Warning, this post is about freelancing in Belgium, I’m not sure how things are working in other countries! Also, I base this on my experience as an IT consultant, it probably isn’t the same for other kind of consultants, for example marketing, sales etc…
In almost all companies I have been doing freelance consulting at in the last 10 years, I have met consultants working for consulting companies as employees. After a moment, one of the subjects we ended up talking about was: “should I become a freelancer too”? Any freelancer working like I am, for mid or long term missions, probably has already had this discussion with non freelance colleagues.
Why do you want to become a freelancer?
So first things first, if you are wondering if you should become a freelance consultant then it probably means you are looking for something better than what you have now. Here are a few of the things I hear most when asking “why do you want to become a freelancer?”:
- “If I am a freelancer I get more money“: This is not always true! It all depends on how good you are at your job and how well you can sell yourself… and on the current market.
- “If I am a freelancer I get more freedom“: Forget it! The only freedom you have is that you don’t have to go through those crappy evaluations anymore. For the rest, you need to work everyday, and your customer is like your boss.
- “I can get a nice car“: yes, but don’t spend all your money on a car when you start!
- “I can choose my missions“: yes, but your dream mission is maybe not available right now, so you’ll need to settle for something else.
- “I can work the hours I want“: sure, but usually you have a contract specifying how many hours per week you’re going to work for your customer. In my case, the number is 40 hours per week, so no big change!
- “I can take as much holiday as I want“: of course, but you won’t get paid while you don’t work!
- “I can take a day off whenever I want“: I strongly suggest that you first have a chat with your customer to make sure it isn’t a problem.
- “My opinion will be taken into account“: if you have this kind of problem for the moment, you probably should NOT consider becoming a freelance
- “I can go to the restaurant as much as I want and have my company pay for it“: good luck with your accountant! If this is what you are aiming for, just start a restaurant review blog and get paid to go to restaurants!
- “I can bring my expertise to several different companies in different domains“: YES, true!
- “I can change missions often“: In my expertise domain, as missions are rather long, it is better not to change too often or customers will fear that you leave (= let them down) after a few months while they are looking for mid/long term consultants.
I have probably heard a lot of other reasons, and I would be happy to give you my advice if you think of something else, just comment and I’ll add it to the post!
What are you afraid of?
Yes, most people are scared of many things with it comes to becoming a consultant, here are a few and what I usually answer:
- “I’m afraid I won’t find a mission“: Try to keep your job until you secure a mission, don’t resign before you have secured a 6 months mission a least. After that, during your missions, you’ll feel when it is time to move to another mission, and you will have time to plan things in advance. Don’t wait until the last day of your contract to start looking for a mission!
- “I don’t know how to find new missions“: You can find missions through recruiters working in agencies. These agencies have the contacts in the companies looking for freelancers. You’ll need to go through one of these agencies for you billing as you probably won’t be able to get a direct contract with a customer (if you are targeting big companies). I’ll write a blog post on how to work with these agencies soon
- “What if my mission ends and I don’t find a new one“: be smart, put some money aside to allow you to live several months without a mission on your savings, so if your missions ends, you have some time to chose a new mission.
- “I don’t know if I am good enough technically speaking to become a freelancer“: this means either you are not good enough or you are not self confident enough. In either ways, you can act on it!
- “I know nothing about accounting“: hire an accountant. It should cost you between 2K and 5K€ per year for a decent one.
- “I am afraid the contract I will get for a mission has hidden effects“: Hire a lawyer! It will cost you less than 1K€ to get your contract validated by a decent lawyer.
- “I’m afraid I won’t get a decent retirement plan“: buy yourself one! Any insurance company can propose you a decent plan.
- “I’m afraid about my medical expenses“: Get an extra medical insurance, it will cost you a bit, but it is worth it!
- “I don’t know how much I can ask for a daily rate“: it all depends on the market. Talk to your accountant to get a good overview of what it will cost to pay yourself a salary (it depends on how much salary you need, if you’re single/married, if you have kids…). You need to calculate how much money you need for a living, then you add all the extra costs. Once you have that number you can have a monthly rate. Multiply this by 14, then dived it by 12 and you get a monthly rate. Then devide by 20 and get a daily rate. Example: To get 2K€ netto per month as a salary: At least 5K€ (netto + all extra social security/taxes/etc) + 1K€ (savings) + 1K€ (car + fuel) + 1k€ (insurance + pension) = ((8K€ x 14)/12)/20 = 466€/day (excl VAT). Get these numbers verified by an accountant
Do you have what it takes to become a freelance consultant?
To know if you have what it takes, answer the following questions.
Answer “Yes” to at least 20 of the following 25 questions, you are ready to become a freelance consultant!
Answering “No” to more than 5 of these quesions means you are not ready yet!
Answering “No” to more that 15 of these quesions means you probably will never be ready to become a freelance consultant.
- Do you want to quit your job as an employee?
- Have you already worked as a consultant (as an employee for a consultancy company)?
- Is your CV up to date?
- Is your CV looking good?
- Are you prepared (financially and mentally) to not having any income for a few months?
- Are you comfortable integrating new environments often?
- Are you comfortable at job interviews?
- Are you ready to take on a challenging mission?
- Are you ready to use new tools?
- Are you ready to work with new methodologies?
- Are you prepared for a change in your habits?
- Are you ready to meet new colleagues?
- Are you ready to work on a crappy workstation (Yes, usually you get bad tools to work with)?
- Are you prepared to loose your job security (Your mission can end any time)?
- Are you aware that you might change missions often?
- Are you prepared to coach junior developers?
- Do you like meetings?
- Are you ready to give advice?
- Are you ready to get things done whatever it takes?
- Are you ready to be an “extern” in a company?
- Are you ready to loose all corporate advantages of an employee?
- Are you willing to explain the same things over and over again?
- Are you willing to start from scratch every time you start a new mission?
- Are you ready to work with technologies that other developers have chosen for you and that you don’t like?
- Are you ready to change the industry you are working in often?