Everyone heard about freelancing at least once. Many people dream to try it. I was one of these people for a long time until this year. And now it's a reality, I celebrate my first year without office. To be honest, it's amazing. You still need to work a lot, no one pays you to be at home or on a sunny beach, but nothing surprising here, right? Today I want to share my story, experience, and plans regarding freelancing and remote working in general. This post will be helpful for people who still think about switching.
So let's start with definitions. A freelancer is a self-employed person who offers services, often working on several jobs for multiple clients at one time. Remote working is a type of work where you don't need to be present at the office. You can work from home, at the library, or even at the beach. If you have access to a network and can communicate online you are good to go for a remote. The latest pandemic of COVID-19 forced many people to practice it. Official reports show that a major amount of companies are happy with the outcome. So I think this trend will continue and more and more people will switch every year.
One year ago I left my last office job in Hamburg, Germany. On the applying stage they seemed cool for me, the CEO managed to sell me his company. But two months later the overall company impression was extremely bad for me. The management, office atmosphere, deadlines, working hours were terrible. Few other companies before were not totally different in a better way. I needed the change in my professional life and started searching for freelance positions. After one month I was hired by a new company remotely at the same hourly rate. But instead of a fixed salary, I had to provide monthly invoices including hours spent on different projects. It worked out well and I got used to it without any problem. Total freedom of your time, better project managers who listen to you, no checking every half hour if you are still in front of the screen. Already for 1 year I continue freelancing and practicing being Digital Nomad in our wonderful century of technologies.
I also successfully managed to get in Upwork after three months of trials. Upwork is the biggest freelance platform in the world and competition is extremely high. This platform turned out to be totally different than I imagined. Since I got my clients directly I will skip this part for now. I plan to write a separate post about Upwork when I have more to say about it.
Okay now let's start with lessons I learned so far. I ordered them by importance.
Already from the text above you can spot the first tip if you want to change to a remote. Choose your client carefully. Try to find a friendly organization that values professionals and not looking for cheap labor online.
I had an office job, where management was hiring developers daily on Upwork. Then they were firing at least one man per week due to a small mistake or just because the CEO had a bad day and he could do it.
So do yourself a favor and save your time and emotions. Do your research beforehand. Read reviews and feedback on Glassdoor (Note: some companies buy positive reviews). You can also contact current employees on LinkedIn and ask them questions about the company. I personally had such conversations while being an employee of a company and was always honest. No one has a reason to hide the truth in a private conversation. Of course, if the person you contacted is not CO-Founder or HR. Find the people you will work with. After all these checks are done you can go for it.
You need to make a financial plan before switching. At least take 3 months unpaid and prepare your budget to withstand being without regular paychecks. For me, I got a salary already in the first month, but it may not be the case for you. Also, plan your ongoing budgets and spending limits per month. Many freelancers are paid hourly and the number of hours you work may not be stable month by a month basis. You can charge your client for 160 hours in September, but only 40 hours in August since everyone is on vacation and there no enough tasks to perform. To be short make your financial plan, define spending limits, and plan only for the minimum income you are sure you will get. Time by time you can adjust your plan depending on actual data you observe over months.
Next, you need discipline for your working time. After a few weeks, it's good if you already have the exact start and end hours per day. Please try to stick to your schedule. No matter of client size or project deadlines. Otherwise, it's easy to lose track of time while being at the home office and get burnout from working full three days. Everyone knows or at least heard that burnouts will cost you more, than one deadline being unmet on time. So for me, I have an exact start and end times written per week. I am trying to plan a schedule per month. If I need a change I update on away. For me, I got three simple principles.
- Do not underwork.
- Do not overwork.
- Use weekends as weekends.
I think this point doesn't need a long explanation. Being in one space alone for the whole day is not good for your mental health. Do not forget to recover by meeting friends or any other social activity you enjoy. Your colleges in online chats are just digital friends and you need live communication.
Online conversations take time compared to ones in person. Direct messaging is asynchronous by nature. And this is a fact. So be ready and be patient. Respect other's time in terms of questions and asking for help.
Also, try to respect other's working hours and free time. You need to keep in mind their current timezones. Your team can be distributed globally and there is no point to message a backend developer at 04:33 AM by his time.
These five aspects are the first things you need to think about before you change. Now let's see the advantages I observe till now.
Freedom & Flexibility
If you are okay with all 5 tips mentioned above you can get total autonomy of your time and work. You can live in one place, study in another country, and work for another continent never leaving your living space. You can shop during the middle working day if you don't have any meetings. Depart 2 hours earlier to meet your friend at a station and finalize your work at midnight. And all this without worrying that you are not 'motivated enough'.
You can work when you feel productive.
Have a lunch break when you feel hungry.
Or maybe you are a night owl. You observed many times that you do your best work between 8 PM and midnight. If you don't miss daily meetings or deadlines no one cares when you work! This is freedom for me.
You have more time for professional growth. Only time spent on trips you do weekly to job and back is enough to learn new technology, take some course, or get certified. You can more easily explore your future career possibilities and change projects, clients depending on your needs.
You need to try to have less income than being a freelancer compared to the office job you have right now. It's pretty easy to get more. First of all, your spending decreases. Just calculate for yourself how much you spent on trips, meals, or other stuff for the office. All these will be gone.
Also, you are not tied to local companies and can go for bigger companies to earn more cash. You can work more hours than your regular full-time hours in an office.
I mean it's pretty clear for everyone that you earn more being a freelancer.
Programmers can't be productive straight 8 hours in front of screens. It's a truth I learned hard way after doing several short full-time jobs. I always felt discomfort while I was not doing anything and needed a break to think about how to fix a bug or implement new functionality. I hated the artificial 'busy' atmosphere in the offices. Everyone imitates doing some important task while silently scrolling their social media. And everyone knows this but no one discusses it. It's still not cool to go for a 10 min walk during the day. Now, this feeling is gone for me. I don't spend my extra time on break-room gossips with guys I am not interested in, all team meals, or even worse office chores. To give you an example, in one company they prohibited to go out for a smoke during the day. I am a consumer of cigarettes and it affected me in a bad way. After a few hours without a smoke, I was losing my focus, mood, and was actually unable to continue working. Now I have a nice balcony in my living place and can have 5 minutes break as many times as I want and no one cares.
I have noticed that in the freelance world, there are generalists and specialists. A generalist programmer typically takes on all programming assignments in a variety of industries. I don't want to be a generalist. I have a plan for my career and freelancing helps me to follow it. I have clients with projects I want to be a specialist in. If they tomorrow ask me to do React programming instead of pipelines and DevOps tasks I will just leave them. I will find a new client in a few weeks and continue practicing DevSecOps. This means with freelancing you have more possibilities to do projects you are interested in. And if you are a good professional then client change will not be a long process for you in case of need.
That's all my thoughts so far for one year. Freelancing is not for everyone. It has its own pros and cons. For me, it was one of the best decisions in my professional life. And I plan to continue venturing out into the world of freelancing. I hope this post was helpful for someone to change their career for the better.