I get this question a lot.
“How did you manage to increase your income by so much almost right out of school?”
1. Industry was already full of freelancers
The number one question I ask when people eagerly DM me about “becoming a consultant” is:
Do you see anybody else working as a freelancer in your job, role and industry?
If the answer is no, then your industry is LIKELY not open to freelancers. That is not to say they won’t ever do it (who knows, it may be a new industry, or maybe like this success story they’re just starting out and need niche skills like yours desperately), but you are NOT LIKELY to get a contract in your area.
If the answer is yes, then you have a shot.
My industry had freelancers. About 10% of every project I am on, there are other freelancers.
2. Spent 2 years learning like crazy
I didn’t waste those 2 years at the company like everyone else. I took as many courses, certificates and training as they could let me take based on my education allowance.
I saw it as the company paying for me to expand my knowledge, but also, I just wanted to do a REALLY DAMN GOOD JOB.
I have this urge inside of me to be the best in everything (stems from competing with siblings from a young age), and in anything I take on, I want to be THE BEST. Or at least, in the top if I am not THE BEST.
I enjoy working hard, and I didn’t mind giving up my nights and weekends to study to get certified. I knew there was a bigger picture at the end of it all that would mean this would all get easier, and I’d get staffed on projects sooner, which meant more experience, which meant I would become much better than I was now.
While everyone else was out drinking and partying, I was one of the very few that stayed in and worked on trying to understand the material. This is typical for me, I find that in most situations, people don’t take their jobs or schooling seriously. They don’t have an innate curiousity to ‘beat’ the material and master it to the point where they are an expert in it.
For me, with my personality, this is unacceptable. You can see it in my blog and everywhere else – I have a need to master every challenge or question that comes my way on my own and figure it out.
You don’t need to necessarily have the same kind of drive, but you have to understand what it took to get me to where I am.
3. Made strong connections
My area is full of mostly guys. Few women, but they were rare, and much older than I was. The attrition rate is ridiculous. Just in my year alone, I look back at everyone I joined with and I am the only one left standing, still working in my field out of those hired.
Everyone else quit. Some quit because they didn’t realize the travel initially would be so tough, and they wanted to stay more at home rather than being sent to the middle of nowhere.
Others quit early on because it was too technical and difficult to master the material without years of training and studying. It just wasn’t for them.
At any rate, I made strong connections with those I worked with, particularly other freelancers because they seemed far more relaxed than the employees. They had this kind of aura of calm around them and didn’t seem to work as long as the others (they charge overtime if they do), and never had to go to terrible project meetings for employees after work, that takes up another hour of your free time that you don’t get paid for.
I sat down with them, asked them how they liked freelancing and the universal response was: This is the best thing I’ve ever done.
So, I kept in touch with them and kept them in my contacts, after grilling the whole lot of them on how they did it, why, why it is different, how they got contracts, etc. The only thing I didn’t ask was what they charged, because it was rude at the time, as they weren’t friends yet.
People have an innate sense of wanting to be the authority, or at least seen as one, and they like helping. I can say that about myself as well. I tried to help this woman freelance in her area, I even told her exactly what to do to set up her company and all, and she completely soured me on mentoring.
Freelancing I discovered, was not for everyone. They always cautioned me that you had to be:
- VERY good with money (CHECK!)
- Able to go long periods without working (CHECK! – I’ve worked 50% of the time)
- Able to take a lot of BS from everyone because you’re an outside consultant (Umm…. working on it. I’m better than I was.)
- Be very good at your job with specialties if you want to charge higher rates and not work for pennies (CHECK!)
- Be a good schmoozer for the most part with a pleasant can-do personality (CHECK!)
4. No task was below me
ANYTHING ANYONE GAVE TO ME TO DO, I did it the best I could.
I didn’t care what it was. If you told me to take a document and re-transcribe it into some other document, or create Powerpoints based on this and that, I DID IT.
I tried my best. I did not complain. I worked overtime for free and longer hours to deliver a nicer, finished product. What did it matter anyway? I was an employee on a salary, so my hours weren’t exactly tracked to be paid by the hour.
I was also a junior, and working overtime was expected at that point. I also didn’t know anything. I figured if I did my job really well, with other tasks, I would get better tasks that would be more interesting or have some insight into how this all worked on a project.
I saw every single task as a chance to learn more, either technically or otherwise, as I knew nothing, never having been on a project before.
If you don’t have a similar drive or attitude, it will likely not be as easy.
5. Rage quitting is not for everyone…
Looking back, it was a whirlwind, mostly due to an impulse decision when I rage quit my company (slight regret there), due to the way they were bossing me around and treating me. I had a catalyst, or an origin story that stems from me not being able to take their crap any longer, so I quit and decided to try something else.
Not everyone has this kind of rage-y impulse, so keep in mind that my personality also has a strong part to play in this.
I am the type of person who will take risks now and figure it out later. I am also a planner, but this side of my personality will override it when I feel I have been wronged or disrespected. I am totally the person who will cut their nose off to spite their face, and I am working on this aspect of my personality because it isn’t helpful in all situations.
6. I saw the opportunity and took it
It was a calculated risk. Of course I freaked out when I rage quit and spent hours on the weekend running doomsday scenarios with my looming student debt I had left and $2000 in the bank to barely cover any bills.
I also knew I would just be able to find another consulting company and join them with my newfound skills.
I also knew if I didn’t try now, I wouldn’t try until later, but why not strike while the iron was hot?
When I rage quit, I panicked inside, but I also saw it as an opportunity to do this freelancing thing people were talking about. So I did it.
If you are unable to deal with uncertainty and figure out a solution or a workaround to a problem you’re experiencing, freelancing is most definitely not going to be your thing if it gives you ulcers on the daily.
7. I negotiated
With only 2 years under my belt, I was a junior. But… the market at the time was just boiling. They couldn’t find anyone with a smidgen of my skills left to hire, and when they finally found someone, they were going to sell me like crazy to the client make sure I got the contract because they wanted to make money too.
So, I reached out to my network, and said: With someone of my skills, in this job market, what do you think I could charge?
The answers came back around $90/hour – $115/hour depending on the client, task, etc.
When I was offered a contract at $90/hour, I fought them tooth and nail on the phone until I got $100/hour because it was a nice number in the middle of the freelancers’ range. I was berated on the phone, because I initially asked for $130/hour and they laughed and told me NO ONE ever got that kind of rate.
Finally, we settled on $100/hour, and then after my month trial was up with the client, I increased my rate to $130/hour and asked them how it felt to know someone who made $130/hour.
We are on good terms now, but they definitely don’t call me when the contracts are too low, and they don’t call me when they have other consultants they can bill out at a higher rate but get to only give them $90/hour, and keep the profit margin/difference.
They only call me when they’re up against the wall, backed into a corner with no one else on the market, and that’s when I come in with my rate and tell them I’d rather not work than work for less than what I am worth.
75% of the time, this works, and I get the contract for what I want, or very near to the number. It also really helps that I am willing to walk away because as it stands, I am work-optional with 11 side incomes and I don’t need their money.