As a freelancer newbie I made the biggest mistake


When I was about 15, I took the Nikon SLR for a spin one night and got some damn good pics of the moon for a first timer; I should scan the films. 15 years later, I’m still taking pictures of the moon, but with better equipment and more focused outcomes. And more understanding of photography too.

I also loved writing as for every job I had, my favourite activity was to write stuff.

I knew I loved these things and pursued them for a while, and grew from those experiences.

And experiences help you grow > gain new experiences > make mistakes and learn from them > grow some more. It’s a big long cycle.

As this year unfolded, I found myself handling a number of different projects as a freelancer newbie. And of course I had to make the biggest mistake a freelancer newbie can make.

What’s that you say? Allow me to explain.

The last 6 months hasn’t been easy. Reality didn’t match up to theory. In theory, taking on some new projects was going to free up a bunch of time for me to work on my music. In reality, I was so busy at times I had forgotten to breathe. How did it happen like that?

Well, I made the mistake of charging for project work at an hourly rate. It’s not about the money but about expectations. Charging hourly is literally telling your client ‘I’m at your disposal until whenever …’. And I ended up feeling like being owned, being on call, without any of the benefits of a permanent employment situation! Not cool.

And realistically speaking, just because I was working from home didn’t mean I could switch on/off to work on music. In reality, I was stressing over the projects a lot longer than I thought I would. My sense of accountability rang high and loud and I couldn’t unwind from the projects to focus on music. Because I would be distracted.

The only times I could focus on my music was where I knew I could get a day of peace, where I didn’t need to check emails, make phone calls, talk to people. And those days were not the same days I was working from home.

In theory, charging by the hour sounds great at the start. I have a lot of flexibility around how and when I work, and the mentality of “you think you can make big bucks because of your hourly rate“. However I think this only works if you have a very high rate (which I didn’t). I found that I was getting more efficient and the hourly rates were not on my side, I had to work longer and that always end up meaning doing work that isn’t covered in my initial rates!

Plus there’s only so many hours you can work in a day.

Not to mention the stress that comes with working on multiple projects for multiple companies that left me feeling completely flat and thin.

Addition: Research to prove that charging hourly rates commoditise time!

So after I published this blog post, I started reading Wait by Frank Partnoy, who pointed me to some research by Sanford DeVoe (the full study is here). And basically the old adage ‘time is money’ seems to be reality. The fact that I’ve commoditised time meant I started thinking about how I was using my time (at work, outside of work) and started to calculate missed opportunities to earn more money. That’s crazy! That’s why I couldn’t relax or even focus on other things …

What I’ve learnt

There were some huge learning curve and through discussions with my business advisor, I learnt about package pricing.

There is all the benefits of freelancing, plus the right expectations. I’m sure the first few goes I may inaccurately calculate my time, but once I get going I can’t imagine it to be worse than hourly rates.

Projects that freelancers pick up are often short term, and you need to set very clear boundaries around what you will and won’t do. Self preservation is important! And knowing an end date helps with sanity; you know when it’s due and you can plan ahead.

All the frustration helped me put together a contract template and a package pricing template to be used next time. And most importantly I put in place clear boundaries for my current projects so I am not so overwhelmed.

It also helps to find a third person to talk to about issues and ideas, to bounce things off and get some perspective. It was during those sessions that I got very clear about what I was and wasn’t doing right, and I made the opportunities to change things for the better.

Next step: making the time to meet my music deadline at the end of this year! I think I’m getting there slowly … with my latest track.

Check out my professional portfolio here.