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Transitioning from corporate life to freelance life

(ENTREPRENEUR) A look at what it takes to pivot your career from corporate cubicles to your couch at home.

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Freelancing is rad. I’ve gone into some depth on why I think that’s the case and even provided some thoughts and resources for my rush hour and necktie-averse kin.

Freelancing is also challenging, in many ways more so than office work. I’ve transitioned between the two, both ways, and while I’ve landed on the liberating, self-motivated (but insecure, complicated and confusing) freelance side rather than the dull, workaday cube farm side (with it benefits, job security and human interaction) I can obviously see arguments for both.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I set out to navigate the minefield between corporate and freelance work. With any luck, it should help you do the same without hearing a click and having to offer a sad and final “oops.”

Have a plan.

This is where going corporate to freelance starts to differ from vice versa. Choosing a new corporate employer takes hard goals, but also flexibility: an ex-freelancer has to learn to accommodate other people’s plans, on account of, you know, working with other people now.

Entering the freelance world requires the opposite.

You don’t just need goals. You need a schedule.

You need deliverables, you need a budget, you need Plans B-Z inclusive for when you come in over or under, because you will.

In short, you need a boss in your head.

It is the best boss you’ll ever have: that cat (feel free to imagine it as an actual cat in a business suit; I certainly do) doesn’t care if you party til 2am on a Wednesday, or skive off for three hours in the middle of the day to catch “Fate of the Furious” at matinee prices. All your new boss cares about is hitting the numbers.

Have numbers. Hit them.

Go slowly.

This is the one that everyone screws up, by which I mean that I did. It is so tempting to stick your boss’ tie in the shredder, shot put your least favorite appliance out the window and burn a sweet donut in the parking lot before you drive off to your freelancer future. Every office drone’s dream, right?

Don’t do it. Do not.

On my last day before I went freelance, I wore a Metallica tee and sweats to my shirt-and-tie day job. Joked with my cube buddy, what were they gonna do, fire me?

Thing is? That was the first time I went freelance.

As you’ll recall from the intro, I’ve done that twice. Thankfully, when I did have to return to the realm of gridlock and beige, I was in a different time zone. But the whole reason I had to return to the corporate world in the first place was summed up in that I didn’t prepare. I did the dream, cut loose, and burned the bridges behind me. Unwise.

It’s standard wisdom that you should build up savings before starting a business. Real talk: for an awful lot of people, that’s fantasy. Even in my coziest corporate days, north of the 50th percentile, between rent and urban cost of living my only shot at meaningful savings was retailing organs.

Keep your kidneys. Instead, bank your time.

I’m a writer. You may have noticed. Most of my day jobs involved that skill. If you think every character I typed into Word in my cube days was corporate-approved, as opposed to projects or practice for my freelance adventures, there’s this great bridge I’d like to sell you.

So for the first few months, keep your day job and build your skills.

Take small projects on your own time, buoyed with that glorious cushion of salary.

Train your brains out. You may even be able to do that at work: plenty of employers, especially in fields like tech and medicine that a) value certification b) translate nicely to freelancing, will shell out to train you up. Wade into the shallow end while you’ve still got a roof and a health plan. It’s vital experience, but more importantly, it’s how you figure out freelance IT or consulting or Etsying artisanal dog sweaters is actually how you want to spend 80 hours a week.

Keep a schedule.

Wait. 80 hours? Fraid so, at least early on. It will take serious legwork to get those artisanal dog sweaters off the ground. No client list means permanent hustle. No infrastructure means weeks on end of pure trial and error, figuring out what works. No employees means every last bit of it is on you.

That’s not what I mean by scheduling. You have a job, and, being an American Genius reader, are by definition intelligent and insightful, not to mention good-looking and possessed of impeccable taste. We don’t let just anybody around here. You know you’ll need that stuff.

When you freelance, you need to schedule life.

That boss in your head? Still your boss, which is to say a sociopath who can and will take every minute you’re willing to offer. For better or worse, an office job does work-life balance for you: come in then, leave now, this is due whenever. The nastiest trap in entering freelance work, the last, biggest boom in the minefield, is that it can swallow you whole. If you let it, it will take over your life, and it’s better at that than the cube, because it’s something you want to do.

Integrate both ways.

So, not every day but now and again, put down your dog sweaters and catch Vin Diesel. See a concert on a weekday. Spend a whole evening playing with your kid.

Whatever you like, with a single rule: no work allowed.

Freelancing means your job is much more thoroughly integrated into your life.Click To Tweet

Make sure your life is integrated into your job.

And that, my friend, is how you transition from drone life to freelance life.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ben

    April 5, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Great article. Although I’ve been freelancing for over a decade, for the last couple of years I’ve been spending the majority of my time working for one client and ended up feeling like I was back in a company environment. About to make the switch back and currently pinging back and forth between liberated and terrified!

