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Lessons learned after a month of freelancing full time

Look around, by Ev0luti0nary

A month ago I decided to stop thinking of myself as a student, launched a sole proprietor type of business and dived into freelancing full time.

Starting out I imagined vast riches, clients fighting tooth and nail to book me and fighting off uninteresting projects with torch and pitchfork. After all, that was my experience before going full time.

I've since discovered a few things.

Luckily lead generation is simple as ever. While my blog has all but dried up as a lead generator because of lessened traffic, having a well connected friend or two really helped in getting introduced to people who might need my help. Posting on the monthly HackerNews Seeking Freelancer converted two or three times. I've heard good things of oDesk and might start using it.

Note to self: start measuring conversion rates for introductions. Important stuff.

Everything takes too damn long

I used to spend up to 40 hours every week on classes, homework and studying, leaving just 15 to 20 hours to work on sideprojects, freelancing and more importantly - closing deals.

Because I prefer to work with startups my "The Client" can be described as a scatterbrained, overworked individual who will not look for help until things are literally splitting at the seams and their world is falling apart.

Longcat

As such, this is what my sales cycle looks like:

  1. Get lead
  2. Send email
  3. Wait two days for reply
  4. Agree on Skype meeting
  5. Reschedule Skype meeting 3+ times
  6. Skype chat <a week later>
  7. Negotiate basic contract
  8. Sign contract <2 weeks later>
  9. Receive tasks <3 weeks later>

Usually this wasn't a problem. I had plenty of things to keep me busy and could barely keep up with the speed of interaction myself. Honestly, I didn't even notice it took that long and there were so many steps!

Now?

Well ... heh ... now eeeeverything is paaaainstaikingly sloooooooow. So very very slow. Two or three days to reply? Are you daft man! I want this project tomorrow, get cracking immediately. My coding fingers are twitching with excitement!

Oh and let's not forget many projects don't even make it through all those stages. Some fall off because they can't afford me, others scrape whole projects after a pivot, some find a local freelancer and feel that might be easier to work with.

Out of ten leads, three might come to a signed contract and some actual work. And yes, I do need to optimize those steps and, indeed, start measuring what the drop-off rate actually is.

Lost in time

Some deals close quicker than others, so I was not without work this month. Yay.

Lost in time, by notfrancois

But while I rant and rave about the time it takes to close deals, when it comes to actually getting some work done ... that's surprisingly difficult.

Without external time-compression from classes and homework deadlines, I thought I could get massive amounts of work done every single day. Instead, I can't seem to fit more than five or six hard billable hours into the day. Just doesn't happen, time has become somewhat gooey and stretchy.

You wake up, do some exercise, eat breakfast, shower etc. It's 11am.

You write a blogpost for the day. It's 1pm, sometimes later.

You make some lunch. Deal with a Skype meeting or two from all those deals you aren't closing quickly enough. Perhaps do a bit of paperwork because banks and such close early.

It's 4pm.

You finally get to work, are interrupted a million times by chores and people who don't understand you _are _working from home and before you know it, it's time for dinner.

Another massive interruption, takes a while to get back in the groove and it's almost midnight. Get to inbox zero for the day and you're too tired to get back to work.

Voila, nine to ten hours of productively spent time, less than six billable hours. Magic.

Getting paid

Please pay here, by stevendepolo
Please pay here, by stevendepolo

And yet, despite all that. Despite working your arse off to fit at least thirty billable hours into a week, you are working at light speed compared to your clients. Especially when you aren't working on the core product, but something they would really like to have. Probably.

Lack of pressure doesn't help with time gooeyness.

Sign up for a short project. Get enough materials to start. Exceed expectations, get everything done in a week ...

... aaand wait a week for the client to look at your deliverable and decide if there's any bugs. Two weeks later, you still haven't received the final piece of materials needed to finish the project, put a bow on it and make the delivery.

Then get paid in full. Because an XX% advance will only get you so far. You still need the actual money.

I've been lucky enough to avoid non-paying clients so far. They either pay immediately or at their own pace, but in a timely manner. The real problem are indecisive clients who take too long to say Okay, we're done. and clients who are too busy to provide everything you need.

...

While they can afford to take forever, I simply don't have that sort of runway. Take on more projects in the meantime? Of course. Eventually get swamped when everything goes through at once? Naturally.

Being a full time freelancer is tricky, but I love it completely.

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Published on October 30th, 2012 in billable hour, Business, Client, Freelancer, Freelancing, Full-time, oDesk, Project Management, Skype, Uncategorized, work

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