How to Survive as a Freelancer, According to Freelancers

New to the freelancing world like me, here’s my honest take on it and a few helpful tips on how to last and enjoy being one by long time freelancers.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been an employee. I started working immediately after I graduated from college in 2000 and my first job was a sales associate for a billboard company. It was quick that I realized that being in sales wasn’t for me, so I thought long and hard what I really wanted to do as a career. I knew I love music and I also like working with creative people, so I landed my first publishing job for a rock magazine as an Editorial Assistant. From producing photo shoots and concerts, I also started writing album reviews and that’s when my love for writing began. For close to two decades, I’ve transferred from one publication to another until in 2017, I decided to resign from what I believe to be the last company that I will be working with full-time.

My last full-time job was as Managing Editor for pop culture magazine called STATUS

Did my action scare me? Heck yes! Did it make me worry for my future? Absofreakinlutely! But just like that beautifully calligraphed quote that I saw on Pinterest that says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” I said goodbye and uprooted myself to what I thought that made me somewhat secure and plunged into the uncertain and yet exciting world of freelancing.

Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. It will rock your sense of balance figuratively speaking because for once, you will not have a definite routine that you’re used to. And like so many things, it has its pros and cons. One of the main pros for me is that I don’t have to commute everyday to go to an office and be stuck in Metro Manila traffic. Another thing is that I’m my own boss so I make my own schedule and decide which projects to accept. On the other hand, since freelancing is per project basis, that only means no project, no money. If you don’t hustle, it will leave you sad and broke…trust me, I know. And since you don’t work for a company anymore, you don’t get the benefits that a normal company would give, like a 13th month pay, health, and other government aids. But if you think you’re ready to make that switch from being employed to self-employed, here are a few tips for you.

No more getting stuck in traffic every morning, every weekday since I started becoming a freelancer.

Know Your Worth

It’s always great knowing your worth as a person, but to actually know your worth in terms of how much should your asking price be for a project is also important if you’re a freelancer. A few things to take note when you give your rate to a potential client: be smart and realistic about your pricing and be ready to haggle but not to a point wherein you allow your potential client to undervalue your skill and the business you offer. Ask around. Not everyone will be willing to help out a new freelancer especially if they see you as competition, but I’m sure there will be friends who have been self-employed for years that will give you tips on this.

Market Yourself

Never underestimate the power of promoting yourself. As soon as I decided to be self-employed, I put up my own website to house my previous and present published articles and features. Since everyone is online, I wanted to make it easier for people to check out my works through my site. Don’t be scared to ask whether your favorite magazine or website is looking for a digital illustrator or a writer because if you think that your artworks and stories would be something that their market would enjoy, then make yourself known. But remember to always be polite and respectful. Learn how to accept rejection gracefully.

Aside from accepting writing jobs, my friend and marketing specialist Donna Santos and I started a brand development, marketing, publicity, and events consultancy called Happy Consultants Manila

Take Care of Your Finances

Since now becoming self-employed, you don’t have the guarantee of getting money every month unlike the time that you were working full-time. Unless you hustle hard and get projects on a regular basis, you have to budget your cash flow sensibly, now more than ever. There were times that having not enough money left me panicking but it was also my own doing why I ended up short. Learn to be a bit frugal; avoid spending too much. It also helps to list down the projects that you know you haven’t been paid yet and the amount agreed by you and your client. It doesn’t only allow you to have something to look forward to but also an easy reminder that you need to get more projects closed.

Learn to Be Motivated and Disciplined

Not all the time you’d get motivated to wake up really early to finish a project so you can start another one. You’ll have all the reasons in the world to set it aside and just be tardy for the day. You need to look for an effective motivation for you to finish a project, an example would be the faster you can deliver good work to a client, the greater the chances that you’d be hired again or it can give you enough time to market yourself to obtain more clients or enough free time to do non-work related things. Be disciplined enough to make your freelance life easier. It’s good to still work on a schedule. I am used to waking up early so I still do that so I can be productive daily. Find whatever works for you to keep that sense of order in your challenging and exciting life as a self-employed person.

The following people below have been their own bosses for years and here are a few more tips from them:

Jigs Mayuga (Professional Makeup Artist)

“Persevere to present your best possible work regardless of how small or big the job is.”
– Jigs Mayuga, professional makeup artist
Some of Jigs Mayuga’s celebrity clients are Karylle, Cristine Reyes, Cindy Kurleto, Diana Zubiri, Bianca Gonzalez, Bea Alonzo, to name a few.

How long have you been your own boss?

I’ve been a freelance makeup artist for a total of 9 years now. I resigned from my job as a Cosmetics Brand Makeup artist in 2010. So, I’ve been a makeup artist for a total of 15 years (since 2004).

What made you decide to become self-employed?

