So you’ve decided to take the great leap into the exciting world of freelancing. You are the captain of your soul and master of your destiny. You can now make a living on your skills alone – through grit, hard work and inspiration, and not under the watchful eye of a board of superiors who frame your existence on the basis of a punch-clock.
Or at the very least you are a pirate – an independent spirit taking to the choppy seas of life armed with nothing but creative nous and a will to survive on your terms, and your terms alone.
So what do you need to know before you make this fateful plunge?
1. Valletta is your friend
Freelancers make money by finding work for themselves. Scoping out prospective clients and jobs while you’re still in full-time employment could give you the initial boost you need. The internet is also a great resource to promote your work and find people looking for your skills. But even if you have a great online presence don’t underestimate the value of a handshake and a smile when meeting someone in person. So get out there and tell people about yourself. An afternoon spent networking around Valletta cafes, for example, is bound to score you some work.
2. Find a good working space
Not having a paranoid boss looking over your shoulders is great, but that means you’re going to have to discipline and motivate yourself. Finding a routine is important, but even more so is finding a space (or spaces) that work for you. Whether it’s a makeshift home office, your favourite WIFI-enabled cafe, or anywhere in between, just make sure it’s comfortable and conducive to productivity. If you live with your parents, nanniet and screaming babies, you probably want to work outside of your home.
3. Make time management your religion
Without a sharp divide between ‘work’ and ‘play’, it will become harder for you to distinguish between what exactly to do, and when. This is why you need to think hard and plan harder about how to structure your days, especially given that the Maltese summer months leave you with plenty of pitfalls for distraction.
While working 9-5 in an office (or any other establishment) usually allows for some procrastination time – usually in the form of ‘water cooler’ chatting and regular coffee and/or cigarette breaks – procrastination for a freelancer can be a deadly bottomless pit. The key is to start and finish whatever you’re doing rather than working on a hundred projects simultaneously.
4. Keep the taxman happy
If you’re used to full-time employment, chances are that you view things like taxes and National Insurance contributions as little more than pesky annoyances that drain parts of your wage every few months. Not exactly cause for celebration, but something you can pretty much forget about since they’re deducted automatically.
However, freelancers need to navigate these bureaucratic minefields alone. And opting out isn’t, in fact, an option: being late on your paperwork can result in some hefty fines. So inform yourself on all the necessary procedures, and keep a post-it note (or Google Alert) with all the important deadlines pertaining to this stuff in clear view at all times.
Educate yourself about where Malta stands on this stuff, and do look into what Malta Enterprise can offer in your field. You should also consider bringing a trusted accountant on board — it’s Malta, so family and/or friends-of-friends are bound to be of help, once again — as this will make you feel less like a deer in headlights.
This is adulting at its worst, we know, but it has to be done.
5. Brace yourself… You will have to chase money
Apart from waving goodbye to a fixed income, the freelance life also means actually having to chase down the money you’ve already earned before you can nestle it safely into your account. Be prepared to engage in awkward conversations and ‘nudging’ emails to clients to remind them that actually, you “haven’t yet been remunerated for JOB X”.
This can get particularly awkward in Malta, where everybody knows everybody else and where your clients would most likely — and at the very least — be friends-of-friends, if not close friends already. But you’re gonna have to grit your teeth and bear it if you have any dreams of being paid.
6. Embrace your own company
Take some time to fully process what it means to be working – and hopefully earning a living – on your own steam. No bosses, no set work schedule, no ready to-do list to just tick off. Just you and your needs. It’s worth giving a proper think about what this entails, and whether you can handle its implications. But it’s also important to remember that…
7. But keep your friends closer than ever
Whether you loved or hated your colleagues back at the old 9-5 job, it’s hard to deny the importance of those water cooler chats – at least they helped you loosen up a bit and return to the task at hand relatively refreshed. The ‘essential solitude’ of freelancing robs you of this opportunity, but you should still seek it out. Apart from bonding with fellow freelancers in your field, you could look into places that offer co-working and hot-desking spaces — which is, thankfully, becoming an emerging trend in Malta too.
And neither should you forget your close friends. If you’re an overworked freelancer it’s a sign that you’re doing something right, but you shouldn’t let it get to the point where you can’t even meet up your bestie for a coffee. If anything, some time away from your work will help you recharge those precious batteries.