Today is my fifth anniversary working as a freelancer.
When I first went freelance, it was because the company I worked for – and loved working for – imploded and because my partner at the time moved back to New York.
I was suddenly unemployed and in a long-distance relationship.
It felt unrealistic to apply for jobs where I'd have to promise to show up every day from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. And so, I decided to go freelance instead.
Before I had a client, I built a website listing the services I could offer. I then emailed 65 people, telling them I was available for freelance work.
I recently had a conversation about the people who boosted our confidence so we would actually dare to go freelance or start our own businesses. The conversation is what inspired this essay.
I'd love to tell you more about the sentences that are burned into my mind and the moments that helped me get where I am today.
"Welcome to the game."
At 9 a.m. on November 6, I had an appointment at the business registration office.
At 11 a.m., I had my very first official client meeting with Raven & Finch, an Austrian sound branding agency.
Max was one of the people who’d emailed me back, hiring me for some content marketing. Upon my arrival at his studio, Max said: "Welcome to the game."
To this day, I remember him saying that to me. It's one of the sentences I like to remind myself of regularly.
That sentence takes the pressure off whenever things get hard.
Freelancing is a game, one in which you know that you sometimes win, but – sometimes – you lose.
When you see freelancing this way, it’s fun to look back at the accomplishments and failures as if it was just a game that you get to play every single day.
But something else happened with Max and Raven & Finch.
I'm very grateful to Max for hiring me back then. I recorded his thoughts and later wrote a few articles for his blog. He paid upfront, too.
The assignment wouldn't have been memorable if I didn't ask the one question that changed how I now approach client work.
"What is it that you really, really want? What's the ideal scenario, where if it happened, you'd feel hiring me was the right choice?"
Max replied that he wanted to see Raven & Finch featured in the Monocle magazine.
At that time, I didn't know anyone at Monocle.
But, as life is, within just a few months, I started meeting more and more reporters who worked there.
A year later, Raven & Finch was featured in the Monocle Podcast, a Vienna special, and also the main magazine.
Now I know it doesn't matter what people hire me for. What matters is that I deliver on their big goals.
So thank you again, Max, for your trust and your support five years ago.
"Thank you for your offer, Monika, I'll pay you more."
When you start as a freelancer, you don't know how the financial side of things works.
Working at a Berlin-based startup in 2014, I was earning less than € 28K a year before taxes. As a freelancer, that's nowhere close to enough. You have to pay for health insurance, pension, sick days, vacation time, and still put money aside for those times when no projects are coming in.
Taylor taught me about value evaluation. Since then, there have been many times I was able to follow his lead and do the same for others, mostly women.
What Taylor said to me changed the way I communicate about budgets. I don't like this game of asking someone how much they want if I already have a set budget for it. I say that upfront.
Of course, there have been times when I had to ask for a lower price. Yet, I prefer to keep that conversation clean and avoid exploiting others for my own benefit. A lesson learned from the incredible Taylor McKnight.
"You know, I've got a maximum of how much I want to earn every year."
When Michele went freelance, she bought herself a car and a dog, consciously opting in for a lifestyle that suited her needs.
Sometimes she didn't earn any money; sometimes she made a lot in just a couple of days. She'd make time every day to take her dog for a walk and actually "feel" alive. It was Michele who said to me that she has a maximum figure she wants to earn per year. Because of the Austrian tax system, she made conscious decisions on how much money made sense to her.
Michele is someone with hobbies. (!) She's someone who's signed up for university and is studying in her "free time." She inspired me to think about my time the way I do.
Of course, having published three books on the topic of freelancing for which I've interviewed more than 35 women, every single one of them have had a significant impact on me. So thank you:
... for being such a great source of inspiration.
Despite having read Tuesdays with Morrie a couple of years ago, it's surprising to me I'm only sharing these stories now.
Also, here are some highlights from the past five years:
Cheers and thank you to everyone who’s been a part of this journey.
I’m grateful for the projects I got involved with and the people I got to meet during the past years. What I value the most about this work status is the trust people have in me as a person and the fact that every project is something special, and there is no 9 to 5 mindset even though the work mostly happens at that time anyway.