The ups and downs of successful freelancers
Hans David Tampubolon
The Jakarta Post
" Make connections with everyone.
In the past, society often overlooked freelancers because the general perspective was that freelancing had less prestige than having a settled and secured job with a well established company.
But now, the monetary and time flexibility benefits offered by freelancing have lured more and more professionals to make the daring decision of to quit their jobs and become full-time freelancers, who are not bound by contracts.
" I can choose what kinds of jobs and clients I need to work with.
Jenny Jusuf, a former environmental journalist, said that ever since she became a freelancer, her life changed and she had the luxury of avoiding the dramas and constraints that were often faced by full-time workers.
'I can choose what kinds of jobs and clients I need to work with. In addition, I can also avoid the drama of office politics and I have the freedom to choose where I live because all I need is a laptop and Internet access to do my work. In the last two years, I have been living in Bali,' Jenny told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.
While not being contracted by a large company, successful freelancers could also earn much more income than full-time workers in a single project.
" I am very grateful that I spent 14 years in an established company to hone my skills and discipline.
For example, Rusmaina 'Maina' Sumapradja, a former public relations executive for a multinational company, said that her monthly income as a freelancer could be at least six times higher than those of full-time workers.
'As a freelancer, my biggest earning so far is Rp 500 million (US$38,000) for a project that took three months to be completed. That is not bad, is it?' said Maina, who has been freelancing for around four years.
Another freelancer, Merry Magdalena, said that her biggest rate was around Rp 100 million per project.
" The more payment I receive, the more time and work I have to complete.
'I do not often accept projects that could earn me Rp 100 million because the more payment I receive, the more time and work I have to complete,' said Merry, a former journalist who is now a freelance writer and a social media consultant.
Jenny said that she had never really been concerned about her income potential as a freelancer compared to as a full-time worker, but she definitely enjoyed the non-monetary benefits a lot more.
'I always love to travel. From September 2014 to January 2015, I visited at least seven countries, far more visits abroad than my friends who work as full-time workers,' she said.
While the perks of earning hundreds of millions of rupiah and time flexibility might sound fun, freelancers also need to be careful in handling their business with clients.
Due to the non-contractual nature of freelancing, people who work in this field need to be more persistent in making sure that they get paid, otherwise they can easily get scammed like what once happened to Wisnu Surya Pratama, a freelance film director.
'A foreign producer once did not pay me even though I completed a documentary job in southern Mindanao, a very dangerous conflict zone [in the Philippines],' Wisnu said.
" A foreign producer once did not pay me, even though I completed a documentary job in southern Mindanao [...]
Another obstacle that freelancers often face is how to convince potential clients about their quality of work, according to Maina.
'In reality, freelancers must work harder than those who work in large companies when it comes to convincing clients. Full-time workers carry the flags of their reputable companies, so it is easier for them to earn trust from prospects,' she said.
Freelance travel blogger Marischka 'Prue' Prudence said that freelancers had to be able to create a strong personal branding to earn trust and respect from potential clients and, eventually, to get regular jobs.
'Get yourself an official business name card. This is a very important tool to promote you and your personal brand and to build networks. You can also build your own official website,' she said.
Both Maina and Prue also stressed the importance for freelancers to constantly develop networks in order to get jobs and projects.
Maina attributed her past relationships when working as a public relations executive for her initial success in landing her first freelancing project, while Prue said that her willingness to promote her services and work to her friends as the main factor that provided her with regular work.
'Make connections with everyone. Most of the first jobs for freelancers are obtained through friends or their refferals. Do not be shy in introducing yourself as a freelancer,' Prue said.
The risks of being scammed by clients and the struggle of landing regular jobs might sound intimidating, but for freelance photographer Ferry Rusli those obstacles are nothing compared to freelancers' biggest enemy, which is laziness.
'Laziness is the biggest enemy for any freelancer. Freelancers do not have bosses who tell them what to do and this makes a lot of them be lazy and like to procrastinate,' Ferry said.
" Laziness is the biggest enemy for any freelancer.
Ferry added that freelancers had to be able to manage their finances and cash flows.
'You might land a big project and earn a significant amount of money, but do not spend this income easily. You need to have savings for the future, just in case you have difficulties in getting a new project,' he said.
Jenny suggested that a freelancer had to be able to keep a reserve fund in their bank accounts.
'For freelancers with families to feed, the reserve funds must be able to cover their living costs for at least one year,' she said.
The requirements of building networks, promotion and managing cash flows are signs that freelancing is not as easy as it looks and fresh graduates with no prior working experience should never try to begin their career through this path, according to Maina.
'I am very grateful that I spent 14 years in an established company to hone my skills and discipline. I learned a lot by working in the corporate world. The principles and knowledge that I got during my corporate years are now helping me a lot in expanding my freelancing career,' she said.
'So, if anyone wants to become a successful freelancer, then he or she should start by working for a corporation first to gain experience and networks. The freelancing industry is very promising because it is all about smart working,' she added.
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