“I don't give a shit about this job. Consider this as my resignation. I will see you in 5 years.” And that’s how all of this begun.
Okay! I am joking! No one has the guts to talk to their employer like this. (Maybe, Howard Roark, but I was no Roark.)
My affair with freelancing isn’t a one-night stand. And I haven’t got filthy rich, yet. I am not an aggressive freelancer or an internet entrepreneur. I am just a realist who works to turn his beliefs into reality.
Like I did with my belief that I could enjoy freedom and money without a full-time job. Don’t take me wrong, I am not a philosophical person but rather a realist.
I resigned from my job to pursue freelancing full-time. Not because I was chasing a fantasy but wanted to build my life on my own rules.
I remember it clearly. The mail sat in my drafts for months, wanting to jump out of the drafts. And I finally sent that email in November 2017- my resignation email, just after a big event wrapped up at my office.
And by December 2017, I was free: on my own, independent and happy.
Seems like a dream come true. Right?
Going solo, believing in yourself and marching ahead…
Yes, I was indeed happy. But not because I was free, I was because I knew I could fly now after months of being grounded.
It seems like a long time ago: me walking out of the office for the last time.
And the next morning, I was back to work. Confused?
I said I was back to work, not the office.
During the last year of my full-time job, I made a conscious effort that decided my future: creating and executing a fail-safe plan to freelance. And I had to balance this with job.
This is the story of my journey, my learning and my success. (At least I am successful in my eyes and that’s what matters to me the most.)
Why you need to read this now?
If you are a free soul, you would soon get tired of your day job. But you can’t just walk out of it and still swim in gold. (Unless you are Scrooge McDuck)
This is my attempt at giving you a way out through steps, actions and decisions you’ll have to make for a successful transition.
So, if you’re happy with your job, or are a full-time freelancer already, you can leave right now. Or probably share it with someone who wants out, the practical way.
The epiphany: Why I chose to freelance?
I was earning a decent amount of money, had a chill job and was settled in my comfort zone when all of this started.
I really wanted to go to my hometown for an event. I was really looking for it as I was meeting my best friend there and it had been a while since I met her. But I didn’t get a leave approval.
I missed it and didn’t meet my friend for 2 years after this.
I planned a vacation, got the leave but had to cut short the trip because of some work-related urgency.
I couldn’t enjoy my vacation.
I was earning and was independent, but I was barely living. I loved my freedom too much to stay in. That’s when I started considering freelancing as a viable option.
It took me 2 years – from 2015 to 2017 to make this happen. So, I would say patience is your key to success.
I started taking the first steps towards independence in 2016 to start searching for a practical route to freelance full-time.
2016 was an important year for me because I found my soulmate and we began our journey together. So, I also had to think about her, my job, money, home, and professional growth, all at once.
As expected, everything wasn't smooth and nothing happened overnight.
When I first started looking for remote jobs, I failed.
I remember searching everywhere to find a reliable remote job that pays.
Being a writer who had worked on freelance projects for a couple of years, I knew the problems. Clients not paying on time, irregular work cycle, low rates and whatnot.
Instead of being a dreamy-eyed freelancer, I started with something concrete: a goal and a timeline.
I wrote it somewhere. The day I have at least six months of my monthly expenses in my bank, I will leave my job.
I had a sealed goal. I tied it with a 12-month time limit just to make it more credible. (You know how SMART goals work. Right?)
Now I knew I had to do three things:
- Increase my income
- Reduce my expenses
- Save and invest a lot
All this without compromising on my current living standard. I won’t say I knew what I was doing, but I had a plan in place.
I had a few freelance clients till then but everything was on an on-off basis. I hadn’t kept in touch because of my day job. So, the first step was to activate my existing contacts.
I started from January 2017. Nothing special initially, just got active in a couple of communities and talking to people.
I had tried freelancing platforms with small success earlier so didn’t want to explore that. Instead, I started looking overseas first.
My primary goal was to find a client who pays me for my time for fixed hours every week. So, I started applying for remote job opportunities.
Platforms I used
- LinkedIn job search
- Freelance Writing Job boards like https://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/
- Whatsapp & Facebook Groups
I won’t say I was doing a phenomenal job. 3 months down the line, I still didn’t get anything. I got some interviews, cleared initial rounds but most of them wanted a full-time, on-site person. A remote hire was not a useful resource, it seemed.
I was a bit sad actually.
Again got rejected multiple times by a few freelance platforms which promised regular work every month,at that time. For a moment, I thought of giving it all up. But my goal kept me going.
It was nothing fancy. In fact, it wasn’t a victory altogether.
The first time I talked to this person, I didn’t even care much. She was from an agency and was looking for long term-association with freelance writers. The pay was not great but they promised a lot of work (like always. Now you know why I didn’t pay heed).
I agreed to it in May 2017. (Clock was ticking) And that’s how all of it began.
I found the person on a WhatsApp group for freelancers. That’s why I said, it was not fancy as it is often told in such anecdotes. I was just another writer looking for work and was active enough to respond.
