The Freelance Diaries: The Caffeinated Project Manager

38 Comments

2 1 0

As part of the series on earning more money, today’s Money Diaries — actually, today’s Freelance Diaries — is from a project manager who left his fulltime job to work as a freelancer.

Below, you’ll notice:

  • He now makes 3 times what he made at his fulltime job — but he still nets less overall
  • His tactics for managing his clients
  • Weaving lifestyle (video games from 3:30pm – 6:00pm) with work

Be sure to sign up at Earn1k to get specific scripts on increasing your rates, managing clients, and using psychology against yourself to keep motivated.

* * *

coffee

“I’m a freelance project manager. Which I know sounds weird. Project management, I always thought, was one of those made-up corporate jobs, kind of like that one guy from Office Space who deals with people so the engineers don’t have to. You’ve seen it, right? Of course you have.

In reality, project management basically just means I get paid to make sure things get done. It’s incredibly valuable to companies that are disorganized or run tight deadlines. The hard part is packaging it because it’s not often perceived as high-value (kind of like how most people think they know how to write well).

The trick for me is, I never position myself as a project manager when first pitching to a client. I’m usually brought on to do something small, like a writing project or a PR project. At some point, the client realizes their organization/communication flow used to suck and I’m making it better. So after that I usually just end up being a project manager. That’s the classic “sell them what they want, give them what they need” technique, I guess.

Anyways, here’s my Diary.”

Day 1

6 am: Wake up. Yeahhh, freelancing doesn’t always mean you get to sleep all day. Although sometimes it does!

7am: Drive over to a coffee shop to start working. I have noticed that good, work-friendly coffee shops (meaning they don’t have screaming children or broken tables) are rare. The only one in town worth going to costs $5 a cup, and parking there sucks. But it’s worth it. My time is important, so I try to save it any way I can.

8am: I spend a few hours at the coffee shop doing some work, following up on deadlines, shooting emails. No interruptions or random requests from clients, which is nice. I know you’re not supposed to leave your email open all day (the 4-Hour Workweek people tell me so) but whatever. I like to be responsive to clients, and I have a good process for handling email already.

2pm: My productivity level is dropping off. I guess that’s why I get up at 6 to work. Once I hit that “I don’t feel like working anymore” zone, I usually stop and pick it back up in the evening. So I drive home.

3:30pm – 6pm: Playing video games… nothing to see here. Man, I don’t miss my old job.

12 am: I catch up on some work. I’ve figured out that I do my best creative work at night, and like to power through stuff (menial work, invoicing, etc.) in the mornings. I’m a big believer in finding out what times you do your best work, then sticking to that.

Day 2

8am: I check my messages and see that I have one from my client (I turn off my phone at night. Boundaries, you know?). Apparently, he got his laptop stolen. Oh, and he wasn’t backing his stuff up, despite my recommendations to do so, so we’ll fall behind on one of our projects. Great.

Sometimes, clients will simply not do what you recommend – EVEN WHEN THEY AGREE WITH IT. They just ignore stuff. You have to live with that, I guess. Sometimes it’s not just about telling your clients what they should do, or lecturing them – it’s also being realistic about what they WILL do and working around that.

9am: At the coffee shop again. I work best in 4-hour bursts.

6pm: And yet, I’m still here… so I go home after sending a weekly email update to my clients. They don’t ask for it, but they always respond well and seem to like knowing what I’m doing. I guess it’s better than them wondering what I’m up to.

Day 3

10 am: Irritating. I like my client, but he absolutely doesn’t take ANY time to spell check his emails. I get something like this:

“cn weht \ time tmr?

Or what si itcan you telme minalkj

Otahnxk”

WHAT??? I’m not sure what to do with this. Usually I reply to confirm what I think he’s saying. I can’t really think of a nice way to say “Hey, it would really make me less irritated all the time if you spell-checked your emails.”

1pm: Write a pitch to a new prospect. Let’s see if it works out. I don’t pitch that often (I’m pretty happy with my current clients) but you never know what will be the next big thing, I guess. I keep the door open for stuff like that.

2pm: I have a tip – always, always keep track of what you spend your hours on, even if you think your client doesn’t care about the little details. My client never asked me before, then he suddenly calls me and is like “Hey these 20 hours – what are they for?”

It wasn’t a big deal, and of course I figured it out eventually but for a few seconds I was like “UHHHH… hm…” Lesson learned.

4pm: Here’s another tip: don’t drink and work.

Day 4

10 am: Spend 2 hours on a conference call with clients. They’re always traveling and in different time zones, so finding time to chat is difficult. Plus the calls themselves are pretty useless. I’ve realized that sometimes, clients just want someone to talk to and explain every little detail of what they’re doing. I’m like their therapist.