Back then there were a lot of opportunities presented to me after working for a multinational brand for 5 years. I was doing a lot of print editorial work, which led me to meeting a lot of my celebrity clients and connections today. I concentrated on doing weddings, commercial, and client work when I started doing freelance work. I liked the idea of being in control of my own time and also being in charge of marketing and managing myself.

What’s the best tip that you can give a person who’s new in freelancing?

Be patient and put in the work. Be on time always and take pride in your craft. Persevere to present your best possible work regardless of how small or big the job is.

Raflesia Bravo (Thespian/Dancer)

“Just follow your heart, it sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
– Raflesia Bravo, thespian and dancer
Raflesia Bravo is a movie, TV, and theater actress. Her passion though is dance. Together with some of her dancer friends, they conduct workshops under their dance community called Balik Indak.

How long have you been your own boss?

Since 2011.

What made you decide to become self-employed?

After I graduated, I told myself to practice what I took up in college, which is AB Mass Communication major in Performing Arts with 18 units of teaching. I can’t imagine myself in an office setup. Luckily since then, opportunities came smoothly and bountifully. I’m fortunate enough that I get to venture on commercials, TV series, theater, and film.

What’s the best tip that you can give a person who’s new in freelancing?

It’s really scary because there’s always no guarantee that next month you’ll have a project but what I’ve learned that the universe will align everything. Just follow your heart, it sounds cheesy but it’s true. People who are close to me always ask me “hindi ka ba natatakot na wala kang regular income?” I try not to worry because I know that the universe will put you where you should be that will make you happy and grow, and at the same time earn money like others do. Time will teach you how to be more responsible and be mature. Also, one thing I love about being a freelancer is you get to know people and create connections that will help you in the future. Networking is key!

Wiji Lacsamana (Illustrator/Tattoo Artist)

“Once you get freelance projects though, this is the most important thing: GOOD WORK ETHIC.”
– Wiji Lacsamana, tattoo artist and illustrator
Wiji Lacsamana is not only a tattoo artist, she’s also an illustrator, first and foremost. She released a book called Tiny Universe, which she wrote and illustrated.

How long have you been your own boss?

I've been my own boss since around 2006.

What made you decide to become self-employed?

I realized that I wasn't mentally and emotionally built for a full-time job— I really tried to work in an office setting but I couldn't last more than a few months despite my good performance. Having a daily routine isn't something that suits me or the way I work. When I chanced upon freelance projects, I immediately recognized how much more efficient I worked, with better outputs as well.

What’s the best tip that you can give a person who’s new in freelancing?

It is very important when just starting out, to put the word out that you are available to accept projects. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You may be surprised to find how many people are willing to help you out. Once you get freelance projects though, this is the most important thing: GOOD WORK ETHIC. I cannot stress this enough. Talent is one thing and that's good and all, but clients will always go back to the person they had a good time working with. Submit projects on time, never be late to meetings; be courteous.

Millet Arzaga (Fashion Stylist)

“It pays to be nice.”
– Millet Arzaga, fashion stylist
Millet Arzaga has been styling for 22 years and she’s really one of the best. She has worked in magazines such as Pulp and Preview, as well as a bunch of commercials and brand campaigns.

How long have you been your own boss?

22 years.

What made you decide to become self-employed?

I did not plan for it. I wanted to transfer to a new company, where my close friend will be my boss supposedly so I resigned from my then job. But my friend's plan did not push through. But I was young then so I didn't freak out when I did not have a full-time job (having just quit from a more stable company). I was getting offers for different styling jobs. New magazines where sprouting everywhere back then. It was a good timing for me so eventually I had to register my own company and make everything legit.

What’s the best tip that you can give a person who’s new in freelancing?

It pays to be nice. If possible, avoid ranting, humiliating, or being an A-hole. My friend used to say “huwag kang tatanggi sa grasya. San mo pupulutin ang pera maliit man o malaki? Di mo yan napupulot sa kalye basta-basta. Huwag ka mag-maganda.

Arnold Arre (Illustrator/Animator)

“Try to be resourceful. Develop your skills.”
– Arnold Arre , Graphic novelist, artist, and animator
One of Arnold Arre’s characters for his graphic novel The Mythology Class Book 2: The Children of Bathala

How long have you been your own boss?

25 years now. I realized early on that staying in the office wasn't for me.

What made you decide to become self-employed?

All I wanted was to tell stories using the medium of comics. I knew then that being self-employed was the only way, and I had so many stories in my head that I wanted to write and share. It wasn't easy at first and I had to take in several freelance jobs just to earn enough for me to print my own work, but it was all worth it.

What’s the best tip that you can give a person who’s new in freelancing?

Be patient. Try to be resourceful. Develop your skills. Build an impressive portfolio. And remember, you're free, you are your own boss.


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