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  5. Karl Magnusson

    August 29, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I couldn’t agree more!
    Everybody thinks that as a freelancer, you practically don’t work or work the very minimum. No, sir, that’s not the case. The best piece of advice you could give to a freelancer is to have a schedule, indeed. Even though you’re a freelancer, you still need to pay bills and provide for your family (or just for yourself) so without a schedule, you’d be earning much less and you won’t be happy from the financial point of view.
    It’s all about balance. 🙂

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Business Entrepreneur

What is multi-level marketing (MLM)? Why do people join?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) MLMs may sell your favorite products, and seem like an easy cash grab, but those are signs of potential seedy practices. Look closer.

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MLMs structure

Even if you don’t know what the acronym MLM stands for, chances are high that you’ve stumbled across one. Maybe a friend keeps inviting you to join their makeup products group on Facebook, or an acquaintance keeps posting about their new wellness product on Instagram, or – heaven forbid – someone invites you over for a “tupperware party.” They might come in different forms and with different products, but make no mistake: MLMs are everywhere.

As such, it’s really worth understanding what an MLM is so you can make informed decisions.

First things first: MLM stands for “multi-level marketing.” Essentially, these businesses depend on a workforce paid in commissions and benefits to sell their products. In many cases, these sales people are also encouraged to invite friends and family to also start selling the products. Companies will often provide additional pay and/or perks to those with a lot of salesmen under them.

If it sounds like an MLM could be a pyramid scheme, you’re not wrong. Some MLMs are pyramid schemes and there have been plenty of companies to be shut down for that very reason. But many MLMs are sneaky; they skirt that legality by doing things like selling actual products.

Just because an MLM is, strictly speaking, legal, doesn’t mean it’s a good investment for you. Unsuspecting individuals who join MLMs often discover things like hidden fees, poor infrastructure and a (purposeful?) lack of communication from the company. When it comes to MLMs not working out, at best you’ve just annoyed all your friends. At worst? It could leave you bankrupt.

So, why do people join MLMs? Well, it depends. Some people legitimately like the product they’re peddling. Others, like stay at home parents, are looking for a flexible way to make money, which MLMs can potentially provide. It also helps that most people are introduced to MLMs through friends or family; you’re way more likely to trust someone you know over a random online ad.

These are all perfectly fine reasons for joining, but before you join any MLM, it’s really worth doing your homework. The last thing anyone wants is to be slapped with hidden fees or saddled with expensive products that are impossible to unload. Sites like MLM Truth and LaConte Consulting are good places to start, though it’s also worth looking for reviews (both good and bad) to see what other people are saying.

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Business Entrepreneur

Client difficulties? Protect yourself with an exit strategy clause

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR)You want to keep around that one client that pays your bills but when they are difficult make sure you can run away from a gig gone wrong.

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Client exit strategy

I am not a lawyer. Do not take legal advice from a news story.

BUT

Over at Hongkiat, Veronica Howes has a great piece about the rights that every designer should give themselves when it comes time to make a contract. It’s not just good advice for designers, though. Anyone at the mercy of the client revision deserves to know these tips.

Many of them are about making sure that the rights to your work are secured. That’s important! Work-for-hire has always been treacherous territory. But in the gig economy, when more people than ever are doing contract work, holding on to your intellectual property is important, if you can swing it.

But just as important? Knowing when to walk away — and having the freedom to do so. Having an exit strategy is important to everyone who has ever had a bad client experience, trust us on this one.

There are plenty of reasons you might need to do this. Creative differences, a work environment you weren’t expecting, or even just an unreasonable number of revisions. Obviously, you never *want* to lose work, and you never want to leave a client unsatisfied. But sometimes walking away is better emotionally and financially than finishing the gig.

Writing in a “kill fee” can help you do this safely. A kill fee is a guarantee that you still receive some compensation for the work that you did, even if that work wasn’t completed. It’s an exit strategy. If you sink a year into a project for a client and then they decide to move in a different direction, the kill fee makes sure that you didn’t just waste a year of your life. It’s an important safety tool for anyone freelancing.

The standard phrasing to include in the contract is: “Termination. Either party may terminate the contract at any time through written request. The Company shall upon termination pay Consultant all unpaid amounts due for Services completed prior to notice of termination.”

And it is worth talking about the specifics of the kill fee. Some may charge for hours already worked regardless of who terminates the contract, others may choose to keep a retainer, and so forth. Think that through and include it in your contract.

Now, let’s talk about revisions. Half the time, the reason you’d want an escape clause is that the work wasn’t scoped correctly in the first place. You need to be very clear about the expectations of the amount of work that’s going to go into a job.

Let’s say you quote someone a flat fee of $100 for a tiny project, because you expect it to take you an hour or two. But suddenly, there are 12 people at the client’s office arguing over what the project should actually be, on a conceptual level, and you’re caught in the crossfire while they re-imagine the project you’ve already finished. The worst-case scenario here is that you’re stuck doing dozens of revisions, and each minute you spend, your hourly rate just dwindles down to nothing.

Setting up an exit strategy with appropriate expectations ahead of time (in writing) can really save you here. Allot for one major revision of the work and some touch-ups, or maybe three rounds of revisions. Do whatever’s appropriate for your field and the scope of the work. But be sure that the expectations are clear, and have it in writing, and be sure you’ve got that escape hatch at the ready if things go past it.

