Freelance Practice Problems: When the numbers don't work out

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TLDR: I'm looking for a part-time job, because a client is taking a ridiculously long time to pay me for work I did almost three months ago at a critical time in my new practice's growth. I'm prepared to commit for up to a year, and up to two for the right opportunity. More details below!

Freelancer Lesson: You can do all the right things and still not succeed.

Last week during my weekly review, I came to a frustrating conclusion: I don't have enough in savings anymore to give my new practice the room it needs to grow.

Earlier in 2018 I switched my freelance practice from web development to podcast production. It's been going well, and I'm a few months away from reaching my base income targets.

But I needed savings to do that. Savings that I earned from doing some more lucrative web dev work back in February, March and April. The pay was good, and the deposits more than paid for the few months that I was delivering on that work.

The plan fails

I'm now 75 days unpaid on the balance of that work, which represents another 2-4 months of saved earnings. The amount is almost ten thousand dollars. I will be persuing collections, but all that requires time and energy, and might not result in getting the money. I did everything I was supposed to in order to make the transition. But because freelancers don't have the same payment protections as traditional employees, I'm now in a position where I'll run out of cash before I completely transition to the new focus of my practice. If I don't do anything different.

Here's what I want you to know from reading this: You can do everything right, and still have things go sideways. But this is a freelancer's life. Regardless, there's always choices, and I hope to outline what my options are and see maybe if there's a way that you can help.

I hope this also highlights the need for tracking various metrics in your practice. It's understanding these metrics that allows me to decide how I change what I'm working on in a way that produces results.

Options for when a freelancer doesn't have the sales income yet

Because a freelancer trades time for money, most of the options are related to the various ways which you can allot that time to get the results you're looking for.

1. Increase time spent on sales

This is the first thing I'm exploring. I have a lot of time still stored up in volunteer work that is rewarding, but I could use that time for different activities.

I'm currently spending one full day per week on sales, and usually spread across the week in a couple of hours a day. I need to ramp this up to grow my income.

But my lead time on most sales is 2 months. The bigger contracts that I'm looking for are even larger. That means that for those I start with today, it's still 2 months out before I see the results of that.

And I need to stop the bleeding now. It's not critital, but I need to minimize it, at the very least, before it does become critical. So the lead time is an important factor to consider.

Selling more is important, but it can't be the only thing I do right now.

2. Other revenue sources

In the typical freelancing model of trading time for money, I have a few options for adding more sources of income.

  • I can go back to web dev work. I've been doing a bit of this as opportunities come up (so if you have something for me to do, let me know). All things being equal though, I'd really rather be doing podcast production and editing.
  • I can get a part-time job to supplement my other income. This is the worst-case scenario, as it's the least valuable method of adding those (if part-time jobs were lucrative, freelancers probably wouldn't have a place in the market). But the trade-off is that they're plentiful and the lead time to income is usually two weeks from the time you pick something up.
  • I can work on other products and services in my business. I've been working on completing the Freelance Foundations Bootcamp and the Freelancer First Aid curriculum, but doing these correctly takes time. I'm still at least two months away from having the product complete so I can launch it. So this is more of a long-term solution, and I have a short-term problem.

3. Hang it up

This isn't actually an option for me, but when your numbers aren't working out how you want them to, it should at least be a consideration. I should (and have) asked myself questions such as:

  • Do I have the right focus for my practice? I do. This is something I've wanted to pursue for years.
  • Am I doing the right things to grow it? I am. My growth is slow and steady and clients are responding to the process and starting to see good results.
  • Am I happy with the rate it's growing? I am, it's my situation that's forcing a change in approach.

Given those answers, what I'm really looking to do is lengthen the amount of runway I have to complete my transition. So what's most important short-term is to reduce my burn rate. Medium-term, I need to increse sales. The two together lead to the outcome I'm hoping for.

Decision time: Increase sales and slow the burn, and using this as an opportunity.

I need to both increase my sales activity and slow the rate at which I'm burning through savings by bringing in some short-term income. So I've decided to look for a part-time opportunity. I'd love something that's challenging and a great fit for my skills, but I'm also not afraid of just getting my hands dirty and doing some work that needs doing. Up to 20 hours a week.

That still gives me time to focus on my practice and grow it organically, and make sure I'm doing solid work for my existing clients.

It's quite possible that both of these, combined with the client paying this month could mean that there's no problem. I've thought about that a lot, and also what's next for my practice. And in sorting out all those things, I think I'd still take the PT opportunity because it leads to the next phase of my practice.

Trevor's Freelancing Practice in 2022 and beyond

The world of freelancing is changing rapidly, but there's not a lot of research being done, nor is there good policy being crafted to support how independent work and self-employment is shaped and shapes government decisions. So if I get this part-time work and don't need it, I'll keep it and use the money to save for going back to school in 2019 for Labour Studies. I want to study this from the perspective of freelancers, the gig economy, and particularly how support systems haven't kept up with the current and emerging reality.

So that's my story so far! Happy to answer any questions any of you might have, so reach out to me on social! Tell me about it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Oh, and if you know of an opportunty that might be a good fit? Let me know there as well!


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