Are you ready to freelance?

Blogger Dr. Carla Fisher, a veteran staffer and freelancer, shares the ups and downs of freelance.
August 25, 2014

Dr. Carla Fisher is a game designer and digital content strategist with fingerprints on more than 300 games for kids and families. She continues her musings outside this blog via a free email newsletter (sign up here) that curates articles, videos, and games that catch her eye. She can be reached at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com or @NoCrusts.

Whether to go freelance or take a staff position is a question many of us face at some point during our careers in children’s media. Our field offers great opportunities for both freelancers and staffers, so it’s a question worth considering. Many have been on both sides of the fence, including me; I was fulltime with benefits for 7 years, freelance and consulting for 8, and I recently just went back to fulltime.

I get quite a few questions about the freelance life, so to balance out Anne’s post on considerations for taking a fulltime staff position, I thought I’d share some considerations for going freelance.

How are you on uncertainty?

If you don’t have a strong stomach for uncertainty, going freelance is not a fun experience. One month the requests are seemingly endless, the next can be quiet and unnerving.

Are you good at working your network and selling yourself?

Requests for work will not just magically appear when you hang out a freelance shingle – successful freelance takes a strong network, the ability to work that network, and, the ability to market your services. Selling your services can be done in many forms — blogs, Twitter, conference presentations, or simply ongoing conversations with colleagues at companies that hire freelancers. Regardless of what method(s) you use, you need to be able to clearly communicate what you do and why you’re good at it. (Hey, it’s like marketing an app!)

Do you follow up on leads?

A friend of mine went through yoga teacher training and was surprised when significant emphasis was paid to how to run a yoga business. In particular, they were taught to generate leads and to follow up on the leads. Whether you generate leads at conferences, in email, or via your network, following up is critical to generating work.

Following up also does not end after one check-in. The most successful freelancers I know regularly check in with their contacts. Even if there’s no work at the moment, it keeps the individual on the mind of those who might be providing work. You want to make sure you come to mind the moment they need a freelancer.

Can you close the deal?

Asking for money is hard, especially when you have a strong initial conversation. If you’re uncomfortable transitioning these good conversations to paying conversations, then freelance could be difficult. What tends to work well for me is stating fees upfront, “first hour is free” policy, and doing proposals for a block of time with a clear end goal.

Paperwork. Yes or no? 

Paperwork sucks. Do you mind? Or pay someone to do it. Worth every penny.

Does sitting in your pajamas outweigh potential loneliness?

Yes, I could work in pajamas most of the time, but freelance can also be lonely. I schedule regular coffee meetings (networking!) at least once a week to help with the isolation of freelance. If you’re still working with a team, as I often have done while freelancing, then we spend time on chat and Skype, which also helps make it easier.

Are you disciplined when left to your own devices?

Ever see the marshmallow test for kids? In the test, a young child was told he could have one marshmallow now, or two if he waited 5 minutes. Then he’s left alone with the one marshmallow.

Freelance is like constantly sitting next to the marshmallow (or some other delicious treat) and having it taunt you endlessly. Do you have the self-discipline to ignore it? To meet your deadlines, particularly those that are self-imposed?

How flexible are your time and finances?

That said, when you want to skip out and catch a lunchtime NY Philharmonic concert, it’s awesome to be freelance. The flexible schedule is second to none.

The other place where flexibility (and a sense of humor) is needed is for finances. Paychecks are never on time. You have to chase them down. If you have regular payments and don’t have savings to float this flexibility, this becomes nail-bitingly hard.

What’s right for you?

Those are the major things I talk through when people ask me about the life of a freelancer. Freelance can come in many flavors. Some years of my freelance, I was actually a contract freelancer, so I had minimum hours guaranteed, which helps lesson some of the extremes. Talk to other freelancers and you’ll hear a wide variety of models, some of which may sound better than others for you.

My final thought is that none of these decisions are forever. Moving between staffer and freelancer and back again is a perfectly acceptable way of life!

Image © roosterfarm

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