People often ask us how we transitioned to virtual freelancing. The truth is, it took us several years to hit our stride, and we are still learning. One of the annoying things we see on social media is people oversimplifying remote work by saying, “It’s so easy to work virtually!” and, “Anyone can do it!”
Sure, anyone who’s willing to work hard and learn an entirely new way of doing business can do it. And, at the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer (wah waaah), it’s not easy.
Did your bubble just burst? Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. We absolutely love working remotely, and we want you to love it too! Being realistic and prepared can help you avoid costly mistakes and unnecessary stress. Below, are some of our top eye-opening, sometimes mind-blowing, gems we’ve learned along the way.
Take a long, hard look at your budget. Figure out how much money you need to make in order to at least break even. Now, be real. Chances are you won’t make that in the first few months, maybe not even the first year, especially if you are leaving a steady job with benefits. But remember that you really want this, and find a way to make it work!
When we started out, we decided to move to a smaller, less expensive apartment, downsize to a single car, and make some serious changes to our spending habits (coffees, shopping, restaurants). Decreasing expenses majorly helped us brake even faster. It was also very empowering and enlightening. Think of it as a trade-off for a lifestyle that affords you more time with your family, freedom to travel, or whatever your reason may be for working remotely.
Yes, in the beginning, it sucked to resist the siren’s call and not stop into Starbucks like we used to, but we work remotely so we can travel more. So, before throwing any tiny tantrums, we would remind ourselves that not getting that deliciously overpriced latte at that moment would help us enjoy a latte in Paris later.
One of the most jarring changes of making the transition into the freelance world is that you will no longer have a steady paycheck. Are you financially prepared for the income fluctuations that are inevitable as a freelancer?
This may seem like common sense, but think of it as a friendly reminder. Having a plan can help decrease the personal financial stress and allow you to maintain your focus on your business.
Would you go skydiving without a parachute? Of course not, because you are smart. In the same way, don’t take a professional leap without a safety net.
Years ago, we were barely one month into our remote life when the company I worked for at the time shut down overnight. Fortunately, we had enough in savings to account for this type of emergency. After the initial panic, I was able to focus my energy into rethinking my business strategy and finding clients.
We recommend having at least 6 months worth of expenses set aside just in case. If that seems unattainable, consider sources of supplemental income, or in millennial speak, side hustles.
A perk of being a freelancer is that you are only limited by your imagination and skills. Even then, if there is something you are interested in doing but don’t know how to do it, you can always take a course and learn new skills or improve current services.
If you have bills to pay and aren’t sure you can make ends meet with your virtual business, taking a part-time job while you start can help alleviate some of the stress. Sometimes, side hustles can help you diversify your services and become one of your main sources of income.
For example, if you are an online tutor, you may consider doing resumes. Not only will this increase your income, you may have some overlap in tutoring clients who need resumes and vice versa.
When I left the film industry to pursue my own virtual assistant endeavor, I knew I would need supplemental income. I was also a bit nervous about being stuck behind a computer all day long. So, I got a part-time gig dog-walking. Besides the obvious benefit of nuzzling with new furry friends and spending time outdoors, I had a flexible source of income that didn’t detract from my availability to my virtual clients.
Keep your overhead expenses to a minimum and think about what you can realistically handle. For example, if you pay for an ad to run somewhere and you get 500 requests, can you handle that demand?
Beyond materials and marketing, use the free versions of virtual tools before you buy them. Make sure the app or software truly suits your needs. Think about it like test-driving a car before you commit to the monthly payments. That sports car might look good, but you may actually need the practicality of an SUV for your everyday life.
Something we didn’t think about when we started out is that, in addition to the time you spend on client work, you will also spend A LOT of time working on the administrative side of your business.
These non-billable tasks (NBTs) include maintaining your website, marketing, networking, blogging, client outreach, social media management, and administrative work. You may find yourself working on your NBTs late at night or on the weekend. If you can do that, great. But if not, you can factor it into your work week.
For example, only accept clients or projects that cumulatively take up 35 hours per week. This will give you 5 hours per week to work on NBTs without making you feel like you have to work 24/7 just to make ends meet.
If that’s not financially feasible, use your commute time. Are you thinking, “But I don’t have a commute anymore now that I work from home!” Exactly. If you used to spend an hour or to getting to and from work in the past, pretend you still have to do so, but use that time to work on your NBTs.
SICK LEAVE / VACATIONS / HOLIDAYS
Short answer: there aren’t any. As a freelancer, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. However, you can get creative about how you schedule your work. For example, if you are project-based, you can simply not book clients during the time you want to go on a vacation.
If you work with clients on an hourly or monthly basis, it will be a little trickier, but not impossible. Depending on your relationship with your client, you could offer to prorate the time you are taking off for a holiday or sick leave.
Bonus: Bidsketch offers some amazing tips to help you prepare for those unexpected days off.
DECIDE WHERE YOU WORK BEST
Have a plan ahead of time. I work best fully dressed, cup of coffee in hand, at a table that faces an open window. Others work best from a dedicated office space. Maybe PJs and the couch is your jam. Whatever the space, make an effort to figure out where you are most productive.
Bonus: Just because you aren’t in the office doesn’t mean you have to work at your kitchen table. Virtual Workspace has some other ideas of where you can go.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
Thanks for reading this far! Now it’s your turn. What are your concerns and questions about working remotely? Tell us here and follow us on Facebook for answers to your questions as well as great tips and resources.
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