The Free­lanc­ing Life

Think you have­what it takes to be a full-time free­lancer? Keep read­ing to find out.

Good Housekeeping (Philippines) - - News -

If you are an em­ployed pro­fes­sional in the Philip­pines to­day, the thought of go­ing free­lance has prob­a­bly crossed your mind. How can it not? Free­lanc­ing, or self-em­ploy­ment, of­fers many ben­e­fits: to­tal con­trol over your work­ing hours (more time for the fam­ily!), the op­por­tu­nity to work from home (say good­bye to traf­fic and long com­mutes!), and the free­dom to choose whom to work with and which projects to take. But while its perks are cer­tainly tempt­ing, free­lanc­ing also poses some cru­cial is­sues that need to be con­sid­ered be­fore you dive in. Un­like em­ploy­ment, free­lance work does not guar­an­tee a monthly pay­check. So, you must ask: Will work­ing on a per-project ba­sis give me fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity? Can I sup­port my fam­ily without a reg­u­lar salary? As a free­lancer, where and how do I find work to be­gin with? To an­swer th­ese ques­tions, we in­ter­viewed ex­perts and pro­fes­sion­als who have suc­cess­fully made the shift. Read up on what they had to say to help you de­ter­mine if free­lanc­ing is a suit­able path for you.

WITH GREAT FREE­DOM COMES GREAT RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY

Can you sur­vive as a free­lancer? The short an­swer is: Yes, it’s pos­si­ble. But only if you’re ready to work hard and stick it out.

When you’re em­ployed, ev­ery­thing is es­sen­tially handed to you: You are reg­u­larly as­signed a set of tasks and projects and, in ex­change for the work you put in, a salary is au­to­mat­i­cally de­posited to your bank ac­count each month. Apart from that, you get ben­e­fits like paid va­ca­tion and sick leaves, and in­cen­tives like Christ­mas and per­for­mance bonuses.

On the other hand, as a free­lancer, you may own your time, but your work and in­come will only be as sta­ble and se­cure as you make it.

“I-ex­pect mo na this is not like the cor­po­rate world where you can just sit and may darat­ing na sweldo ev­ery month, even if may times na you don’t re­ally work,” ex­plains Marvin De Leon, fa­ther of two and founder of Free­lance Blend (free­lance­blend. com), a blog, pod­cast, and on­line com­mu­nity for Filipino free­lancers. “You have to be ready na mawawala yung mga ganu’n. Ako, I was work­ing for eigh­teen years—nasanay ka na ganu’n ta­pos mawawala? You have to pre­pare for it.”

Be­fore launch­ing Free­lance Blend in 2014, De Leon worked in the e-com­merce and fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try. “If you’re sick, wala kang sick leave. Sa free­lanc­ing, no work, no pay. Un­less you have an ar­range­ment with a client that pays you ev­ery month,” he adds.

Free­lanc­ing can be a feast or famine busi­ness; you can’t ex­pect to earn if you don’t have work. And un­less you’ve al­ready es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with clients be­fore tak­ing the plunge, you can’t ex­pect the work to come to you. You, in fact, may have to work harder than an em­ployee since you have to con­stantly be on the look­out for op­por­tu­ni­ties, and be dili­gent in hunt­ing down and se­cur­ing projects. The only way to stay afloat in this type of busi­ness is to make sure you don’t let the ball drop by run­ning out of work.

Seize big projects that pay well, though they may only pay once. But more im­por­tantly, sup­ple­ment th­ese big projects with those that pay reg­u­larly—monthly, if pos­si­ble—so you get a “base pay” to see you through each month.

“Know how much you need in a month to sur­vive. That will serve as your monthly in­come goal. Then find work that’s reg­u­lar to help you reach that amount,” says Fitz Vil­la­fuerte, reg­is­tered fi­nan­cial plan­ner and blog­ger (fitzvil­la­fuerte.com). “This can be a part-time job or a long-term project (at least six months) that pays on a monthly ba­sis. Any­thing that will pay the bills. You can’t re­ally be choosy on this, but it’s pre­ferred to find work that’s re­lated to your field. But more im­por­tantly, some­thing that will not use up all your time. Then find more free­lance projects that you like as you al­ready have a base pay per month.”

