The side hustle

For some people freelancing is a “side hustle” – a second job done to earn a little extra money, or to gain some experience. Whether their “regular job” is working in an office or studying at school, freelancing isn’t the main thing going on in their life.

Freelancing as a second job

If you’re already working in your industry, and looking to learn more or earn more than you can at your current job, then picking up some freelance work can be a great way to spend your free time. Before starting you should first confirm that your current employment contract doesn’t prevent you from freelancing, and that you actually have the time to dedicate to it.

Freelancers in this situation are vulnerable to burnout, and can’t take on large projects by themselves, but can provide valuable skills to small clients who just need small bits of work on an ad-hoc basis. These clients may otherwise struggle to find a skilled freelancer who is willing to take on such small tasks, but the short time commitment can be great for people who are already working another job.

Freelancing while studying

This is a controversial within the freelancing community, and I generally advocate that people shouldn’t attempt to freelance until they’re experienced. From my perspective, if you’re not experienced then you’re not going to provide a good service to the client and it can set expectations (in terms of price and quality) that makes it more difficult for other freelancers in the future.

However, there’s also a number of clients who aren’t looking for a true professional – they just want someone to do small tasks that are beyond them. For these types of tasks, from data entry to small website modifications to formatting information on emails or flyers, a student freelancer can provide the skills required at a low cost. This type of work should probably just be considered “odd jobs” or “beer money”, and I wouldn’t advise attempting to freelance as a primary job until you have several years of experience in your industry.

For more tips, tricks, and thoughts on freelancing, please look through our other posts.

Behaving like a business

Imagine this: Your car breaks down, and you don’t know what’s wrong with it. You take it to a mechanic, and drop it off. You call them two hours later, asking if they’re finished yet – tell them that it can’t take them long, because it’s clearly just a small problem and they’re professionals. They call you back 2 hours later and leave a message (you didn’t answer). They say that your alternator is kaput, and needs a replacement – can you please call back ASAP to approve the price.

You don’t call them back for 5 days.

When you do call them back, you’re furious with them because they haven’t fixed the car yet, and they want you to spend more money. You eventually tell them that they can put a new alternator in, but you’re picking it up on Sunday and they better be there. After they finish the work and send you the invoice, you don’t pay it because your cousin’s son “knows cars” and thinks that an alternator should never fail – he only got his licence a few months ago, but he’s never seen one fail.

Obviously, this isn’t how a sane person would deal with a mechanic. You wouldn’t tell a plumber that it’s “just pipes and water”, so you’ll only pay them $20, instead of the $250 on their bill. You wouldn’t call a building contractor every other day to get them to move a wall back and forth a few inches. Why? Because they’re businesses.

You are a business, not an employee

This is a hard lesson to learn, especially if you’ve only ever been an employee in your career to now. It’s a significant mental hurdle to cross that your clients are your customers not your boss.

While negotiation with a client is perfectly fine, remember that they cannot dictate terms to you – negotiations go in both directions. If they want something rushed, or delivered outside normal hours, you should inform the client that those requests cost more. If the client gets abusive or dismissive of your work, you can refuse to serve them.

Once you overcome the hurdle of seeing yourself as a business, your relationship with clients will dramatically improve. Remember: if you wouldn’t do it to a mechanic, plumber, electrician, builder, or any other business, then it’s not appropriate for a client to do it to you.

For more tips, tricks, and thoughts on freelancing, please look through our other posts.

Finding your price

Among the most frequent questions that I have encountered within freelancing communities, and perhaps the most pressing issue for a lot of new freelancers is this:

How much do I charge?

– thousands of new freelancers

This can be a long and complicated question to answer even for an established freelancer, with many different methods of calculating prices and value. For a new freelancer, especially one who has just started stepping out from their company, it can be especially difficult to pick a price.

What are you worth?

The first thing to figure out is what you’re worth right now. This is really easy if you’re currently employed to do the thing that you want to freelance with:

You’re worth 2-3 times what you’re already getting paid.

When you consider your base salary, you forget that your employer is also paying for equipment, office space, taxes, entitlements, time off, those hours where you’re not doing anything productive, and a huge range of other expenses that really add up. In total, you may cost 2-3 times what you’re actually payed.

How does this apply to my rate?

It’s fairly simple. Figure out your current hourly income – say $25/hr. Your starting hourly rate as a freelancer should be somewhere between $50/hr and $75/hr. The more experienced you are, the more likely you are to start at the high end, but you’ll probably be moving it up from there after a year.

Ultimately you are now responsible for all of those expenses that your employer used to cover. Sure, your expenses are lower because you’re already living at your office, but your biggest expense starting out will be one thing: doing nothing.

You often can’t bill 40 hour weeks as a freelancer, and you might have days or weeks where there’s no work, no clients, and nothing to do. The hours that you can bill have to cover your expenses for the hours that you can’t.

And now, the hard part…

You actually have to charge that rate. This is where impostor syndrome starts kicking in, and you start intentionally under-quoting in the hope that you won’t scare clients off. Remember that even though your hourly rate seems high, you’re still cheaper to your clients than hiring someone with your skill as an employee.

For more tips, tricks, and thoughts on freelancing, please look through our other posts.