Working as a freelancer, 8 things I’ve learned so far

Work-wise, January has been a good month for me. In fact, for the first time since we left the UK in 2013, I’ve managed to make as much money as I used to in my full-time writing job in London. That’s great news for our travel fund and digital nomad goals, but I’m not getting too comfortable just yet. I know that freelancing can be a risky business and I’m still very much finding my feet. With that in mind, I thought I’d share eight things I’ve learned so far about working as a freelancer here in Thailand.

Sunset view from 'my home office' in Chiang Mai

Sunset view from ‘my home office’ in Chiang Mai

1) Getting started is the hard part

Wondering how to become a freelancer? Well, sorry to disappoint you but there’s no magic formula or easy shortcut, you just have gather up your courage and get going. Finding clients, building up a regular income and managing your workload will be tough to start with, but perservere. I’ve been properly working as a freelancer for five months now and with a bit of trial and error, things are finally slotting into place.

2) You have to be proactive

The key to working freelance is staying proactive. It’s up to you to reach out to clients, especially when you’re starting out.  You have to take responsibility for finding work, putting together a killer portfolio or freelance writer website and building up contacts. It’s cringe-worthy to begin with, but you have to just put yourself out there. Even when the work starts flowing in you need to keep up that proactive mindset when communicating with clients, meeting deadlines and requesting payments.

Swimming pool at Trio Condo in Chiang Mai

Daily swimming helps with our Computer Chair Back problems

3) Computer Chair Back is a real thing

Life as a freelance writer, or online teacher in Andrew’s case, means spending a lot of hours in front of a computer. According to our new yoga teacher, that means that we’ve developed a serious case of Computer Chair Back. So, in an attempt not to end up with  permanent hunchbacks, Andrew and I are making an effort to start every day with a stretching routine, swim regularly and take yoga classes every week.

4) Time zones confuse me

Working in Thailand with clients from the USA and Europe is a challenge for my number-blind brain when it comes to working out deadlines. It also means I sometimes have to work odd hours and wake up to urgent emails that were sent out while I was dreaming. Unlike me, Andrew can work out time zones and use 24-hour clocks easily, so I rely on him to un-puzzle me.

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5) Communication is key

I’ve learned the hard way that communication really is essential to success. I now demand detailed briefs from clients and make sure I’m absolutely sure of the work requirements before I start any project. This really helps to limit edit requests and makes the whole process more efficient for everyone. I also make sure I’m available on Skype and email during work hours so I can answer questions or chat with clients when I need to.

6) You will have to chase up payments

From what I’ve experienced so far, living the life of a freelancer means you spend at least 10 percent of your time chasing up payments. I hate this. Perhaps it’s the Brit in me, but I always dread having to send that awkward where is my money? message.

Dollars and Dong

Be prepared to chase payments when you freelance

7) When you’re working as a freelancer, self discipline is everything

The thought of being woken up by an alarm clock and forced to spend eight hours of every day in an open-plan office makes my soul shudder. I love setting my own hours and working from home, but that can turn into a recipe for disaster if you don’t have some seriously strong willpower. If you’re not self disciplined with your workload you could so easily end up wasting your day by sleeping until 11am, watching TV marathons, taking trips to the 7/11 and staring out the window.

8) Achieving a healthy work-life balance is hard

One of the top benefits of being a freelancer is that you can choose when, where and how much you work. However, at the end of the month there’s no guaranteed salary payment so you have to figure out how much work you need to do to survive.  I find it incredibly hard to say no to clients, especially the high-paying ones, so lately I’ve ended up working long hours. This is not only bad for my health (Hello, Computer Chair Back) but also my mental well-being. I need to remember that the whole reason we’re trying to carve out an online income is so that we can create a lifestyle that allows us the freedom to travel and really enjoy life.

The Turtle Pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

We’ll be back in Hanoi in February!

Aside from our fancy honeymoon weekend, working so much in January has meant that our lives have been somewhat lacking on the travel front. That will change in February because we have a visa run planned to Vietnam, which we’re super-excited about. How will we cope with returning to Hanoi’s turbulent, traffic-choked chaos? This trip will also be our first proper test of juggling travel with freelance work, so let’s see how we manage.

Do you work as a freelancer? Got any advice or want to share any lessons you’ve learned?  