1pm: Finished writing a ridiculously long email with detailed notes from our call. Send it off to the clients, because they’re horribly unorganized (still). I can tell it helps them think about things more clearly, and they appreciate it a LOT.

These guys are really gushy too. They reply back with things like:

“Thank you SO SO SOOOO much for this.”

“thanks… you are incredibly professional and thoughtful and I am deeply grateful for your hard work and dedication.”

Good. I keep all this stuff in mind when it comes time to raise my rates.

9pm: My parents, both engineers, don’t really get what I do. I just tell them I do business stuff. They always ask me if I need money.

I guess it’s nice to know I have a safety net. I’m not opposed to the idea of asking for help if I need it – I’m just not that prideful I guess.

Day 5

11 am: Some days I just don’t feel like working. So I won’t today. It’s Friday, which is practically Saturday anyways. Ah, freelancing is nice after all.

People always go “wahh lucky” when I tell them stuff like this and I’m like hey screw you. I don’t get paid vacation and sick days, you ass. And it wasn’t just luck (although I admit luck helps).

1pm: As I write this, I’m thinking: It’s good to have flexibility. It’s good for my motivation. Now, when I take a day off, I usually charge into the next day with a roar and get really pumped up about knocking out work tasks. It was the opposite when I used to work as a management consultant at a top-tier firm. I dreaded Monday mornings.

I haven’t done a detailed analysis of the numbers, but I estimate that back then, I worked 60 hours a week (I worked from home all the time) for 50 weeks = 3000 hours. Let’s take my salary, around 60K, that makes my time roughly worth $20/hr.

Now I work fewer hours (about 40), and I charge $60/hr. And while you might think, Wow! $60/hour, that’s like $120,000 a year! You’re way richer now! No, because less than half of those hours are chargeable. Plus, I haven’t factored in benefits, 401(k) matching and the biggie: paid health insurance. All things factored in, I’m still making less than before.

Yeah, sorry to be a downer. But hey, new businesses take time to grow and things are looking positive so far. And I’m increasing my rates this year.

Day 6

11 am: It’s Saturday now, which basically means nothing to me. Back to the coffee shop. Most of the time, I work 7 days a week.

3pm: That’s as good a time as any to call it a day, at least for the client work.

4pm: One thing I like about my work is I can spend more free time on other, “riskier” business ventures. Right now a partner and I are working on a new product together, so I do some of the market research work at home for a few hours.

Day 7

1pm: On Sundays, I like to spend some time learning new things. Right now I’m watching a training program on product development. Very interesting stuff.

It’s hard to get over the fact that I’d be paid to watch this if I had a real job – instead I’m paying for it myself. But I really believe in consistently gaining new skills in order to grow.

4pm: Writing a Craigslist post for some help the clients want to hire. Not really what I was hired to do, but if they’re paying, I won’t complain. Yet another reason why I like charging by the hour – too many variables in project pricing.

5pm: I invoice one client, clean up my notes, and get ready for tomorrow.

* * *

Earn1k: Get a free 1-week advanced course on earning more, including case studies, webcasts, and psychological tactics.

2 1 0

Related Articles

When is quitting the right thing to do?

My friend wrote a fascinating post on when quitting is the RIGHT thing to do: http://founderdating.com/silicon-valleys-best-kept-secret-why-quitting-is-winning/ So ...

Read More

The power of charisma: How to get people to like you -- with Olivia Fox Cabane

Yesterday, I asked you to tell me about the most awkward person you know. My god. The stories were amazing. ...

Read More

38 Comments

2 1 0
 
  1. Elizabeth Godwin Link to this comment

    Thanks for this! It’s cool to see how someone prioritizes their day when they don’t actually go to an office with a boss. I am in love with this earning more money series.

  2. I’m fascinated by this idea of freelance project management. ANy chance we could get more details on the actual acquisition of new clients with this idea of coming in as a writer but then doing PM stuff?

  3. I think this idea is great. Honestly, I would be interested in freelance project managing if I don’t start my own business entirely.

  4. Ramit, you cad!

    During your office hours someone mentioned freelancing as a project manager and you were all “Dude, seriously. Project management?! What does a project manager even do?”

  5. Actually, this sounds like a really valuable service – assuming that the project manager gets results and has a reasonable price point. I agree with writers coin – it would be nice to get some specifics – not only on getting clients, but how you solve specific client problems. It seems that someone with proven expertise in e-commerce product sales and setup would be invaluable in getting an e-storefront up and running.

  6. Clearly, it’s not all glitz and glamour. Thanks for sharing your story, PM guy.

  7. I like that he points out the positives and negatives. I tend to ignore anything that paints freelancing as a perfect situation or as being totally not worth it.

  8. I also agree with Writer’s Coin. I am extremely interested in how the author finds potential clients. How does he advertise? What sort of businesses require his services? Are they mostly small ones?

    This seems like something I could easily do in my free time. I’m already fairly rigorously trained in project management at work.

