Four years ago, I had an idea that most freelancers get when they’re a few years into their career:
“Maybe I should have a team.”
It sounds great, di ba? My job will be finding and getting clients (which is one of my strengths), making sure that all the tasks are organized (which I do for my own work anyway), and hiring skilled workers (I’d love to give work to other Filipino freelancers). I’ll pay the skilled workers above average rates ($15 to $50 per article, depending on skill), while I’ll charge the client what I normally charge and call it “profit”. What a great idea, win-win, I thought.
It was a great idea – in theory. In just 3 months, I encountered a lot of problems I didn’t expect:
Problem #1 – It’s hard to find good workers who could fit me into their sked! Sa dinami-dami ng Filipino freelancers, I had to find people who were skilled, understood and agreed with my vision, self-directed, and reliable. But most of the people I wanted to hire were too busy already! In all my searching I found exactly 3 people to work with, and one of them had to return to a full-time job.
I wasn’t even looking for “rockstars”, yet I found it very difficult to look for skilled workers who were self-starters (meaning: they are competent and confident enough to decide things on their own and not ask me permission for everything). I even hired a couple of other people who didn’t exactly meet my criteria pero pwede na – but this became problematic later on.
Problem #2 – I ran into the “hamster wheel problem”, where I had to keep looking for clients to keep the business profitable, but adding new clients often meant hiring additional people (who would be more familiar with their topics/industry), and hiring additional people meant I had to look for more clients to keep the business even profitable and cover all the time and energy I spent looking for clients and managing people.
Problem #3 – It turns out I spent most of my time being a middle-manager – something I did NOT want. What I really wanted to do was create quality content, take care of clients or do marketing. I did not want to spend too much time holding the hands of professionals like me, or training them, or reading 11-paragraph explanations of why they couldn’t submit their work on time. While I did end up with 3 good colleagues I respected, I needed more than them to service all our clients and the hiring process became unbearable after a while.
So eventually, I shut that down and just worked with the clients privately on my own.
Pero ito yung masakit – I could have easily avoided those problems! A year after I shut it down, I talked to an entrepreneur who ran a similar business model, and he said something like:
“The agency model is tough. You have to look for new clients to make money, but when you get new clients, you have to pay for more workers to service them, then look for new clients to make even more money! It’s a vicious cycle. You’ll spend the entire time being a manager!”
If I just talked to people who had been there, I would have known early on that the agency model was not for me. I did not want to be a middle-manager. I wanted to create things. I wanted to collaborate with talented Filipino freelancers, not manage them. All I had to do to avoid that super stressful experience was to ask.
Imagine that, 3 minutes spent posting a question in a forum full of entrepreneurs could have saved me a year and a half of stress.
The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999
Look Into the Future, See Problems Before They Arrive
Are there any upcoming obstacles to your freelancing career? The best way to know for sure is to look up people who have already made the mistakes you’ll be making and successfully overcame the obstacles you’re about to face.
In other words, here’s what you can do today:
Step #1 – Look for 5 people online who have done the work you want to do. If you already have specific people in mind, that’s great. If not, you can look for online forums or FB groups where people like this hang out.
Step #2 – Ask them about their major challenges. If you’re new to freelancing, you can ask: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”
Or if you’re looking to try a new field or new approach, you can tailor that question accordingly. For example:
- “For those VAs here who now manage their own team, what unexpected major challenges have you faced so far? How did you overcome those challenges?”
- “For those freelance writers here who have shifted from doing rewritten articles or SEO articles and are now doing higher value work (writing sales copy, writing blog posts, etc.), what difficulties did you experience with the transition? How did you face those difficulties?”
- “For the freelancers here who have been working with clients outside job bidding sites, what unexpected problems did you encounter?”
Step #3 – Then, wait for the answers. Your internal response to these challenges will tell you kung gusto mo talaga yung path na ipu-pursue mo. Every choice we make has challenges or obstacles attached to them – that’s just the cost of pursuing anything in life. Are you ready and willing to face those costs? If the costs are more painful for you than the potential gains, then maybe it’s not the right path to take.
Step #4 – Don’t forget to thank the people who answer your question. It goes a long way, especially if you offer to help them or provide value in any way.
Help out other Filipino freelancers like you?
Now to the important part: let’s help each other out. Remember, this is a COMMUNITY. I’d appreciate it if you guys help each other out. So here’s what we’re going to do in the comments:
For Experienced Freelancers (freelancing for more than a year): Leave a comment about
- the type of work you do and
- Your answer to today’s general question: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”
For New or Starting Freelancers: Leave a comment about
- What type of work you want to do
- Any questions you might have for those other Filipino freelancers who are more experienced
- Also, don’t forget to keep checking the comments within the next few days – someone might have already answered your question!