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The Freelance Diaries: The laid-off marketing consultant whose income has skyrocketed

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We’re in the final week of a 3-week course on earning more money (see all posts on earning more money).

Today, a Freelance Diaries by a former technology employee in San Francisco who was laid off a year ago, and is now a full-time freelance marketing consultant. Below, you’ll notice:

  • Her work/life balance is blurred: She works out every day and takes a 2-hour lunch with no worries, but also works past 10pm many nights
  • How there’s lots of “meta-work,” including administrative work, billing clients, and keeping them updated with her work
  • She earns a $6,000 check — which is a 300% freelancer raise in less than 3 months (and a 30% raise from her former full-time job)

Once you’re done, take 5 seconds to sign up to learn specific strategies and tactics to earn more money at Earn1k.com.

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Day 1 (a Monday)

9 a.m. Wake up and open my laptop. A year ago, I’d be rushing to my desk at this time, probably with some free breakfast in hand. Ah, the good days of free breakfasts… as a freelancer working from home, I don’t get that benefit anymore, nor do I get to chitchat with my coworkers every morning. Work pretty much starts as soon as I let it, but not having to rush off, commute or deal with a ‘manager’ makes it worth it.

10 a.m. Monday mornings I send a weekly update to a major client. I spend a full hour working on this single email because it’s where I talk about what I’ve done and why they should keep paying my fee.

Lesson Learned: Spending an hour on what seems like an administrative email seems long, but it’s turned out to be one of the most important ways to keep my client happy. My client gets almost no face-to-face time with me, so this is my way of showing up. I recap everything I accomplished in the previous week in terms of the objectives we set at the beginning of our relationship, and I outline my plans for the coming week. I make sure to emphasize results, not just tasks. I’ll use this email later when it’s time to raise my rates (“Last month, I accomplished XYZ. This month will be even bigger….”) This is the longest email I send to anybody all week.

11 a.m. Daily workout session. It’s so great to have the freedom to go to the 11:00 session — I don’t have to get up early and it’s never crowded. My friends think it’s weird / sketchy that I can go to work out in the middle of the day for 2 hours, especially since they’re not sure how I actually make money to afford stuff like this. I love perpetuating the mystery for them.

1 p.m. Time to get back to work.

4 p.m.: I’m feeling a little distracted, or maybe just tired from an intense afternoon of writing, so I decide to take a short walk. Not having in-person coworkers or a watercooler to distract me means that work can get surprisingly intense.

Lesson Learned: Giving myself intentional breaks away from the screen – and not just mindlessly surfing Facebook – are really helpful in restoring my mental energy, but don’t make me feel like I’ve been wasting time.

7 p.m. Dinner out with my boyfriend. Saves time on cooking / cleaning that I’ll use to do some work for a third client I’ve recently brought in.

9 p.m. Back in front of the screen, I switch to client #2. I always get a ton done between 9 p.m. and midnight, most people’s t.v. time. It can be annoying to work late, or to have stuff to do when everyone else is having fun, but then I remind myself that I already had my fun time – in the middle of the day while everyone else was at their cubicles.

Day 2

9 a.m. Sometimes I check my email on my phone from bed. I know everyone says this is bad, no boundaries, blahblah, etc. I tend to agree, but for some reason I always get a ton of emails from one client between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., so I’m a bit anxious to see what’s up.

My client appreciated the weekly update, but didn’t respond specifically to any of the questions / requests I put in it. Still no answer on the website budget from this client, but the deadline hasn’t changed. I usually like emails because they’re safe and allow me time to craft my communication, but some in some situations a phone call works best. I hate phone calls, but in this case I call my client to get a final answer on this so I can move on.

Lesson Learned: Because I get almost no face-time with clients, the immediacy of a phone call can be just as important as the long, detailed weekly emails I put together.

11 a.m. Work out again. It’s daily!

