth is knowing when to walk away from someone who does not value enough. This can mean in pay, in complying with discussed hours, or keeping communication open, which brings me to my next point.
  2. Communicate. Just like a romantic relationship, the health of a good working relationship is dependent on excellent communication. This means telling the other party when there is a problem and setting a precedence for them to communicate any issues they may have. A relationship ends when one or both parties decide that they are ready to give up (i.e. it is not worth communicating and continuing to work on the relationship anymore). When you have something good, and you know it, work for it and try to solve the issues.  And the best way to do that is to set a foundation of open dialogue.
  3. Prepare for tax season all year long. I know, just the phrase “tax season” makes you cringe, but this is important!  And it can save you a lot of panic and time when it comes along. Along with the loveliness of self-employment and working one’s own hours comes the complicated tax laws and time-consuming research regarding them. This is easier for those who work as a full time employee with a company, though it is still a good habit to get down. Make a spreadsheet of all of your paystubs each month.  You can also include work-related purchases and like deductibles with receipts, so that anything you can use for taxes can be found in one easy-to-find place. This is particularly crucial for freelancers who don’t automatically have taxes deducted from our paychecks, so we end up owing the government taxes. It helps financial planning for the future (short-term and long term) and prevents the scramble to gather enough money to pay off what you owe.
  4. Always have a back-up plan. Freelancers do not always have a steady flow of income. Likewise, when one has a full-time job, job security may be less than favorable. Therefore, build a nest egg for the rainy days. Put as much money as you can into savings to remain untouched until dire need. This back-up plan also applies to commuting and company projects.  Always better to have a back-up plan and never need it than to need one and not have it.
  5. Be your own motivator. There will be days when you will want to just crawl into bed and sleep the day away.  There will be days when you are so tired, you will want to quit. The hard thing with freelancing is that, because you’re essentially self-employed, you are your own boss. No one is going to force you to work like they did in school.  You will, however, still be responsible for your own bills. Similarly, no one will push you to do 110% at work, but it would be better for you in the long run. Do not let yourself get discouraged during hard weeks; renew your energy for work and life by…
  6. Going out. Sometimes the highlight of my week is when I can sleep in and stay in my pjs all day, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to your office and home. Even if you hate talking to people, there is nothing wrong with going out for a walk, or play with some kittens at a cat cafe (I went to one recently and it was SUCH a stress reliever). If nothing else, use it to catch up on your vitamin D or re-stocking your kitchen with groceries other than things you can cook in the microwave.  And if you’re feeling particularly energetic, go out with friends or attend a networking event.
  7. Take care of yourself. Even when I used to work only 20 hours a week while taking classes, I would crash as soon as I got home. Though it may be easy to do otherwise, you need to nourish your body and feed it something other than take-out. Working out is another must; spending all of your time hunched over a computer is bad for your posture and your health. It can make you gain weight and drain your energy.  Exercising promotes energy you may need for work, so it’s a win-win. And although you need to get much done, no matter what you’re doing or where you are, sleep should also be a priority.
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