I’m not a fisherman. My most vivid fishing memory is when my dad took me deep sea fishing when I was in the fourth grade and we were both seasick the whole time. That being said, I have done a little lake fishing off a dock and reeled in a bluegill or two.
These days I don’t fish much but I do have a lot of free time thanks to my career change from a university professor to a freelance consultant. The last two weeks have been uncommonly slow and I’ll admit that I started to get a little worried; however, yesterday the clouds parted and three big jobs came in. I have a little free time between editing jobs and a social meeting (networking opportunity) this afternoon and I wanted to share some observations about how similar freelancing and fishing can be.
1. You have to keep a lot of lines in the water.
Before I became incredibly sick on the deep sea fishing expedition I was intrigued by the people who set up multiple poles and lines. I didn’t understand how they could hold all of them at the same time and it turns out they didn’t have to. It took a bit of juggling (time management) to keep them all checked and baited but as we pulled into port these were the guys with the biggest hauls.
Similarly, it was important for me to stay in touch with my clients and contacts during the down time earlier this month. Whether it was reminding them that I was here if they needed me or just saying hello and asking how they were doing, I wanted to be the first person they thought of if an opportunity arose that they could use me or recommend me.
2. You have to be patient.
Fishing takes patience. I’m sure that some people are very active fishermen, always letting the line out and reeling it back in, checking the currents, switching bait and lures, etc. Others bring a case of beer and finish “fishing” when all the cans are empty. In any case, some days the fish just aren’t biting so you have to find ways to enjoy the process even when you aren't catching anything.
The first two weeks of May were kind of like that for me. I had to choose whether to cycle through the emotions of anger, fear, and disappointment or enjoy the down time, work on long-term (potentially unpaid) projects, and develop my professional network. I'd be lying if I said I didn't do both.
3. People love to give advice.
If you don’t have a cooler full of trophy fish, other fishermen will be quick to let you know that you chose the wrong spot, the wrong time, the wrong lure, and the wrong bait. The guy next to you will correct the angle you hold the pole at even when they aren’t catching anything either. Not only that, they didn’t even ask if you’re fishing for the same thing they are. Sure, most of them mean well, but it’s inevitable that if you have a fishing pole in your hands someone is bound to offer up some friendly wisdom.
People have not been afraid to tell me the best way to get new customers, even if they don’t know the types of customers I am looking for. I know they are trying to help but sharing their experiences without knowing if our situations are similar is often counterproductive. I am also guilty of this. Whether it is a case of offering advice to my wife when she just wants to vent or over-talking in a staff meeting, I am also guilty of sharing my “wisdom” more than I need to. If I become a better listener people will trust me more and if they really want my advice I’m sure they will say the magic words “What do you think?”. Getting better at active listening is a process. I’m working on it.
4. It can be incredibly rewarding.
I would imagine it is an amazing feeling to pull a huge marlin into a boat after struggling with it for hours. You won! It’s a trophy fish that you will show photos of, tell stories about, and possibly even mount in your man cave. That fish is the culmination of a great deal of effort on your part and if you did it by yourself it is even more fulfilling.
Freelancing can be the same way. Sure, it takes the client agreeing to hire you and I do rely on my network to help introduce my services to people they know but I still have to do the legwork. Getting monthly paychecks from a university was like eating frozen fish fillets from the supermarket for dinner while getting paid by a new client is like cooking a trout you caught and cleaned over a campfire in the woods. It just tastes different. Maybe it’s the fact that you can always walk into the supermarket and walk out with a box of frozen fish fillets but when you go camping part of the thrill is not knowing what you’ll be eating or even if you’ll be eating well that night. When you take that first bite of the fish you reeled in it is oh so satisfying.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, and neither is fishing. I only have four days of work lined up for next month so far but a lot of lines in the water. For some people that would lead to sleepless nights, however I’m choosing to trust myself, trust my clients, and trust the three rules of freelancing: 1. Be qualified 2. Be connected 3. Be available. As a freelancer you may not bring home dinner every night but when you do it tastes that much better.
I started working at 8:30 today. The editing request I was told to expect yesterday arrived around midnight and he wanted it done this morning. No problem. It wasn't that long.
I followed the Spurs-Thunder "game" this morning and listened to some podcasts. I need to leave around noon to get to my 1pm consultation with a chemistry lab at KAIST. The professor is a friend. #networking
The training at KAIST went very well. Three grad students did 20-minute presentations on their very technical research results. Unlike their professor, I advised them on the story aspect of their presentation and gave feedback on their delivery and English. It was a very productive two hours. I'll be going twice a month to work with them and I think it will be a net positive for all parties involved.
After the training I met with a friend and then went home to do a quick proofreading job that came in. Just before six a friend messaged me about a great training opportunity with a major Korean company next week. It's perfect for my skill set but it's for two days and I already have a commitment for one of them. Now I'm scrambling to see if I can make it happen. (Update: Nope. Someone else snagged it but now I'm on their radar.)
