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.
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.
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.
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.
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?