India markets close in 3 hours 48 minutes

5 things I learnt from being a freelancer for five years

Photograph: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

As it is becoming clearer that freelancing may be the only option available for several people, we speak with someone who's been there and done that

Photograph: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

The global pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has changed the way we live and work. A lot of these changes have been unprecedented. While on the one hand, several IT companies have been seriously considering continuing the WFH model, considering working from office for just 25 per cent of their staff, other industries that have been seriously hit are laying off employees and shutting down entire departments. No job seems to be safe right now and for those who have been affected, it seems like freelancing may be the only option. Having been a freelancer myself and having been surrounded by others who have been or are continuing to freelance, it seems appropriate a time to share our collective learnings with you, dear reader:

1. Uncertainty is part the job

You will have some great months and some terrible months. There’s often no way to predict in which month you’ll see a slump and which month may seem like a bonanza. So you will have to live with that uncertainty. It may seem to you that a full-time job gives you security. And while that may be true for most part, the fact remains that a full-time role in these uncertain times doesn’t always equate to job security. With multiple sectors being affected and investor wealth at record lows, having a nine-to-five job may give you a false sense of comfort. When you choose to or are forced to be a freelancer, you take away that illusion (or that illusion is taken away from you). This awareness tends to push you to innovate, work smarter, and think differently than the way you’ve been used to thinking. The important thing to know here is that uncertainty needn’t always be a bad thing.

2. Salary is the greatest addiction

Surely, you’ve felt a surge of endorphins rushing through your veins when you receive your salary SMS at the beginning of every month. Know that you are not alone. Everyone gets the same high when they get that message on their respective phones. It’s what keeps us going month after month. In some ways, salary is a bit of an addiction. To make sure you hear that sweet sound of the SMS tone on your phone, you close your eyes to the soul-sucking nature of your job and keep at it. When you choose to get out voluntarily or are thrown out of this of this cycle you may experience a crash of an addict. Your anxiety levels may start building up when you haven’t worked for a few months and the salary and your final pay-out messages have stopped. It is important to remember that like with everything else, you have to work your way out of this situation too. And for that you may need help. Which is why it isn’t a bad idea to…

3. Consult a therapist

The uncertainty and having had your ‘fix’ being taken away from you is bound to give you several sleepless nights. Not being able to find assignments immediately may also affect your self-esteem. There is no shame in seeing a therapist to address these issues. It may seem like a counterintuitive suggestion to make at a time when your source of income is uncertain at best and zero at worst (and therapists don’t always come cheap), but if you can spare a couple of thousand rupees per month, you are likely to land a good therapist who can help you work through these strange and unprecedented times. There are also several therapists who are offering their services for free right now. So even if you don’t have the money, you will do well if you look up a list of such counsellors and psychologists in your city.

4. You will need to plan your finances better

This may be something of an obvious thing to say but it’s important to spell it out. One of the ways to plan your finances better is by opening multiple accounts. Ideally you should consider opening three accounts – one where all your income arrives (and for which you shouldn’t have a debit card), one from where you spend throughout the month, and ultimately, one where all your savings go. Dividing up your finances will help you keep track of how much you’re making each month and not feel overtly thrilled about having a great month (that may result you in spending more) nor feel disappointed when you’ve had a slow month. Keeping a separate account for your spending will require you to transfer a specific amount each month to that account. Watching it go from your account will make it real for you and, as a result, you will be able to control your spending habits or at least be able to monitor them better.

5. You will experience freedom like never before

All the stress and uncertainty will likely go out of the window when you truly start appreciating the freedom that comes with freelancing. And while being disciplined goes a long way in sustaining your freelance lifestyle, you will no longer be bound by the need to wake up, suit up and go to a workplace you don’t like. You get to set your boundaries and play by your rules. You can actually call it a day at 6 pm and not have anyone judge you. Finally, you’ll be able to live freely. And you can do all of it if you’re truly able to see the positives of freelancing. There’s something incredibly liberating about freelancing and the more you appreciate it, the better you will be at this new phase of your career.