Sometimes Colombo almost looks like a city
Sometimes I’ll be looking for one of my four decent ties in the morning and I’ll wonder why I’m working at all. I have the magazine job at wages I set and they don’t even ask me to come in. Regardless, I’m out every day freelancing for new shoe and gadget money and I don’t even need anything. Maybe some ties? I direct this thought into the closet often enough that I expect to find an answer someday, neatly folded among my shirts. What I tell myself is simple enough, but it doesn’t make any sense. I work for money to buy my freedom. However, as I walk out the door without breakfast, it’s quite obvious that I’m not free. You start hustling for a reason, or at least you tell yourself there’s a reason. Like, maybe if you make enough paper you could blog all day. After a while, however, it’s clear that you wouldn’t know what to do with freedom if you got it. No amount of money is as much as the next job and nothing feels as good as the check you’re about to cash. It’s not about the money and it’s not even about the work anymore. You start to get high off the game itself. It’s hard to ever let that go.
Someday I’d like to blog (or write) full time, or even more of the time. I also wish I could do design for myself, where the first draft doesn’t get tossed out and gradually bludgeoned into submission. At the same time, the allure of meeting new problems and people is strong and the money is too much positive reinforcement for my rat brain to take. So I produce these hideously expensive documents that like 20 people see and try to write for me at 4 in the morning. I dunno if its good or not, but there’s enough work for me and at least three more to eat. I’ve also keep making the same mistakes, so these are five lessons I’ve learned so far.
1. Just Say No
It’s easy (and perhaps human) to say yes and try to do every project you’re offered, or to offer every feature on earth. I started that way, but eventually it kills you. I’ve always said felt that no client is better than a bad client, but it takes experience to really figure that out. If you can’t deliver what they want then you need to read the signs and get the fk out early. Nothing is more miserable and morally troubling than overpromising and underdelivering. I do it all the time, but I’m trying to stop.
When I first started I begged for every job, but that works as well as it does with girls. Of course, you have to start that way. Over time I could feel the supply/demand curve running through my spine and when it tightens the work’ll keep you up at night. That’s when you’re happy to walk from jobs that don’t pay cause the time is more important. For example, I haven’t watched the Bold and the Beautiful in a month and that’s always in the back of my head.
2. Shut Up
Lately I’ve been out with Sam, who’s older and more experienced than I. When we go to meetings I just try to shut my mouth and let him talk, but I think the clients can see me twitching. When you give an idea or a price there’ll be a pause and it’s tempting to immediately compromise. If, however, you just shut your mouth the client will usually settle and it’s all kosher. In life in general I’m trying to practice simply not talking, which keeps me out of a lot of trouble.
3. Puff and Pass
If a job is at all capable of being outsourced, outsource it. There is no sweeter money than getting a check for work you didn’t do. There’s even someone else to yell at. At this point you’re moving into management type stuff, so not that there’s no work involved per se, it just feels that way. In reality, finding and maintaining the few contacts to get work coming in a product moving out is pretty intense. If you find good people that you trust it’s an elegant thing.
4. Charge Fkloads of Money
Anybody who says you can’t make money in Sri Lanka is wrong. The Benzes here cost twice as much as American ones and people still buy them. Growth is much higher than in the West, so I still think you can make more money long run. The first real freelance job I had I just made up the highest number I could say without laughing. They didn’t blink and that was it. Now I have a really high hourly rate and I can fudge the hours to fit their budget. Keeping the hourly high, however, means you can gradually increase your pay imperceptibly by simply billing the correct hours. This idea is smart and I wouldn’t have figured it out if Tha didn’t tell me.
5. Give Up
If I’m doing something for myself I won’t compromise on an idea, but for clients you basically have to listen and work within those parameters, even if they sound pointless or crazy. At first I thought people were insane/stupid but over time that feeling coalesces into something close to understanding and superficially similar to respect, that is, not caring. Not exactly, but you have to lose some fights and work within very specific parameters. Clients are also hyper-critical, which is a bit of a shock when you start. It still hurts to be told that something is boring or nonsensical, but a whole lot less than it use to. At the end of the day its their product and you have to do what they say. It’s easy to forget that this really isn’t design for any end user, it’s for the client, and you have to do all the weird corporate stuff that makes them happy.
And that is all I have learned about freelancing circa yesterday. Now I have to put on a tie and go get my ass kicked.