Why it's dangerous to be too eager to start freelancing
When I first quit my solid 8-5 job in architecture back in 2015 to start a career as a commercial property broker, I had no idea that this would be my first taste of freelancing. I'd been hired by an actual company as an employee, and understood that if I worked hard I could earn more than I had been. Sweet, I'm a really hard worker, this is going to be a cinch !
What I didn't quite comprehend at the time was there was no fixed salary, the income was solely commission-based, and that I didn't just need to work hard, I would need to work smart. And I had never heard of that concept. So I found myself at first tethered to my desk doing research and listing properties. Reacting to incoming queries all day long, most of them not serious at all. Not making ends meet. Why ? Because I wasn't going out there finding the work for myself, instead I was putting out fires as I had always done very diligently at my corporate job. I didn't know that clients who pay you have to be found, more often than they find you. I suddenly realised that I had got myself a job as a salesperson, not just as a property professional. Big difference. All my knowledge of buildings meant virtually nothing here. At that point, I loathed the mere concept of sales ! Cold calls ? Networking ? Selling ? Marketing ? Words of torture to an introvert...
Things had to change.
I observed my colleagues and tried to emulate their methods. Attended networking meetings during the day - evenings were out of the question for having to look after my two kids. I mostly loved the food and drinks on offer at those events and felt awkward but it was kind of fun. I don't think I made any useful contacts though. Doing cold calls was the hardest thing on my list, especially with my minutes tallied up competitively on a board next to all the others at the front of the common room.. I'm not ashamed (anymore) to admit that picking up the telephone is really terrifying for me. Couldn't tell you why exactly, but it is. So I swam against the current and battled the inner demons. Had some small successes, but very soon burnt out and quit after 18 months.
By then, I'd had a taste of a working life where I could decide how I wanted my own day to go.
I ran my own schedule, had working lunches and networking afternoons, sometimes spent a morning having my nails done, countless hours driving around neighbourhoods spotting properties, while listening to industry podcasts - and occasionally gave up and disappeared into a cinema for a couple of hours. Needless to say, the freedom of it was so good I had no desire to return to a full day behind a desk or attend meetings mostly scheduled by others discussing the same issues over and over again for each new project.
I hadn't made anywhere near a full salary during my time as an agent and had fallen badly in debt, but that wasn't a good enough reason for me, go figure. Not yet anyway. I decided to be my own boss. Try my hand at something I knew I was good at and get paid to do it. Only I didn't know what that was, and I didn't know who would pay me. So at the end of 2017, I dreamed up a multi-purpose business where I would create amazing horse-riding jodhpurs, have old couches reupholstered and have fancy dog beds made: I got all the branding designed, set up a Facebook page, got rejected from Etsy, and never got as far as producing anything... I also joined various online freelancing platforms and put myself up for several things to maximise my chances: architectural draughting, English-French translation and transcription.
Only a handful of jobs landed in my lap. What had I done wrong ? Neglected the sales gods once again. Listened only to my demons. I was working from a place of fear of not making ends meet and not from love of what I was doing.
After three months I gave up. Again. As a newly second-time divorced single mother with a mortgage and two children, taking three years to grow my business was not an option. Besides, I didn't have a clear idea what my business was anyway ! Who I was selling to ? How to sell... So I didn't pick up the phone and went to see my old boss. Got my old job back. Picked up where I left off, refilled the coffers a bit, and spent downtime trying to figure out how to get out of there again.
One day the neglected gods smiled on me and dropped a hint reminding me of something I'd done years ago and had really enjoyed. Voice-Overs. Yes ! I remembered being the narrator voice for my first husband's fishing show on the national TV sports channel ! That was fun. I'd love to do that again. But how ? I asked Aunty Google. And she took me down a Rabbit Hole. Now every spare moment I had, while things were quiet at my desk job, on weekends, on my daily commutes and before going to bed, I researched and learned and figured out. Took a course in the holidays. Bought the equipment. Started practising. Signed up to online platforms. Started landing small jobs. Then bigger jobs.
But most importantly, I educated myself about the business of voice-over.
Not just the doing of voice-overs. Because that is where my biggest weakness lay. I could learn all the new skills I wanted, combine them with the old ones and even invent something new - nothing would come of it without learning the business. And by business, I mean everything that is needed to bring in clients, such as setting the appropriate fees for your services, and yes, marketing. Those are skills that I had never needed as an employee because it was someone else's job. I was very happy about that at the time because I had no interest in it. Except now I knew if I was going to have my own business I didn't have a choice. I might as well demystify it and learn to like it. And just as well I did, because 2020 came along just one year later and architecture didn't hold up so well in lockdown. Good thing I had my launch pad all set up. All I needed was that proverbial kick in the butt, and when it dawned on me that this was it, I took the plunge and jumped off the cliff. Only this time I had brought with me all the floatation devices I needed so I did not sink !
One year later I am still working full-time as a voice-over and still learning the business, but growing in confidence and skill, with a solid foundation and lucid dreams to follow with a clear pathway. I find the hardest thing is to let go of the employee mentality and become a go-getter instead of sitting there putting out the fires that land in your inbox, but I am enjoying networking and finding clients more now that I have a passion for I want to offer them. Even setting my fees and asking for money and following up on unpaid invoices...
And I'm doing it on my own terms.
I don't do cold calls because I simply don't want to. There are other ways of finding clients, much better ones in fact. There's no one keeping track of how many minutes I spend on the phone, or how much money I make per month. That's for me to know. I am accountable only to myself. Now that is satisfying. But I am at this point only because this time I took the necessary steps to make it work.
Going adventuring is now a dream that is going to become a reality because I have proof that I can run my own location-free business and make enough money to cover all my expenses, and a little more to invest for rainy days. I'm not in it for the riches. I could spend much more time at my desk and work much harder and make more money, but what I love about my lifestyle is that it's not about the money so much - some days if I feel like taking it slow, I can. It's all up to me now. In 2017 I could not think about anything else than how I would make ends meet, because it's all that mattered, and I didn't even know how to do that.
I'm leaving the country, but I'll come back often of course. If you want to follow my upcoming adventures, sign up to my Substack newsletter here !
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