Yes, I had my own strengths, I knew how to pitch, had a good portfolio and understood requirements, but that’s it.
The work was just the same as you see on general freelance job boards — ghostwriting for SEO blogs for clients in the US, UK, etc. The real challenge was the deadlines.
(Mind you, I was still working in a full-time job when I first started the work)
The first few weeks, I was assigned 3–5 blogs every day, which I was expected to complete within 24 hours. (Yes, even till 2017, I was working on such projects.)
I needed the money and my ticket to freedom, so I worked on that. (I will cover the exact schedule in the next section.)
I was doing fine with the work as I already knew how to handle SEO tasks. In fact, soon I got comfortable. But little did I know the work has just begun.
The work was for an agency that didn’t have many writers at that time. So, the agency started approaching me for other projects too — sometimes web copywriting, sometimes brochure copywriting (which I was good at because of my day job) and even social media, blogs and whatnot.
It was more like me giving proposals to the client on behalf of the agency. If a proposal clicked, I had to execute the work.
Where I was working on just SEO blogs from May to July, by August I had multiple projects.
Top the work with my job, I was left with little time to think for myself or anything else. My relationship was also suffering because of it because I had too little time to spend with my partner.
But the goal was much bigger than the tiny bump in the road. And that’s when I decided to set a perfect schedule for my day.
To be honest, I never thought this would work. But I couldn’t leave my job just for a random freelance gig. Soon enough, I was tired of juggling both responsibilities.
That was the moment, I realized I had to be rigid for the next few months if I really wanted out. So, one day, I sat with my partner, wrote down everything we wanted in next 1 year and decided on a schedule.
At that time, she was also busy with her life, work, academics, etc. (She is a writer and a doctor. So, you know where I get my strength from). We defined our priorities and I was able to come up with the following schedule.
- 6.30–7:00 am: Wake up
- 7:00 am- 8:00 am: Morning routine, get ready, prepare breakfast/lunch for the day.
- 8:00 am: Have breakfast
- 8:30 am: Leave for office
- 9:00 am- 6:30 pm: Work at office
- 7:00 pm: Reach home and freshen up
- 7:00 pm- 8:00 pm: Spend time with myself, talking to my partner, friends or relax
- 8:00 pm -10:00 pm: Cook food, have my dinner, watch/read something
- 10:00 pm- 1:00 am: Showtime for my freelance work (That’s when I did the freelance work
- 1:00 am- 6:30 am: Sleep time
I know what would you say it isn’t possible to be so productive all through the week. It would drain you out.
So, I had a tiny way to hack my body into adjusting to this routine — Every alternate weekend, I had a full digital blackout.
I got every alternate weekend off and I adjusted my freelance work in such a way that no deadline falls on alternate Saturdays.
So, for two days every 15 days, I had all the liberty to do whatever I want.
During the same time, I enjoyed time with my partner, traveled in and around Delhi, met new people, or just lazed around at home, reading a book I wanted to read.
This schedule stuck for a while till my office responsibilities increased (We had an annual event every year where the workload increased manifold.)
During that time, I brought down my freelance engagement a bit by putting a deal on the agency’s table. The event was in October 2017 and I promised the agency that if they let me take a 10–15 day break, I promise I would join them remotely as a full-time writer from December 2017.
And they happily agreed. One reason being that the business was growing and I was doing good work for them. They just shifted the load to someone else on a temporary basis and I managed my office’s workload.
And after the event, I put in my papers in Nov 2017. I had to honor a one-month notice period. Now, you’ll be thinking about the finances- how much was I really earning to leave a full-time job, just for freelancing.
I already mentioned my goal to you: having 6 months of expenses in my bank account. Thanks to my income from freelancing and my job, I managed to achieve that by the end of October 2020. And that’s the reason I showed my intention to leave the job.
When I promised my freelance client that I would join them by December 2017, I had already done the math.
To give you an idea, I was earning 2x my monthly salary by freelancing for 3–4 hours every day (check my schedule). So, I realized that it would be feasible if I leave the job.
I am not bragging about it but telling you that it is possible to achieve these numbers with just 3–5 months of hard work if you’re serious enough.
I was also been saving since 2014. Most of my investments were in mutual funds and stocks.
I started with a small SIP in 2014 which I didn’t look at till 2017. So, I had a substantial chunk of money saved already that was free from any commitment. It was easy for me to create an emergency fund.
I just added six months of expenses in a separate bank account. (Yes, I didn’t use liquid funds back then just because online MF investments were a hassle)
By Nov 2017 when I received my salary and freelance payment, I knew I had enough to keep me going. And with my booming freelance client, I knew I would be fine.
So, December, 14th, 2017 was my last day in the office. And I didn’t look back at a full-time job since then.
Now the reason you’re here: Creating a Balance
By now, I’ve pretty much shared what I did to balance it all out. But I thought to round it all up to help you with the balancing act.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
This is the most important part. You should know what you can do, for real. I mean, we all know our limits. Like I know I could sit with a laptop during the night hours, even after office.