Echo­ing this ad­vice, De Leon says, “You have to find the right clients that will give you long-term en­gage­ment ver­sus yung mga one-off. Da­pat may good mix ka of one-time clients and long-term clients who can give you a monthly in­come, at mas madami yung monthly nag­bibi­gay. Work to­ward those long-term clients.”

For Niña Espinosa, 36, mother of four and free­lance pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, this means main­tain­ing weekly gigs at bars while keep­ing her sched­ule open for book­ings for big events like wed­dings, birth­day par­ties, and cor­po­rate af­fairs.

“As a singer, I have sched­ules. Pero on call kasi ako, so some days I have to keep open, kasi mas malaki kik­i­tain ko sa raket. For ex­am­ple, may com­pany na naghanap, kailan­gan ng singer—that’s about triple the price of a reg­u­lar gig. Eh siyem­pre, mas pa­bor sa ’kin ’yun, kasi mother na ako, I have kids to feed,” she says. “I have to work very hard. Kasi, as free­lancers, we can­not stop, kasi wala kam­ing reg­u­lar salary.” TIP: VIS­I­BIL­ITY IS KEY. To max­i­mize your chances of book­ing projects, you have to put your­self out there. Peo­ple won’t know what you can do un­less they see your work.

The quick­est way to do this is to have an on­line pres­ence. Ac­cord­ing to De Leon, free­lance mar­ket­places like Up­work.com and Free­lancer.com are good places to start. But ul­ti­mately, set your eyes on cre­at­ing your own plat­form, be it a web­site or a blog.

“Cre­ate a dig­i­tal pres­ence. You have to be search­able on Google. If you’re not on Google, you’re ba­si­cally zero,” says De Leon, not­ing that an on­line pres­ence could help you score even in­ter­na­tional clients. “I would sug­gest hav­ing a blog. Write about your work. If you’re not a writer, cre­ate videos, make a pod­cast. Just cre­ate some­thing that’s your own.”

He con­tin­ues, “It’s not im­pos­si­ble, if wala kang on­line pres­ence, to get jobs. But you’ll re­ally need to work dou­bly hard ver­sus if you have your own on­line port­fo­lio. It au­to­mates your mar­ket­ing, eh: It’s just there twenty four-seven. If they search your name, even at mid­night, kahit tu­log ka na, they can still find you, in­stead of need­ing to call you pa for you to ex­plain what you do.”

Phys­i­cal vis­i­bil­ity, of course, is just as help­ful. Espinosa, for one, at­tends her col­leagues’ events to stay in the loop. “Kailan­gan palagi akong vis­i­ble. So ’pag wala akong tra­baho ngayon, pupunta ako sa gig ng isang musikero para kita nila ako, and they know na, ‘Baka ab­sent ako sa araw na ‘to, baka pwede si Niña.’”

THE FI­NAN­CIAL STRUG­GLE IS REAL, BUT MAN­AGE­ABLE

The hard truth about free­lanc­ing is that lean pe­ri­ods—weeks or months when there just won’t be many clients or much money com­ing in—are in­evitable.

Lean pe­ri­ods, or what some free­lancers call their non-peak sea­sons, tend to vary per in­dus­try. For mu­si­cian Espinosa, for ex­am­ple, one is dur­ing the sum­mer months, when, af­ter grad­u­a­tion sea­son, there are hardly any more grand events. Mean­while, for Elaine Ganue­las, 36, free­lance makeup artist and hairstylist, the lean pe­riod comes in be­tween wed­ding sea­sons, past Fe­bru­ary un­til just be­fore the ’ber months.

Even those with more reg­u­lar types of free­lance work, like Minela Mo­jica, 32, who has been work­ing as a vir­tual as­sis­tant (VA) for for­eign clients for the past two years, an­tic­i­pate th­ese pe­ri­ods. As a VA, Mo­jica does ad­min­is­tra­tive work for var­i­ous com­pa­nies, some­times sev­eral at a time. And though she works with each client in­def­i­nitely, she is still aware of the threat of run­ning out of work if she fails to pay at­ten­tion to it. “It’s nerve wrack­ing be­cause if you don’t have con­tin­u­ous clients, then it’s most def­i­nitely go­ing to be hard fi­nan­cially,” she says.

But while lean pe­ri­ods present a real chal­lenge for free­lancers, they can be man­aged.