While this week wasn't the most financially rewarding, it helped remind me why I wanted to freelance. Anything is possible. I could be doing something totally unexpected next week or next month and I don't have to ask permission or worry about getting in trouble for moonlighting. I am my own boss. There will be ups and downs but as long as I follow the three rules of freelancing (1. Be qualified 2. Be connected 3. Be available) everything will work out for the best.
I hope you enjoyed these posts and have a little better idea what it's like to work for yourself.
Good morning. They delivered the wrong newspaper today so we're off to a less than stellar start.
Last night's dinner was fun and my friend seems to be enjoying his job in Saudi (it's probably the best teaching gig there) but he's not sure about how long things will last. Price of oil yada yada yada...
Someone from the publishing company checked my LinkedIn profile.
I'll be driving to the lunch meeting around 10:30 but first I'm going to jot down some notes for the new project idea I'm excited about. I'm going to document stories from people about how they got a great professional opportunity through networking. Here's an example: My friend got his sweet job in Saudi because he got to know someone while working at another job in the Middle East (that he got laid off from) that ended up at his current place of employment and let him know about the position even though the job wasn't posted publicly. They kept in touch and she suggested he apply. Sure, he had to pass through the interview process on his own but someone cracked the door open for him. That's the power of networking that I want to show. If you have a story like that, please send me a message.
Back to business. It's 3:30pm and I just got back from my meeting. The VP of the research center and one of his office workers took me to lunch. We spoke Korean the whole time. Then we went back to the office to meet with the lead engineer on the project I was there about and we spoke English in the meeting. We discussed ways to improve their pitch to an overseas client. I'm not sure exactly when and how they will use my services but it appears likely. It would be interesting if I end up accompanying them to their big meeting in China in October. Ironically, I first met the VP while drinking beer with a mutual friend of ours who worked with me at KAIST and has since moved to Michigan. #networking
While I was there two editing requests came in (of course they did). I'll do one this afternoon and the other was promised to come in tomorrow morning. I'll have to get it done before my 1pm consultation. A translation job also came in through a friend and former client for later this month. I let my best translator know it is coming.
Around 4 my daughter called me and I took her to a doctor's appointment. It's good that I have time to do things like this with her (usually). Of course, a short editing request came in while I was out. While at the doctor's I was messaging my friend in Qatar about doing some workshops for his university and worked with him to fine tune the email introducing me to his coordinator. (Side note: He sent the email and got a reply within five minutes saying they would discuss it later. It's not a "no"!)
I worked on the editing jobs when we got back and sent a follow-up email to the research center thanking them for lunch and letting them know I am excited to work with them. The ball is now in their court.
That's it for today. It's 6:20 and getting close to dinner time. I still have some editing to do this evening and will knock it out in 15 to 30-minute spurts. Tune in tomorrow to wrap this week up.
Welcome back, friends. It's Wednesday morning and I have news. Yesterday, one of my friends, who is quite the influencer, posted these blog posts into a Facebook group and it led to me getting in touch with someone from an academic publishing company. Long story short, I'm sending him an email this morning to see if we can do some business together. THAT, is how freelancers get work. It's all who you know and who knows you. (Side note: I was chatting with a friend yesterday who said she had given my name to another publisher about a freelance project recently. Nothing came of it but weird timing to say the least.)
Around 9:30 I received an email reply from a government official who I had taught a couple of weeks ago. He asked me to help him find a full-time English editor (it has to be a Korean) for his ministry in Osong. I suggested that while he was looking I could do some urgent proofreading jobs. We'll see what happens.
In the middle of the morning I messaged a client about a big proofreading job that I was expecting this week. It got pushed back to next week and she wanted to make sure that it was ok. That's the good thing about proofreading jobs; they can be done any time and any place.
I ate an apple. The Thunder and Spurs are tied with about seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
A bigger editing request came in from a regular client just after 11. (11:32 and the Thunder rolled...) Another small editing job came in just before lunch. All the editing was done by 1:45 and I needed some sunlight so I went out for a while.
Later in the afternoon I had a FB chat with a friend teaching in the Middle East. He's putting me in touch with his school's PD person about coming there to do a workshop. I'm be pretty stoked if that worked out.
It's 5:45 and I'm off to meet a former coworker who is visiting from Saudi Arabia. We'll see if it's everything he hoped it would be. Check in tomorrow to see.
Here we go again. Rainy Tuesday and no morning emails. On the bright side, I have a phone full of podcasts and the Cincinnati Reds are playing this morning. Coffee was consumed, the newspaper was read, and the crossword and Jumble were completed before 9am.
10:42 First editing job comes in. It's a short one. The Reds won while I was finishing it.
Lunch time. I answered the door and signed for something my wife ordered. Exciting times.