2 p.m. Today I have an in-person meeting with a potential client. I don’t like commuting around to in-person meetings, but sometimes these are the best way to pitch yourself. I know I’m much better in-person than on the phone, so if there’s a new client I really want to work with, I always try to get an in-person with them.

5 p.m. I’m back at home and doing some publicity work for a client. This means researching past news on competitors, writing stories, and calling up journalists to pitch them.

Day 3

9 a.m. Work, work, work. People tend to think freelancers can do whatever we want, whenever we want. It’s pretty much true – I could do that, but I actually need structure in order to get stuff done. When I first started freelancing, I loved the flexibility, but sort of lost sight of structure. I didn’t get a whole lot done each day, and I would always wonder why. Getting up and starting work at the same time every day gives my whole day structure so I can be productive.

11 a.m. You-know-what.

1 p.m. My client is sponsoring a big conference this week, so I spend the rest of the afternoon running around and making sure everything is in place.

Day 4

1 a.m. I am falling asleep when I hear a “bzzz. bzzz. bzzz.” Oh no… a series of text messages. No one ever texts me at this time of night just for fun. I wish I could just pretend I hadn’t heard it, but I drag myself out of bed to see what’s up.

My client has a public image emergency. Business journalists and bloggers rarely work on a 9 to 5 schedule, so that means I don’t either. I’m told that a huge last-minute story about my client’s company is going to break in less than an hour. They need me to produce a public statement and letter to my client’s customers. I am on Skype with the co-founder and corporate counsel well into the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s where being a freelance consultant hurts me: I’ve done a good job, so I’m close with the company. But, I am still a freelancer, so I’m not that close from a legal and business perspective. For legal reasons, it’s common for me not to hear about developments like this until they’re already happening. Like at 1 a.m.

10 a.m. I am tired. This would never have happened at my old job, which, despite its many shortcomings, always ended with the regular workday.

11 a.m. Somehow I still manage to go to work out. Maybe this freelancing deal is not so bad after all — I’d be stuck at my desk looking at a spreadsheet if it were my old job.

1 p.m. Lunch with a friend who’s also a freelance consultant. It feels great to be sitting around at this restaurant in the middle of the day. Neither of us looks at our watches.

3 p.m. This week has been heavy for one client, so I devote the remainder of my afternoon to monitoring press reactions and preparing for their conference.

7 p.m. All I want to do is stare at the ceiling, but I need to spend some time tending to my other clients. It’ll be a working dinner tonight.

Day 5

7 a.m. Ah, Friday. Friday still feels like Friday to me, even as a freelancer making my own schedule. I’m helping my client at their big conference today so I’m up early.

2 p.m. I’ve spent all morning running my client’s booth, making sure speaking spots have gone well, and meeting new people. Here’s my thinking: my contract with my current client will inevitably end, so attending industry events like this one makes sure that I get visibility with other potential clients. It can be exhausting, but it works better than sending ‘cold’ emails to people I don’t know very well–emails are pretty easy to ignore, while face-to-face conversations are hard to forget.

An extra note: I do marketing, so one way I get through these conferences is by thinking of them in terms of audiences. Here, my primary audience is my client. For me right now, that’s the person I need to impress most. But actually, it doesn’t stop at that person. I have a secondary audience: my client’s peers and/or competitors. These people might turn into clients if they see and like the results of my work. In my view, I even a tertiary audience – people who will never become my clients, but who might talk about me to potential clients if they’re impressed with what they see.

These are some of the things going through my head as I walk around and talk to people at this conference. I actually get really nervous talking to people I don’t know well, but I know I have to do it if I want to make my freelance consulting thrive. I pretend that I’m somebody gregarious – and I make sure I have a set of things to talk about that I can fall back on.

By the end of the day, I’m all talked-out and just want to go home and stare at the wall. The good thing is, I did have a couple of decent conversations and people that I’ll follow up with via email (I never use business cards – remind me too much of a used car salesman, but that’s just my take on it).

