Starting out

Flexible working hours, minimal commuting and being in control are just some of the many perks of being self-employed. Increasingly, graduates nowadays are looking at self-employment as their first career of choice. Based on my personal experience, I believe you should try to spend a few years in your industry working for others before venturing to start your own business. Here's why:

  1. Connections - Working for others means you have colleagues, bosses and those working next door. It expands your social circle and creates new connections that might allow you do open doors that you never thought possible. Remember to never ever burn bridges.
  2. Knowledge of your industry - Get yourself involve in the entire process and be familiar with all the processes, practices and taboos of the industry. Nothing beats first hand experience. You might not like how certain things are done but you can't change something that you don't know. So understand it first before you attempt to improve anything.
  3. Understand the business model - The business model of the company determines what type of clients they have, how much they charge them and the amount they pay you. If their model is to treat you as a cog in a machine, you are getting minimal wage. This is important when you start your own company. Your business model determines the path your company takes.
  4. Realize the value of everyone and everything - Once you are familiar with who does what and why certain things are the way they are, you realize that everyone has a value to the company. There's always a mis-match between the value you think you have compared to the value your boss perceive from you. It's a matter of perception and knowing how to better portray your actual value is very important. Always know your own value.

You could start your own company and learn all this as you go along. But not everyone have that luxury and being in employment even for a while makes you a better boss.

It could takes years or decades before you think you have learned everything you need to know. And even then, the industry changes all the time and there's always something new. Learning is a life-long process after all.

Which ever path you choose to start with, make sure it's one that you will be able to learn from.

Freelancer mentality

In recent years, there's a rise in freelancers for fields like photography, design and programming. Falling equipment prices and powerful online tools made it extremely easy for anyone to start their own freelance operation. Like with everything else, your approach and mentality towards freelancing is very important and will greatly affect its outcome. Here are some thoughts on how you should freelance.

  1. Price - This is the number 1 reason why companies hire freelancers. Since your costs and expenses are lower than a normal business, you can afford to charge lower. But this is a trap. If you charge too low, you'll end up de-motivating yourself when it take longer than usual to complete. Try to charge a reasonable price that you are comfortable with even when things don't go according to plan.
  2. Specifications - You need to have the specifications of the gig written down in black and white. It is hard to cover everything but at least there is a reference for you and your client when an agreement can not be reached.
  3. Quality - I think this is the most important factor that determines if your freelancing endeavor will be successful or not. Due to pricing and specifications issues, a lot of freelancers ignore the quality of their work. They adopt the get it done and move on mentality. The quality of your work will be remembered long after your pricing is forgotten. Read this piece from Seth on how freelancers can make a difference.
  4. Proper documentation - This is an extension of the 2nd point. Try to provide all the necessary documentation to your clients. It will make you look professional and protect you from troubles later on in the project.
  5. Run it like a business - If you could only adopt 1 of the points here, let it be this one. You have to consider yourself as a business owner. Show that you are doing this for the long haul. Form a company if you can and start building your brand.

Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list. There are many other things you could do to make your freelancing better and more fun. As long as you have the right mentality towards it, you'll be alright.