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19 thoughts on “Working as a freelancer, 8 things I’ve learned so far

  1. If only we could get paid for sleeping until 11am, watching TV marathons, taking trips to the 7/11 and staring out the window! Great post.

    We’re just starting out on our freelancing journey and we were staying with family in England when we kicked things off. We found that a lot people don’t actually grasp the concept of freelancing or working from home – they seemed to think that because we were at home we weren’t actually working and were constantly interrupting us and disrupting our rhythm! But I guess that’s not something you have to worry about out there.

    Also, a helpful tip – you can’t get “computer chair back” if you work from your bed…

    • Ha, that’s one way to deal with the Computer Back Chair 🙂 Yep, we’re lucky that we can get a lot done in our apartment, I imagine it must be a lot more difficult when you’re staying with family. Hope you guys are doing well, it sounds like you’ve made a great start with your freelance work, it’s taken us nearly four years to get going with this!

    • Yep, it’s really the worst thing about working on a computer! At least when you’re travelling you’re out and about exploring.

  2. Very interesting post, I think points 6 and 7 would be hardest for me. I would find hard to motivate myself and not get easily distracted. Chasing people for money would be hard, like you I just don’t like talking about money. But there are many positives to being your own boss and the independence you now have. Very brave of you both and your hard work will pay off…it sounds like it already is😄
    Gilda Baxter recently posted..Amsterdam A City Below Sea LevelMy Profile

    • Thanks Gilda, we’re just getting to the point where we can see our hard work is starting to pay off. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to figure out how to balance this kind of work with travel, that’s the next hurdle!

  3. So happy you guys are getting closer to your dreams and all your hard work is paying off. Hopefully we can be as successful as you guys one day.

    As soon as we leave the Philipines its time to be more proactive and find some paying work. Fingers crossed.

    Yoga sounds so like a great way to stay healthy and combat computer chair back. Not convinced I can get Darren to join in with that, but stretching routine sounds great.

    • From seeing how hard you worked here in Chiang Mai, I’m sure you guys will make great freelancers and be really successful. We are still learning and figuring out how to balance travel and freelancing is going to be hard, but hopefully we’ll get there. Yep, stretching is actually making a big difference, looks like you guys are staying really active at the moment in the Philippines though!

    • Thanks so much Rhonda. Lots of trial and error but I’m getting there 🙂

  4. Hey, Amy! Cool article, I’m actually in Chiang Mai myself at the moment for the Tet holiday. Not sure if you remember me, I skyped with you and Andrew in September right before heading off to teach in Hanoi. It has turned out to be an amazing experience and I’m so glad for your help in preparing me for it! If you’re going to be in Hanoi in February, please hit me up, I would love to meet in person! 🙂 Good luck with the digital nomad life. 🙂

    • Hi Meaghan, thanks for your message, of course we remember you 🙂 It would be great to meet in Hanoi, we’ll definitely send you an email nearer the time. If you want to meet while you’re in Chiang Mai, let us know too. Have fun!

  5. ‘Love the tips Amy!

    I don’t work as a freelancer nowadays, but when I first moved to Germany, I did!
    You really have to be persistent and get yourself out there. I even contacted the British Embassy for advice and information, and they were great. They sent me this huge envelope before I had even left the UK, and it was very useful.

    Also, just because a client says “No” doesn’t mean that it’s a permanent “No”. It sometimes means “later”! Oh, and be prepared. Pretty much all the jobs I received over the years were given to me on the spot, including the one that I have now lol!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted..How to visit Amsterdam: Introducing Zaandam – a Dutch traditional town with windmills!My Profile

    • Thanks Victoria, some great advice there. I totally agree with being prepared and accept jobs as they come your way. I love that you contacted the British Embassy for advice, that’s great preparation!

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  7. Hi Amy and Andrew! Will you both be in Hanoi this february? I’m an early 30s USA guy here right now and would love to go over travel experiences and the digital nomad life which I am here for doing the same thing. Just send a message to my email. cheers!

    • Hi Rhett, yes, we will be in Hanoi from the 19th Feb to the 22nd/23rd. I’ll email you about meeting up 🙂

  8. Great post, being proactive is super important especially if you are just starting out as a freelancer. Send out cold emails, regularly check out FB groups for jobs postings etc!

    • Yep, totally agree Chrys, thanks for commenting. Good top about the FB groups.

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