A sense of fore­sight helps Mo­jica man­age the un­pre­dictable na­ture of her job. She ad­vises fel­low free­lancers: “We need to pre­pare for the worst, and if you feel that there will be drought when it comes to work­load, try to ap­ply and ac­quire more even be­fore it hap­pens, so if one source of in­come stops, an­other will re­place it.”

Espinosa, whose hus­band is also a free­lance mu­si­cian, has like­wise learned to an­tic­i­pate th­ese pe­ri­ods. “May mga months na ma­g­a­nda ang pa­sok ng raket, pero may mga buwan din na patay ang tra­baho,” she says. “So kailan­gan ala­gaan mo din ang mga pwesto mo. Doon ko pin­upunuan ng mga sched­ule sa bars.”

Espinosa con­tin­ues, “Hindi ta­laga pwe­deng mawalan ng reg­u­lar gigs. Da­pat meron kang iti­tira para meron pa ding puma­pa­sok sa ’yo na reg­u­lar na pera. So, for ex­am­ple, in a week, meron akong tat­long reg­u­lar gigs. Bago pa du­mat­ing yung next month, mag-au-au­di­tion na ako sa iba to make sure na meron akong pa­pa­sok na pera next month.”

She goes on to share that she and her hus­band have had gigs that have paid so gen­er­ously, they’ve been able to pur­chase cars for their fam­ily through their earn­ings. “Min­san ang ganda ta­laga ng bi­gay ng clients. ’Pag min­san may raket kam­ing ma­g­a­nda, we’re able to get th­ese things.” How­ever, she’s quick to point out that, given the na­ture of their job, the im­por­tance of set­ting money aside is not lost on them. “Min­san ta­la­gang wala. Kaya ke­lan­gan nag-iim­pok ka ta­laga ng pera. Hindi mo pwe­deng ubusin agad, ta­pos bukas nakan­ganga ka.”

As for fu­ture plans, Espinosa says she and her hus­band are look­ing into in­surance poli­cies and pos­si­ble busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in prepa­ra­tion for their re­tire­ment. “Natatakot pa din ako para sa fu­ture namin. Kaya nag-iisip na kami ng mga in­surance, mga in­vest­ments na kun­yari af­ter ilang years may ba­ba­lik sa ’min. Itong year na ’to, we’re think­ing mag­tayo ng busi­ness para meron kam­ing fall­back. We’re the ones mak­ing our own way para sa fu­ture namin.”

Ganue­las, mean­while, prefers to pri­or­i­tize sav­ing. She sets aside a por­tion of her earn­ings, per gig, to cover her in case of emer­gen­cies. She was able to pur­chase a car two years ago—and con­tin­ues to pay for it to­day—but does not see her­self ven­tur­ing into in­vest­ment in­stru­ments soon, mainly due to the un­pre­dictabil­ity of her in­come. “Sa ngayon, kung ano meron ako, itatabi ko,” she says. “Gusto ko yung nandiyan siya, hindi yung hindi ko siya makukuha ’pag ke­lan­gan ko.”

When it comes to home ex­penses, Ganue­las is grate­ful to be able to split them with her part­ner, who is em­ployed full-time. Free­lance Blend’s De Leon shares this sen­ti­ment. “Since I’m mar­ried, it’s a good thing my wife is em­ployed, so meron pa din nagsasalo,” he says. “Be­fore kasi, pareho kam­ing nag-wo-work, so fifty-fifty kami sa house­hold con­tri­bu­tions. When I went free­lance, nag-usap kami, ‘Mawawala yung gan­ito ko, paano yung magig­ing con­tri­bu­tions?’ It’s a dis­cus­sion you need to have, es­pe­cially if you’re mar­ried with kids. Da­pat may bless­ing ng spouse.”

An­other piece of ad­vice from De Leon? If you’re go­ing into this late, or, say, if you’re still em­ployed and are only just con­sid­er­ing go­ing free­lance, try to save up at least a year’s worth of your liv­ing ex­penses be­fore you do. This is what helped De Leon him­self, through his early days as a free­lancer. With 18 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as an em­ployee, he had saved enough and built an emer­gency fund be­fore he made the shift. “So I was able to sur­vive for at least a month without in­come,” he says. TIP: PRI­OR­I­TIZE YOUR EMER­GENCY FUND. While the un­pre­dictabil­ity and ir­reg­u­lar­ity of a free­lancer’s in­come may make it chal­leng­ing to save money, it also makes it all the more nec­es­sary.

