A freelancer’s guide to sanity (and riches)

A freelancer feels compelled to say yes a lot. She teaches herself to say no. It’s a fine balance. And then there’s the question of money


Freelancing is a test of the elasticity of your sanity. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Freelancing is a test of the elasticity of your sanity. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

When I first became a freelancer, I took apart the word to fully understand its meaning. I am a thorough and thoughtful freelancer, you see.

Free—I know where that comes from. A freelancer, especially a newly minted one, does a lot of work for free. She also has a lot of free time to take apart words. Lance—what could this mean? Ah, a sharp spear to cut through the what-should-we-call-it-let’s-call-it fog. Or some other four-letter word.

A freelancer or an independent professional spends a lot of time waiting for work to start. Clients discuss projects for weeks, months and years and an eager freelancer plays along pretending to be that cool consultant who just likes to help people get their work on track. A freelancer feels compelled to say yes a lot. She teaches herself to say no. It’s a fine balance between saying yes to too many things and ending up saying no to everything.

It’s like the see-saw of love, you need to be a little hard-to-get so that there is some premium on your availability.

A freelancer takes on a lot of work for little or no money to develop a reputation and create a network that may bring in better-paid work. Again, tricky ground. When you work for free, you are always expected to work for free.

Money is such a taboo topic. You are not supposed to want it. You must never look like you need it.

Money is a taboo topic. You are always supposed to have it. You must not have too much of it. You must appear moneyed. Not someone who works for money.

A freelancer spends a lot of time waiting for payments. It is a test of the elasticity of your sanity.

I am the kind of freelancer who is a little holier-than-thou. I like to maintain dignity in my negotiations. I have friends who don’t mind wrecking other people’s peace to inspire them to issue cheques and make online transfers. They don’t mind that they look as desperate as they feel.

I have hot-headed friends. Scorned artists who aren’t afraid to be bitter.

I like to stay cool. I am stuck at sweet. The empathetic artist. Notice the word pathetic buried in empathetic.

Today I spent one hour writing an email in a light, even tone to a person-like-me asking him to exert his influence on the accounts department in his office to pass a bill for Rs2,870. I must not send this email.

I’ve already sent this email. I am embarrassed. I feel a little shameful. I pick up my phone many times and open WhatsApp to text the person-like-me not to take my email seriously. That sounds even more silly so I put my phone down. I need to distract myself. A freelancer needs a lot of distraction.

As a self-trained freelance professional, I have devised an impeccable workflow for myself. As a wise consultant who likes to pretend that giving gyan is her hobby, I offer you my expertise free of cost. Besides, I need to distract myself.

First, quote your fees. Your real fees, not what you think the other can afford. Take yourself seriously as a professional. Don’t offer discounts till you are asked for one. If you work for people when they don’t have money, they will always go to someone else when they have money to pay fees. Isn’t it ironic?

Get the work done with joy, fervour and the usual torture. Love your team. People work for money but love makes them work. Cry alone in your hotel room after a bad day in the field. Be bright at breakfast again the next morning. Give feedback to everyone in your team. Fake feedback if you can’t make feedback.

Send invoices in time. Ask for your payment to be made.

Send reminder for payment to be made.

Don’t send a reminder again.

Call your client directly. Send an email again after two days. Receive reply informing you that you need to resend invoices in a different format. The date needs to be on the top right of the page and the invoice number must have a / instead of the \ you have used. Are you new in the field, or what?

Send invoices again. Send reminder again. Don’t send reminder again.

I am angry now. Don’t appear angry. I’ll never work with these people again.

Call again. Wait for them to call back. You are checking email too often. Turn off the mobile data on your phone. Go for a run. Or ice cream.

Now I am desperate. I need to pay my team. Some of them are sending me a dose of feedback that I didn’t ask for. Should I borrow from X and pay Y? Should I break a fixed deposit? Sell some jewellery?

Type email again. No, not in this tone. Try to be funny. No, don’t be emotional. That is not professional. Cc everyone in the office across departments.

Should I stop the rest of the work on this project? No, that is not professional. When they go low, you go high, remember?

Call again. Didn’t take my call. Draft a new email.

Write a Facebook update instead. Don’t post it. Do you want to appear poor? Or an amateur? Stay calm. Don’t take this personally.

It’s not the people who have commissioned the work, it’s probably someone in accounts. It’s always someone in accounts. Why are all accounts departments populated by dull, inefficient sadists?

It’s probably not any one person in accounts either. Then what is it? Calm down. It’s not you.

“Guys! You are an organization, I am an individual. Why am I borrowing money from friends and relatives to do work that contributes to your profits? You have a cash flow problem? Oh I am so sorry to hear that.”

Distract yourself, it’s not like they will never pay you. When they finally do, it will be fun. After you have paid off the loans you have taken.

“Sorry, our system is broken,” says the person-like-me when we meet socially. I pull out my lance from its sheath. It glints at me. We are not broken.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.

Also Read Natasha’s Mint Lounge columns.

More From Livemint