  9. This is the first one of the ‘Money Diaries’ that I’ve truly enjoyed. Most of the other people seem like numb skulls.

    One thing this reminded me is that I want to learn a successful way to research different proprietary training programs. How do I know which one to choose? Do I go solely based on the reviews? There seems to be almost TOO many choices.

  10. I’m a certified Project Manager, have been since 2005. I’m curious what part of the country this guy is in. $60/hr actually seems a bit low, and as a PM, if you don’t bill for all of your hours, your estimates for project work will be too low, and never duplicate-able. How does the writer manage for that? But also, only billing half of your hours seems like it might be cutting yourself way short.
    I’m glad to see this article!
    Continue the great work Ramit!

  11. Stefanie,
    Who are you certified by? My uncle teaches classes at various colleges and universities for Project Management, and we’ve talked about it before. I remember him talking about certification, but I can’t recall where you go for that.

  12. Adam–
    Check out the PMP certification. At least in the US, it’s the most widely adopted.

  13. Really liked this ‘tell-it-like-it-is” perspective on freelancing, wondering why most of his hours aren’t billable though and I would like to know how often hes’ hustling to get new ones to sustain his income?

    @Blue Ramit and the ‘caffeinated PM” both pointed out that most people don’t really want project management, there’s an underlying need. This guy got in through other means of what they wanted (i.e. writing/PR prjoects) and then gave them what they needed which was project management after all. It’s HOW you sell what you’re offering…

  14. Great piece, so glad it’s written in such a real format. When I was an armchair analyst, hovering in the safety zone of “thinking” about doing a freelance venture, I used to want to hear all of the stories about success and loving every minute of it and how 1+2=3 every time. Now that I’m in the trenches, I want real stories. I want to know that others feel that they work better at 12am like I do. I want to know that someone other than me is fine to take a bit of a pay cut to enjoy personal control over my time, and that he’s also getting looks of “do you need some money?” from well-meaning supporters who just don’t get it because they haven’t done it. So again, thank you for this format and the story that came in it.

  15. Love the story… don’t think the lifestyle is sustainable:
    a- you’re rate is too low, especially if you have top-tier consulting experience
    b- sounds like you’re working for a small fry firm which won’t bear much rate increase
    c- if you go to a large corporation, your rate will increase, but your lifestyle will be office-bound once again

    We have consultants who do PM at my company ($11B+ revenue), who make good money. However, they are tied to the office and their crackberrys. Being realistic: if you get a high-paying job doing this, you will have to deal with governance and corporate structure which will force you into the office.

  16. @ Garrett – Of course the lifestyle is sustainable.

    What you failed to see is that the life of a good freelancer is ever changing, moving and growing.

    If this freelancer stayed at the same level for years to come, then yes, it MAY not be sustainable.

    However, look at day 7 where they explicitly say that they are paying for training courses. AND doing this on a Sunday with no one over their shoulder, it’s fairly obvious that in six months time they will be in a position to charge more for their services.

  17. @Matt

    Totally agree he can raise rates some. Not really looking to pick a fight with the author, just wanted to lend my perspective on the industry since I work in it at a large company.
    I could be way off base, but I’m guessing his clients are small companies with tactical, short-term projects. If that’s who you actively target, you will find a market which is extremely rate sensitive.
    BTW, if he worked at a large firm he could double his rate. I’m just pointing out that he will be more formally tied to an office building in that case.

  18. Just to let people know. Got lots of spam subscribing to this “dude” teach you to be rich???? emails. Have the prof. Your email have been sold to make him reach.

  19. Make him reach what?

  20. @lepa
    I have not been spammed at all. I am here to learn what I can from Ramit and the others here. Please contact him with your complaint or go away. It is rude to go to someone’s site and trash talk them on it. Ramit keep up the postings they are helpful.

  21. I love the freelancer lifestyle. It is pretty much do whatever you want! I’m so glad that I moved on from being employed to starting my own company. It is one of the best ways to remove clutter in your life…such as office distractions.

  22. Bummer! That is really disheartening to think about how much you have to earn in order to make up for health insurance, 401(k) matching, and other things we all take for granted like having an office because of a full-time job. Doesn’t it help that everything is a tax write off?

    @Vin
    Agreed. Freelance Diaries are a lot more interesting than hearing about how much someone spent on lunch during the day.

  23. Whoever this guys is, I like his style of thought/writing; It’s carefree and I see a little of my own style in it. I’m not a fan of stuck-up writing (is that a word?).

    I like the flexibility of his days, and the fact that he generally sounds happier, and un-rushed.