In a day and a half, I've made about $20.
The guy who helped me out yesterday just sent an email introducing my services to an acquaintance at another research institute. I'm going to have to buy him dinner soon.
Still nothing by 2 so I reached out to a few people just to touch base. More lines in the water... Golden State is leading Portland by one at the end of the third quarter. If it wasn't raining I would take a walk or head over to KAIST and chat with people.
How about Steph Curry? 40/9/8 in an OT win. Also, Gotham is an underrated show. Sorry, I digress...
I got a message from a client about a pre-workshop meeting next Monday. I'll pitch some new ideas to them and ask about some new contacts.
It's great to have free time. You get to watch cool videos like this.
At 3:45 I collaborated on tweaking my TESOL 2017 proposal with a frenemy. Frenemies don't pull punches and give blunt feedback that really helps. Googledocs works great for such things.
Around 4:30 I made an appointment to meet with a prospective client for lunch on Thursday in Cheonan. Stay tuned to see how that goes.
I received payment for a couple of jobs that were completed last month. Keeping up with your accounts receivable is a big part of freelancing.
Around dinner time I received a few more emails from people I had contacted saying hello but not needing any work at this time. It's important to keep in touch though. You need to stay fresh in people's minds because you never know what opportunity someone could recommend you for.
That's it for today unless a late request comes in. I'm posting this around 7pm.
It's 8:30am and I have just returned from dropping off my daughter at school. I look at my calendar and try not to panic as there is only one thing on my calendar this week ( a two-hour consultation on Friday afternoon). To calm myself down I think back over the roller coaster ride that was the last three months of my new career. As long as you keep fishing lines in the water the fish always bite. Try to enjoy the down time as much as earning money, I tell myself.
Thursday of last week was a holiday and Friday was a sandwich day so none of my clients wanted to start any new projects. I'm hoping this week several of them will contact me about new jobs. I want to take you, the reader, along for the ride to show how unpredictable a week in the life of a freelancer can be.
I used the morning to work on some projects that don't have to be rushed. I want to submit a proposal for the 2017 TESOL Conference in Seattle and the deadline is the end of the month. There is also a workshop next Wednesday that I need to start outlining the content for. I also sent an email to the president of a research center that I worked with in the past, touched base with a couple of clients via KakaoTalk, and received a recommendation on LinkedIn for some work I did with the NHI last month.
Lunch break with Game of Thrones and the final episode of The Good Wife kept me busy for the next two hours. There were a couple of messages in between but it was mostly free time.
Nothing popped up after lunch so I did some grocery shopping. Usually I get a ton of emails while I'm out (a watched pot never boils) but this time there were no bites. The waiting game continues. I surfed the web for interesting articles and updated my professional website with projects in May.
The first job of the day comes in at 6:15pm, a short editing job from my first client. They pay by the hour and this will be a "minimum" project. I also started chatting with a friend about doing a workshop at his research center and suggesting a workshop to one of his contacts. We'll see if anything comes of it.
There's still a chance that a late editing job will come in but I'm going to post this at 7:30pm. Let's hope tomorrow is a little busier.
Starting a new business on your own isn't easy. Leaving a salaried position at a university with a strong reputation is even harder. People have used the words "brave", "crazy", and "just plain dumb" to describe my foray into educational consulting. Call it what you will, the most accurate word would have been "impossible" had it not been for these three friends in my professional network. (I'm not giving their names because they went above and beyond to help me and I don't want their assistance to be used against them in any way.)
Person One has been a friend for more than five years. He and I have worked together on large-scale volunteer projects and brainstormed ways to break away from salaried work over a few beers on numerous occasions. He has shared proofreading jobs with me and that has led to valuable contacts within the translator network in Korea. Most recently he passed my name on to a friend who was looking for someone to run a workshop at his university so that I had my first new client one week after finishing my contract at KAIST. Thank you, my friend.
Person Two recognized my potential and has been championing my project ideas for three years. She fought for financing and approval to help me undertake projects that have helped to bolster my CV. Even now, she contacts me for editing jobs and smaller projects that could turn into bigger projects if I do a good job. The ball is in my court and I couldn't ask for more than that. Thank you, my friend.
Person Three has only been a friend for about a year but has quickly become a close confidant during that time. He has shared his contacts with me and recommended me to a government organization that has become my first big client. He has gone to bat for me with several other potential clients and has promised to continue to do so as my new company grows. Thank you, my friend.
I hope that I can be a angel for the people in my network who I trust and respect. I know how difficult it can be to put your professional reputation on the line and give someone your seal of approval. 2016 is going to be an exciting year and I would like to thank all of my friends who have helped me along the way. Your support and encouragement is what gave me the audacity needed to cut the cord and go out on my own. Truthfully, I'm really not on my own with so many good friends in my corner. It really is who you know...
Here are some short ideas that probably don't deserve to be published but I felt were worth sharing.