The Tipping List
Earning Six Figures in my PJs
How to make a living as a freelancer
By: Nicole Christie
It’s true. In the two and a half years I’ve worked as a freelance communication consultant, I’ve earned more than in any corporate job held during my 13-year career. Some of this is driven by lifestyle: I live in Manhattan, where a low six-figure salary leaves you teetering on the edge of middle class. I’m also single and live alone, so there’s no one to pick up the slack if I can’t cover the bills. But, interestingly, my way of life has been a key component of my success. In fact, all the tips here may surprise you, as they’re not specific to business skills, schmoozing or making cold calls. They’re about how to conduct yourself throughout your career and the kind of person you need to be to succeed as an entrepreneur.
1. Don’t Get Too Comfortable. When I quit my day job to freelance, I had a $3,000 rent payment and $49,000 in savings – a good chunk of change although barely enough to cover rent for a year, much less other basic expenses like food and utilities. But if I’d moved in with my parents or succumbed to a low-cost lifestyle, nothing would have pushed me. When your survival is literally on the line – and believe me, I started paying close attention to the type of boxes inhabited by the New York homeless – you will prevail.
2. Do Whatever It Takes. Be willing to swallow your pride. When my savings account dwindled to $1,000, I signed on with a temp agency and worked at an investment bank for $18 an hour. I had been billing $400 an hour in my previous corporate life, but I didn’t dwell on the disparity. I knew I was cut out to work for myself and that temping was just a brick in the road.
3. Arrive Armed with Self-Discipline. You will go nowhere if you have great ideas but no drive. When you work for yourself, there’s no one else to generate and manage your workload, keep an eye on the status of your tasks and projects, give you a raise or make sure you’re paid on time. It’s all you, my friend.
4. Be Responsive. Our culture is still very “butts in seats” – when you’re not around and people can’t see you working, they get nervous. Unfortunately, many freelancers take advantage of their “freedom” by going MIA. Remember: Working for yourself is a privilege. Maintain it by meeting your deadlines and doing what you say you’re going to do. Keep your clients apprised of where you are with regular “touching base” calls or e-mails. When they reach out to you, get back to them as soon as you can – by the end of each day, at the very least. (Tip: A PDA is your friend. Own it, live it, love it.)
5. Stay in Touch with Everyone – Forever. I am by no means a networking shark, swigging cocktails at professional mixers and peddling business cards around the room. Every one of my clients is a previous manager or colleague – except the two who had offered me jobs I didn’t accept, but I liked them and their businesses, so we kept in touch. This is why all the tips for successful freelancing apply to your pre-freelance career as well: People remember those who will do what it takes, those who are self-disciplined and responsive. If you can master those three things, you’ll be working in your pajamas forever.