  24. @Lepa. You’re half right. Ramit uses Aweber for his mailing lists and some of their data (only email addresses apparently) was compromised. I’m not sure if Ramit knows, you’d think that Aweber would have told their clients. If he does I do think it’s a little irresponsible to not at least let his subscribers know that their email address has potentially been added to spam lists.

    http://www.aweber.com/blog/uncategorized/data-compromise.htm

  25. Adam,
    Magatron is correct, I am PMP certified. Check out the PMI website: http://www.pmi.org for more information. It is the premiere certification not just in the US, but globally.
    To become certified, you are required to have a minimum of project management experience (a few years) and education (minimum of a bachelor’s) to sit for the exam. The exam is proctored at the same places that give the SATs, LSATs, etc. It takes a lot of study to pass, and most people I know, who have years of experience in the field, take about two exams before they pass. It’s a very challenging and rigid exam. I recommend heading over to amazon and taking a look at some of the practice guides, and I also used practice exams, which I took with me on a laptop and every free moment I had for three months, every doctor’s office wait, every restaurant I was waiting for friends or a meal, every single moment I got for three months, I worked. And this was after 5 years of PM experience. It was the hardest exam I’ve ever taken.

  26. I should mention that I spent about $1000 of my own money in training, training materials and the exam itself. It costs $150 every four years to renew. When I passed the exam I went from $65K in one job to $85K plus bonuses at another. Within two months of passing the exam.

  27. Wow, I’ve been a “Project manager” for a smallish company for the last 7 years, I make 60k + with benefits, I used to joke that I could put “Semi-Grand Pubah” on my business cards and it wouldn’t make a difference. Certification? Really? Who’s selling this bullsh!t? The fact of the matter is if your a responsible “Project manager” you understand what is being sold and how they profit off it. Once you know that you’re potentially competition if you ever come up with capital (Hello freelancer). I do wish the author mentioned more of what he managed but at the heart of it Project management if done responsibly is the closest to entreprenurial training you can ever come besides going for it.

  28. @ Lepa: i signed up two weeks ago and had been getting spam emails since then.
    @ Matt: Based on Aweber’s website the incident happened december – so how come i got the spam?
    Nway, Ramit was always honest that he is not here to hold your hands and become your BFF. He is a businessman, trying to meet a need & earn money. His advice is useful so i hang around and read.
    I posted re: the emails bcz Ramit may not be aware that his subscribers are being spammed. At least he should get money from it. :)

  29. Great article I am working up to be a PM, I am excited about the possibilities now from this diray.

    PS I have signed up to the listing but I have received nothing. Hmmmm

  30. @c.pad I don’t know. I’m sure you’re subscribed to other things as well as Ramit’s list. Without using different email addresses or the + trick in Gmail there’s practically no way to find out how a spammer found your email. Or maybe Aweber was targeted after the dates they said, or maybe you did subscribe before the compromise. However if Ramit was intentionally selling emails I’m sure there would be more noise about it. I don’t agree with you on your last point. There is no justification for spamming your users and there are far better ways to make money.

    @Ramit I’m curious to know if you have informed your subscribers. I assume you’ve seen these comments.

  31. Missed your smiley the first time I read your comment. Sorry if that was a joke.

  32. Great way of sharing realities as freelancer. Hard at work, fun at play :)

  33. Not entirely sure you’ve got the ideal setup. You say you’re working a 7 day week (admittedly with short days sat/sun). Sure, this approach allows you to be flexible around what hours you work each day but you’d be better off transferring the weekend work to midweek – say, taking a Tuesday to do up invoices in the early afternoon. Try automating more of your work and setting hard and fast goals for each 4 hour work slot you do.

  34. I liked this post right up until I reached this clip.
    ==================================================
    “My parents, both engineers, don’t really get what I do. I just tell them I do business stuff. They always ask me if I need money.
    I guess it’s nice to know I have a safety net. I’m not opposed to the idea of asking for help if I need it – I’m just not that prideful I guess.”
    ==================================================

    Consulting, freelancing, or running your own business is made significantly easier when you have the safety net of your parents. I’d be interested to know if this person has to concern his or herself with expenses taken on by most adults, things like rent/mortgage, health insurance, proper licensing and insurance for your “business”. Just wondering, because running a business from your parents basement while they provide is significantly different from doing the same as an independent adult.

  35. Another great post. It was interesting to see things from the freelancers perspective.

    I agree with MC – does this guy live in his parent’s basement? If so it kind of changes things being that he has a safety net. I’d like to see an article from a “do or die” freelancer.

  36. You do exactly what I do, except you wake up earlier! I go to coffee shops early in the day to get most of my work done then start up again late at night :) Sweet post!

  37. I’m a freelance PM and it was very interesting to read this article. I think that the biggest draw for being a PM is that you get to have your hands in a lot of pies. You’re never bored because you’re never doing the same thing – you’re just applying similar solutions to new problems.

    Loved what was said about clients being disorganized. If all you did was keep on top of people with task lists and time lines you’d be okay – the rest is all gravy!