Make Your Own Way – Life Without Full-Time Employment

by Randy Murray on February 16, 2010

I had lunch the other day with an old friend. He’s been looking for a job for well over a year. This man, in addition to being a sweetheart of a guy, is highly skilled, has years of experience and stellar recommendations. But he tells me that every time he applies for a position he’s being told that they’re receiving around a thousand other applications.

That totally sucks.

My nephew, now a year out of college, has yet to find a job, and he has a degree from a good school in what one would think would be a growth area. But he’s not having any luck, either.

For me, I’m a consultant and freelancer because I choose to be, but I’m beginning to think that this approach may be how many of us will make a living from now on. And I have some recommendations. They’re very similar to the advice I’d give to someone starting a small business, which in a sense someone living the freelance life is doing.

  1. Keep your overhead low. This may seem simple, but too many people miss this point. The less you have to pay out, the more freedom you will have on the jobs and kind of work you take. How long can you play the Spend Nothing Game?
  2. If you’re just starting out, or if you’re trying something new, apprentice yourself to a master craftsman. I’m serious about this. Find someone that does what you want to do and offer to work with them, for little or no pay, to learn from them. This was a very successful approach at learning crafts like blacksmithing and shoe making. It can work for the information age, too.
  3. Develop a network of complementary skilled trades. No matter what you do, there are always pieces of the job that you can’t do well. I write and consult, but I have a close network of programmers and developers, graphic designers, business consultants, and others. I know that I can’t do everything and I’m prepared to put together a team that can. A true team of experts. You need to be able to do this, too. Half-assing your way thru a job, doing things outside your skill sets, might mean you’ll get one job, but you won’t get the next.
  4. Form relationships with other freelancers in your own market – use them for overflow when you can’t handle all of the work and do the same for them. Feast or famine – that’s the freelancer’s life. While you might consider some to be competitors, you need a network of people just like you so you can hand off work. You’ll take a percentage. Just think, getting paid for someone else to do the work! But you’ll maintain the relationships with your clients. And remember, you’ll be responsible for the quality of the work. Never hand anything to a client that you haven’t reviewed and approved as up to your standards of quality.
  5. Set your rates where they should be – probably higher than what you might be comfortable with, then offer package rates, retainer agreements, and trial offers at a substantial discount. Make sure that the value you offer is clear and understood by your customers. I’ve found that it’s very useful to have a conversation with a new client where they say, “wow, your rates are MUCH higher than I’m used to.” That gives you the opportunity to talk about your value and to work out packages or options that are favorable for both you and the client.

You might never have a full time job with a paycheck. That may be hard to hear, but it could be the reality of the new economy. Or you might have a series of jobs, each lasting only months at a time, project to project. But the good news is that you can make this work if you approach it intentionally and with clear objectives. Become your own employer. Be your own business.

This might be the opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t miss out on it.

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