Some surprising things about freelancing
Via LinkedIn : I’ve been freelancing for the past nine months, and let me just say that it has been a surprising experience. And I mean this in a good way! My first surprise was actually that I became a freelancer in the first place. It wasn’t something I specifically set out to do, but after school, I had a period of job hunting. While I was doing that, my first freelance job kind of…fell onto my lap, and then I ran with it
Along the way, I’ve had some surprising revelations about what it’s like to be independent and to do your own thing in Nigeria. I struggled with cutting these down to just five, but here goes:
Surprise #1: Perhaps the most obvious, and arguably the best, thing about freelancing is the freedom. You’re free to lay in bed till 9am, pop into an industry event at 1pm, drive to a meeting at 2pm, do a bit of work during lunch at a café at 3pm, get home at 4pm and do nothing, then work like mad from 9pm till dawn. Your time is yours, and it was surprising how much I liked that.
Surprise #2: For the first time, I realized that many Nigerians ask ‘Where do you work?’ rather than ‘what do you do?’. It’s an interesting distinction and reveals just how much we value office employment rather than entrepreneurship. It also gets awkward to answer, especially when you’re transitioning in your career. I struggled with saying what I do now, and saying what I’m starting to do, and saying that I’m not with a particular company, even though I’m working on a project. My reply used to be way too long. I finally settled for “I’m an independent management and sustainability consultant’ and only followed up if they asked for more information.
Surprise #3: Finding out that almost everyone I know who has a job is also freelancing was certainly interesting. This is perhaps a product of the gross underemployment in Nigeria; people are looking for ways to supplement their main income, or trying to pursue their passions while they put bread on the table with their main job. And then there are the freelancers who do so much at once, with three or four companies running at the same time; I often wonder how they can keep their focus! They are really ‘hustling’ – where they try so many things at once and see what brings in money, not particularly caring about growing a professional career.
Surprise #4: I have an amazing set of people in my network, and I never really appreciated them before now. Networking hasn’t really been my strength and I’ve been trying to work on it by meeting and interacting with new people. But I haven’t appreciated the value of people I’ve known for a while. Freelance work has come from various unexpected people, mostly from those I’ve known a while. This has taught me the value of nurturing relationships because you never know the good they will bring down the line.
Surprise #5: If you love the surprise #1, you should watch out for jobs that seem to be freelance, but quickly tie you down to a schedule. Not like this is a bad thing of course, but it could hamper your ability to multitask and take those liberties you may love. Similarly, you really shouldn’t say yes to every job that comes your way, even if you’re broke. They are some jobs that are ticking bombs, and some you may just not be able to deliver quality service because of the time and money the client is willing to invest. I’ve had to learn to identify these and say ‘no’, which, by the way, is a skill that some of us need to develop!
What about you? What experiences and surprises do you have from freelancing, whether in Nigeria or in the rest of the world? I’m also quite curious to know if some of these surprises I mentioned resonate with others, and whether they translate across borders. Let me know!
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