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Business Entrepreneur

6 simple self-care tips to keep any busy entrepreneur sane

(ENTREPRENEUR) We don’t all have time for yoga and long baths, but self-care can keep us sane and able to keep doing what we love for work – here’s how.

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entrepreneur self-care

It’s no secret that Americans are stressed. A recent study shows 3 out of 4 Americans experienced a symptom of extreme stress in the past month. Throw entrepreneurship into the mix, and you’re primed for a breakdown, or burnout at the very least. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.

This is why self-care is important.

The term “self-care” is nowadays often associated with skincare routines and Netflix, but in reality, it’s much more than that: It’s valuing yourself and your health enough to graciously set boundaries and say no. That way, you bring the best version of yourself to your job and relationships day after day.

I’ve started several companies, sold two, and recently started a new gig as VP of Growth & Ops for Steadfast Media (hi, guys!) while running Honey & Vinegar, so it’s safe to say I’ve been one tired woman. There were times I was tired, frustrated, and honestly burnt out. At one point, I took a sabbatical for several months at the urging of several mentors, family members, and my career coach. Burnout is real, but I’ve learned ways to cultivate self-care in my professional life that allows me to have a somewhat balanced life.

(Side note: I understand there are situations out of one’s control that can contribute to burnout, including ailing family members, parenting, disabilities, etc. This article is not focused necessarily on these, rather preventing your professional life becoming your entire life. That way, you can focus on the truly important things.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about self-care thus far (mostly the hard way):

1. Set strict boundaries & turn off notifications.

The best advice I ever received was a one-off realization from my brother: gate it, don’t date it.

Meaning that if you have emails, Slack, or Trello on your phone, don’t make it available to where you check it at all times of day and night. Force a gate between you and the app. Put the app in another folder to where you don’t check it 24/7. Don’t let the notifications own you, or straight up disable them.

If you’re the boss, you get to set the standards. Check Slack and emails during certain times, and be as specific as possible when setting those times. If there’s a true emergency, have employees then call or text. Set those boundaries and stick to them. Encourage your employees to stick to them with one another, too.

2. Have friends and a life outside of your industry.

I can’t emphasize this enough, and this is also why I’ve only lived in cities that emphasize one industry. (DC and LA people, I don’t know how you do it! Props to you.)

This allows you to create a life beyond just your professional life.

When it seems like the sky is falling — i.e. you don’t get that round of funding, or that one client flips out, it’s important to have people around you who are a) grounded b) can give you perspective. Compatriots in your respective industry are helpful for support and sounding boards, but it’s easy to b

When an acquisition deal for a past company fell through, I felt like my world was over. I was devastated. My darling friends, one in healthcare and another in real estate, took me to Chuy’s happy hour and gave me perspective. Relationships like these are game-changers.

3. Schedule time for yourself.

Set time aside for yourself, but get real: What does this mean practically in your day to day, week to week life? For me, I purposefully make sure to keep one night a week, ideally two, to rest at home with my husband.

Also, plan that damn vacation! It doesn’t have to be a lavish European vacation, but set aside time where you are intentionally not checking your phone or emails.

When I took my first actual vacation (and not working remotely) in years, It was life-changing. Be intentional to take more than two days to think, journal, set aside goals not just professionally, but what you want you life to look like that following quarter. You, your company, and the people will be a lot better for it, I promise.

4. Cultivate healthy habits that are enjoyable.

Don’t let the hustle culture get to you. Hard work is important, but so is exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining mental health. In other words, some legit self-care.

Some good thoughts from VC Harry Stebbings.

Set routines of things you love to do that also maintain your well-being. I love going to the gym and putting my phone on Do Not Disturb for 30 minutes, but that’s not for everyone. Take your dog on a walk, put on a playlist to cook a good meal, go to that yoga class. Or just go on a walk with a friend. You do you, boo.

This could be you.

5. Train other people to do your job.

You may think you’re the only person that can do a number of things at your job. If you want your company to ever scale, you need, I repeat, need to take those tedious tasks off your list, and even some larger projects off your hands.

I know it’s so hard to relinquish control, but *gasp* there might be people that can do parts of your job better than you. So let them!

Does this mean you need to hire a virtual assistant, a COO, find another co-founder, or just hire that dang accountant? Do it.

Your business is only going to succeed if you’re performing as the best version of yourself, not a stressed-out shell of yourself. If you need to micromanage everything, your business won’t succeed or be sustainable long-term. Don’t let your stress about doing everything stunt your company or personal growth. If you needed a sign, this is it.

6. Practice self-awareness.

There is nothing more valuable than the gift of self-awareness.

Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. Does it need water? Does it need sleep? Start a habit of journaling and seeing what areas where you’re running on empty. More than that — do what your body tells you. Drink that water, my friend!

The takeaway:

All in all, life is more than work and who we are is more important than what we do. Take time for self-care, and you’ll have a healthier mind and body.

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