Ac­cord­ing to fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor Vil­la­fuerte, you should ide­ally set aside 30% of your in­come. But if that’s too big, you can start with as lit­tle as 5%. If you don’t have an emer­gency fund yet, al­lo­cate your sav­ings to this fund, which should amount to six months’ or a year’s worth of your liv­ing ex­penses. It should help you through lean pe­ri­ods.

“Build your emer­gency fund first, which goes to a sim­ple sav­ings ac­count. More im­por­tantly, get in­surance if you are the bread­win­ner,” says Vil­la­fuerte.

Once you’ve es­tab­lished your emer­gency fund, con­tinue the habit of sav­ing. Think of it as an act of pay­ing your­self first. “This is not bound by time, as you’re not an em­ployee who re­ceives a pay­check on sched­ule. Rather, it’s like hav­ing a ‘per­sonal tax’ that you deduct from each pay­ment that you re­ceive.”

With your emer­gency fund in place, part of your sav­ings can then be fun­neled to­ward in­vest­ments that should meet your fi­nan­cial ob­jec­tives.

YOUR EARN­ING PO­TEN­TIAL GROWS WITH YOUR EX­PE­RI­ENCE AND SKILLS

There is a good in­come po­ten­tial for free­lancers in the Philip­pines. “May po­ten­tial siya to match, if not ex­ceed, what you earn in an of­fice, es­pe­cially for on­line free­lancers who work with com­pa­nies abroad,” says De Leon. “It re­ally de­pends on the job. If mga en­try level, like mga data en­try or tran­scrip­tion, sig­uro lower. Pero yung mga spe­cial­ized skills, like if you’re a web de­vel­oper, it can go high, like mga P100,000.”

Of course, it may not be as lu­cra­tive when you’re start­ing out—un­less you al­ready have some­thing to show for your work. Some free­lancers, like event or­ga­niz­ers, even have to take a few non-pay­ing jobs at the be­gin­ning of their ca­reer to gain ex­pe­ri­ence and get their name out there. But down the road, their rates can only go up. Why? Be­cause ex­pe­ri­ence ex­pands their skill set and hones their ex­per­tise so that the ser­vices or prod­ucts they of­fer be­come some­thing unique to them.

This holds true across all in­dus­tries. “The higher the level of ex­per­tise you have, the higher you can charge,” says De Leon. You can max­i­mize your earn­ing po­ten­tial by up­grad­ing your skills and com­pe­tence in your cho­sen field. To do this suc­cess­fully, though, it would greatly help if you were do­ing some­thing you like, so that you’re will­ing to keep at it.

Mabi Gabriel, a for­mer free­lance English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage (ESL) teacher, says, “You have to do some­thing you re­ally en­joy, para may will­ing­ness ka to ex­ert ef­fort for it. Kasi, free­lance ka eh, hindi ka na­man tied up sa work na ’yun, pero ba­ba­lik­ba­likan mo. Ta­pos along the way, nasasanay ka do­ing that busi­ness, so tu­mataas yung mar­ket value mo.”

Once you’ve de­ter­mined that par­tic­u­lar job or skill you want to fo­cus on, mas­ter it, then build your cre­den­tials, and keep im­prov­ing. Best of all, find out what the mar­ket needs and try to ad­dress that.

Says Vil­la­fuerte, “Never stop learn­ing. Your earn­ing po­ten­tial is di­rectly pro­por­tional to your skills. So read news about your in­dus­try, up­grade your­self with books and sem­i­nars, get cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, and net­work with other free­lancers in your niche.”

TIP: CON­SIDER YOUR­SELF A CLIENT’S PART­NER RATHER THAN AN EM­PLOYEE. “You are now your own em­ployer. So da­pat ang think­ing mo din is you are your busi­ness,” says De Leon. “You have ser­vices that solve peo­ple’s prob­lems. So ang us­apan niyo da­pat is client to client, and not as some­body who’s on a lower level.”

When con­duct­ing busi­ness with a client, keep in mind that they’ve sought you out for the unique ser­vice and skill that you can pro­vide. So as­sert your­self, and con­duct your­self with author­ity. That can make all the dif­fer­ence when it comes to how you mar­ket and price your ser­vices.

An on­line pres­ence au­to­mates your mar­ket­ing, so make your­self search­able on­line.

Make it a habit to set aside a por­tion of your in­come from each project. It will help you through lean pe­ri­ods.

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