Day 6

11 a.m. I get up late! Unlike some freelancers and consultants I know, I don’t do any official work on Saturdays or Sundays. I do, however, work on experimental projects that often end up netting me more income. I also catch up on stuff that supports my business, but isn’t directly income-generating. Stuff like reading industry blogs, reading people’s Twitter feeds, maybe writing a blog post.

1 p.m. A fat check arrives in the mail. It’s for over $6k– more than 3 times fatter than the checks I used to get as a freelancer 3 months ago.

7 p.m. I go to a dinner party with a client who’s now also become a friend. Lots of people in my industry are at this party, so there’s plenty to talk about and ideas to throw around. I’ve developed social relationships with a lot of the people I work with, and have found it be a big source of new projects. All else being equal, most people would rather work with friends than with random strangers.

Day 7

11 a.m. Catching up on administrative stuff. Working for myself means that I spend my own time to take care of business essentials like billing, accounting, marketing and sales. That’s all stuff I don’t get to invoice somebody for, so it often ends up getting done in my ‘off’ time, on the weekends.

6 p.m. The workweek for me really starts on Sunday evening. It’s my time to ready myself for the coming week and queue up stuff to launch on Monday morning.

8 p.m. Dinner with friends from my old corporate job. They complain about their jobs and their executives and tell me how lucky I am not to work there anymore. Nobody really gets what I do all week, and they’re continually confused as to how/why I have money. I don’t tell them that I actually make 30% more as a freelancer than I did when I was working next to them. I tell them they could be freelancers too, or at least start it on the side, but their eyes just glaze over. Shrug. I guess that means less competition for me, but fewer 3-hour lunch buddies.

* * *

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43 Comments

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  1. Working out at 11am is perfect timing – between 11am and 1pm, many people are taking their lunch breaks, maybe some of her clients depending on time zones, etc. I bet this is the most low-volume time for her as far as emails and phone calls are concerned.

  2. Another interesting post.

    Having access to a gym that isn’t crowded is a fantastic reason to freelance in my book.

  3. Great story, but that 30% raise might actually be a paycut depending on the numbers. I know that in my specific case, a 30% raise and switch to freelance would be a pay cut overall between healthcare, 401k and other benefits.

  4. Great story and love the “Diaries”…another solid way of both envisioning and seeing that there are others out there doing it.

    The last few posts have been amazingly & eerie similar to what I’ve been toying with and maybe just the motivation I need!

    Thanks again Ramit!

  5. I can picture Ramit pounding his head against the wall reading comments like BenSS haha

  6. I think this is a great post – I can’t read enough about success stories and people actually making the move to entrepreneurship/freelancing.

    I also think the post made a great point about freelancing, that people like to work with friends. I’m starting to dabble with freelance web development and so far my only work has been with friends who needed work done but didn’t know where to turn. I know you’ve written some stuff related to getting started Ramit but I’d like to see more on techniques people (or you) have employed to actually start freelancing, how they/you found your first customer and kept the momentum going, lessons learned, tips on building your reputation (besides blogging), etc.

    Just my two cents… Keep these great posts coming.
    Pete

  7. Hah, wasn’t my intention. If I had a flexible schedule doing something I enjoyed it would totally be worth a minor paycut. Managing healthcare is a major concern though, especially with a family.

  8. Hmm, when I was unemployed-the gym was ALWAYS crowded in middle of the day. In fact, sometimes it was more crowded at 11 a.m. than 6 p.m.

    • Haha, when I go to the gym in the middle of the day, I always look suspiciously at other people, like “…get a job.” I’m sure they do the same to me.

      Except I’m Indian so they may just automatically assume I’m running a company.

  9. My favorite part is her friends wondering how she affords to go to the gym at 11 a.m. I’m pretty sure my housemates just assume I’m a bum/lazy student, which is awesome.

  10. “I tell them they could be freelancers too, or at least start it on the side, but their eyes just glaze over. Shrug.”

    Awesome.

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