At the same time, know your limitations too. I knew I couldn’t work on freelance projects or take any calls during the day, so I worked with an agency that managed all the other things like client handling, meetings and stuff.
- Never over-commit
If I have learned one thing over the last six years is that we write our own doom.
Often, I have seen freelancers committing things they can’t do on their own, just to bring the client on-board. They feel they can outsource.
Don’t fall into that temptation, at least when you are still with a full-time job. You never know if you’ll find a committed person and you’ll end up screwing your peace, credibility and lose the client, too.
Only take up a project when you have the time, skill and bandwidth to deliver.
- Talk to your family and partner beforehand
Now if you don’t want to spend your old age miserable and alone, you really need to keep your friends, family and/or your soul mate closer.
I know this might sound absurd but you need someone to share your joys, talk about your struggles or just cry out on their shoulder. If you think you don’t, just wait for 5 years.
If you really want to balance out work and freelance, you’ll have to talk with the people who care for you, before you begin. It can be your mother, father, brother, best friend or girlfriend/boyfriend. Anyone for that case. Just have someone who can have your back.
If you have that person, it’s important to tell them beforehand that you are going on a journey towards your freedom. Set the right expectations — tell them what to expect of you when you are in the middle of your journey- tell them all- when you can be available, about the mood swings you have.
Better, make them your accountability partner. Prepare them to ask you about how you’re coping up every day. And take out some time every day to talk with the person- even if for 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed by the results.
- Create and chase a SMART goal
Now, when you share what to expect with your accountability partner, give them a time limit too. That’s where a SMART goal would help. I won’t go into the definition, but a goal should be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound.
While everyone does good with the first four parts, people forget to account for time. As a person going on a freelancing journey, you will have to learn to respect deadlines. So, why not start with yourself. Set a time limit to the goal you want to achieve — a full-time freelance career, in this case.
The time limit would push you to work for achieving the goal. You will be chasing the dream practically instead of just trying things, wishing that they work.
- Save and invest money for the goal
Your dream won’t turn into a reality on its own. Neither will you win a lottery that will sort all your problems. (Okay you might, but the chances are 0.0001%).
So, it’s best that you save and invest money for your goal. I knew if I had 6 months of expenses in my account, I would be fine to kick off my job.
Likewise, you can have your own goals- may be 12-months expenses, maybe a fixed contractual remote job for the next 2 years, or anything else. Just make sure that you chase the goal with something concrete to have your back.
Freelancing isn’t a bed of roses but thorns if you ask me. Every now and then you’ll find some clients who will haggle you for payments. So, it’s best you have something in your pocket. That will give you the strength to keep moving and not worry about food on your table.
- Create slots for work throughout the day
If you’d have paid attention to my schedule- I had two fixed ones, one for office and other for freelance clients. This is really important.
Build your day around the fixed slots that you can’t compromise with. Think of how you can adjust your work, personal life and sleep. You won’t conquer the world by compromising on sleep, food or life’s simplest pleasures.
Also, when you’re creating the schedule, make sure you have at least some gap between two fixed slots. This will let your mind cool-off and relax.
- Take periodic time-offs
You are not a robot or a machine. Don’t ever forget that. Even if you are a fan of ‘The Hustle Club’, you’d agree it can get exhausting.
The best way to avoid burnout is to take time-offs, periodically. I had my own schedule and ways to stay away from screen every two weeks. You can plan it too. Don’t overthink this, you will need it, even if you don’t mind working 24x7. Trust me on this.
- Limit the distractions
Now, you’ll have to understand this real soon. If you really want your schedule to work and balance work, freelance engagements and your personal life, you’ll have to set some limits.
Avoiding distractions at all costs would help you do more with the same 24 hours that everyone has. I know it’s tempting to check the recent Instagram story or see the latest Netflix release but it won’t help your goal.
Keep these activities for your time-off sessions and just focus for three hours straight on the task at hand.
Remember, you are doing this to have a lifetime of freedom. A bit of compromise in the present won’t hurt you much. Don’t let FOMO stop you from achieving something that you really want.
- Have patience and stay focused
You’d face defeat. People would question you. Some would even try to take you off the course. But remember, you’re more than what they say you are. Your work and results should do the talking.
If they say you are a boring person, accept that. Your friend takes a jibe because you didn’t buy the latest gadget on EMI, ignore that.
Just have a single focus on your goal and keep working. If you work and get closer to your goal every day, just stay at it. Don’t let today’s defeat, sadness or frustration define how you’d spend the next 10 years.
Need more on freelancing? Here is a full-page I wrote just for you. And every time you come back, you’ll find more added to the page.
The Sweet Fruit of Struggle
Coming December, it will be three years since the day I left my job. And it has been an amazing journey. If you’re curious about how I managed to work from home for three years straight, here is the piece you would like.
I know, breaking the comfort zone is hard, and when a fat-check keeps coming on a specific date, you don’t feel like making the jump. Frankly, I don’t feel freelancing is for everyone.
If you really manage to pull the hustle off and balance out your responsibilities and finances, there can’t be anything more rewarding than the freelance career you build over time. I would wish you all the best.