After eight years of working full-time as a software engineer and burning the candle at both ends, I ventured into the unknown world of freelancing and consulting in quest of a more restorative and balanced way of life.
I’ve learned a lot in my ten months as a self-employed individual. This is not an article designed to convince you to quit your job immediately and pursue self-employment (maybe I will write that later!) Rather than that, I’d want to reflect on a few lessons learned:
1. A 40-hour workweek does not equal 40 hours of work.
The first lesson I learnt was that I did not spend my time as efficiently as I believed I did. Due to the fact that full-time employees are salaried, they are unlikely to nickel and dime their time. I obviously never did the math on how much I was paid each hour or the actual amount of hours I worked. I used to brag about working 60 hours a week; it was like a badge of honor that demonstrated how diligent I was. While it is objectively true that I arrived at work at 8:00 a.m. and stayed until 11:00 p.m. for many months of my career, the actual hours worked were not quite accurate.
My initial objective in consulting was to work no more than 20 hours a week. After all, the last thing I desired was to exacerbate my burnout. It turns out that even with 20 hours a week, I’d find myself “working” Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. How is that possible?
When I first began consulting, I chose an hourly rate since I was unsure how to market my services and need data on how long projects took. When billing hourly, I use an app called Harvest to track my time and generate invoices. My workflow was straightforward: whenever I began working, I started the timer; if I ceased working, I stopped the timer.
After a few weeks of consulting, I noticed how much time I was wasting on activities that were not quite “productive.” I rise to use the restroom. Put an end to the timer. I refuel the water boiler and brew a cup of tea for myself. Put an end to the timer. I proceed to prepare myself lunch and then consume it. Put an end to the timer. I rise to perform a few stretches. Put an end to the timer.
I discovered that on an 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. work day, I worked only 3–4 dedicated hours. Working those hours every day may appear to a full-time worker as a 30 hour work week, but it is actually only 15–20 hours as an hourly worker.
Naturally, you can charge in a variety of other ways besides hourly. Indeed, months later, I had a couple monthly retainer clients. However, regardless of how you charge, knowing your hourly rate is critical for effectively managing your time, especially as a self-employed individual.
2. Salaries and hourly rates are not necessarily indicative of the value added.
As a full-time employee, you have an idea of your market rate…or, at the very least, of the general compensation bands for your job title. Because salaries are not often linked to specific projects, the market rate represents the value of you — as a human resource.
Thus, you might utilize Glassdoor to research salary ranges for your title, or you could simply ask your colleagues how much they make as a baseline comparison. When conducting interviews, you have a good notion of “what an X should earn, and I am an X.” If they do not provide you the wage you expect, you may negotiate.
While this appears to be a straightforward task, it is frequently not. I’ve seen individuals with the same job title and level at the same business earn a difference of $40k in income, frequently because one person negotiated more than another or because management was desperate for a new hire but refused to grant raises to existing employees. Is such a person genuinely worth $40k more? If you’re hiring new employees, how do you know what they’re capable of delivering is worth the additional $40k?
As a full-time employee, I viewed income bands as a monetary representation of my personality and skill sets. That appeared to be adequate at the time. However, after quitting my full-time work, I realized I had a significant knowledge gap in pricing. Clients would ask me how much it would cost to create a marketing website or a product prototype, and I realized I had no idea. I was only aware of how much I cost.
I had gathered solid factual data on pricing ranges for a variety of different tasks after nearly a year of working hourly at various rates. To begin, I would estimate how long I believe it would take and then double that by an hourly wage I established for myself.
However, I recognized that the work I was performing was sometimes more valuable than a flat hourly rate. My work involved assisting clients in obtaining money or even profiting from their endeavors. I began to view my job as more than a fixed-price transaction; I began attaching a value to it depending on how much I believed it was valuable to the client for whom I was working. One hour of my time, having seen or handled a problem a thousand times previously, is worth more than that hour if the client, or even a more junior individual, would have required five hours.
My interpretation of my own values and skill set is entirely different now than it was as a full-time employment. It’s no longer a predetermined salary range or hourly rate, but rather something more fluid that varies according to the client and circumstance.
3. By representing oneself alone, you open the door to more fascinating options.
Now that I’m self-employed, I’m receiving numerous exciting chances from individuals who are more interested in me and my ideas than in my lineage. I’ve been invited to the following events:
Deliver a presentation at a few of universities on the various forms of technology careers.
Deliver presentations at Meetups and small conferences on topics I’ve written about
As a result of my cheerful attitude, host a few of fireside conversations.
Contribute articles to a variety of startup blogs
My essays have been published in a variety of publications.
You may argue, “Karina, you could have accomplished all of this while working full-time,” and you would be correct. I did on occasion.
When I was working full-time for a company, though, people frequently approached me with opportunities based on where I worked. “We’re interested in the passion economy and noted you work for Patreon; could you talk at our Meetup about this?” “I’m interested in starting a health technology company; could you please speak with me about how Honor operates?” That’s OK, but if you’re not on the executive team, those requests can quickly escalate into nerve-wracking opportunities to misrepresent the organization for which you work.
I avoided publishing articles because I was unsure whether my views fit with those of my firm. Even if I wrote an essay, I felt more compelled to write in detail about how my current employer approached it than I did to write in broad strokes, and there would be restrictions on which publications it could appear in. I avoided speaking opportunities because I was unsure whether I was permitted to speak publicly about the project I was working on. If I could, there would always be an expectation to include my company’s logo and branding throughout the presentation, as well as a mention of hiring at the conclusion.
There were numerous chances presented to me, but I declined many of them due to a fear of misrepresenting my firm and a sense of constraint on my own creativity.
As a consultant, you will encounter opportunities that are distinct from those encountered as a full-time employee. Personally, I prefer self-employed jobs because I enjoy advertising myself rather than my business.
For the time being, I’ve enjoyed working for myself. I’ve spent far too much time in recent years attempting to placate others and to be a good corporate citizen.
I’m content to set my own hours, determine my own worth, and pursue my own prospects without any concern. Completing my taxes and controlling my time may be more challenging than they were previously, but it’s worth it for the time being. I’m looking forward to spending additional time in this domain and discovering what the next few things I learn are!