Freelancing is Deadly, Like a Chainsaw pt 1.

Have you heard about The Micropreneur Manifesto by Rob Walling? Neither had I until I ran into this post from Dave Donaldson (@arcware). If you haven’t read Dave’s blog before, you really really should.

Anyway, one of the maxims states the following:

#4 | Freelancing is Dangerous

As you look for a way out of our job you may be tempted by a seemingly easy way out: freelancing. You might have heard that doing freelance work is a great way to break free. Maybe you’ve even taken the plunge.

Every corporate cog dreams of doing freelance work because they think it consists of working in a coffee shop with attractive baristas serving free lattes, cutting a deal on your cell phone just before logging off for the day around noon to go catch a matinee.

The real story is getting a call at 7pm on Friday from an angry client telling you that their site hasn’t been updated, or the server going down at midnight and having to take care of it while you’re on vacation.

With freelance work, you essentially trade your one boss for many—except now they’re called clients. And they don’t pay for health care or vacation days, or worry about your job satisfaction. Some won’t even feel obligated to pay you for the work you’ve done.

So while it may seem tempting, freelancing typically results in working more hours, not less. Which means it will take you that much longer to get your product launched.

Now Rob isn’t wrong, this is exactly what can happen to you when you freelance. Your crazy demanding boss becomes twelve crazy demanding clients. You client doesn’t pay for the hours you bill. You’re working on the weekends and fielding phone calls over dinner while your spouse glares at you in stoney silence. If this is your life right now, let me extend out a friendly hand to you . . .

. . and slap you hard in the face.

Because it’s your fault. Because you trained your clients to be that way. They’re emailing/calling you at all hours because they know you’ll respond, because you’ve responded all those times before. They don’t pay your invoices because you’ve placed deployed their code on their servers before you’ve collected payment. They don’t pay because you haven’t billed them for time spent fixing bugs/defects in the code, because all those times before you’ve felt guilty and fixed it “just this once.”

I’ve been there, that was me my first year and a half. I spent so much time dealing with this one client my nine month savings runway dwindled to four weeks and I was a stressed out wreck.

Until I had enough, I had to fire them and take a long hard look at what I had done wrong.

And that’s where Rob’s bleak world of freelancing hell falls apart. As a freelancer, the greatest tool you have is the ability to set the conditions of your work. You decide who to work with, how much you want to get paid (notice the phrasing, it’s what *you* want to get paid) and the schedule of when the work is completed. The best time to negotiate these terms is at the start of the project; set the boundaries at the beginning of the working relationship, and enforce those boundaries throughout the course of the project (and after). You also get to fire your client if things get to a point where you can no longer continue.

That’s what I did, I fired a client that stayed with me as I went from a part-time freelancer to full-time. I took on small projects with a faster turn around, adopted tools that would help me add value to my clients that didn’t involve a lot of custom development. I learned how to ask for a higher rate, maintenance retainers, and set a timeline for payment in installments (it’s easier than you think). I also learned to say ‘no’ to clients/projects that didn’t fit my new work style. In a year, I had climbed myself out of the hole I dug for myself and started putting money back into savings.

I began to understand something about freelancing. It’s a chainsaw, wielded correctly it can quickly cut down a forest of obstacles between you and your goals. If you use it incorrectly, you can just as quickly chop off your own legs.

In the next post I’ll talk about how you can use freelancing to help you launch your product.