I was drinking my coffee with almond milk and stevia this morning and was thinking about how I have changed a lot since becoming an independent marketing contractor several years ago. After chatting on the subject with some of my fellow independent contractor friends, I’ve confirmed that there are indeed some universal things that we all go through when we make the transition into being full-time freelance. Here’s a short list of ways that being an independent contractor transforms you:
1. You begin to think and exist in multiple time zones.
At any given moment, I know what time it is in Palo Alto, Dallas, Calgary, New Delhi, Johannesburg, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and, of course, my hometown, Boulder. I cannot help this. After repeatedly coordinating with contractors and companies spanning multiple time zones and continents, your brain begins to automatically convert to various times even without consulting world clocks. I have discussed this phenomenon with various independent contractors with whom I’ve worked, and they have each had the same thing happen. You can’t shut it off, and you wouldn’t want to if you could, because it’s so useful.
2. You become more in tune with your natural rhythms.
Are you a morning person? I am. I vaguely sensed this during my years when I was working in-house for companies and nonprofits, but now that I set my work schedule, I’ve discovered that I do some of my best work far before the 9am crowd sits down to get to it. I also get a second wind in the early evening. Instead of being forced to end my work at 6pm like I did before becoming an independent contractor, I can pick up where I left off for an hour or two when I feel my freshest. The result? I work primarily when I am totally focused and on, because I have the freedom to allow myself to take off when I need a break to grab a bite, hike a mountain, or go to the gym. Marie Forleo has a great post on the subject. Other contractor friends need to wait until the sun goes down to transition into high gear productivity. Because I am committed to working when I naturally feel inclined to, clients benefit because they get my best work, all the time. It’s a win-win.
3. You form meaningful connections with people you’ve never met in-person.
I have many clients and fellow independent contractor friends I’ve only ever “met” on Skype. I’ve shared the joys of a new puppy adopted by a graphic designer co-worker in South Africa via Go-To-Meeting; I’ve shared genuine laughs (and done great work!) with a website designer based in Calgary; I regularly talk about local events going on in the Bay Area with a client even though I haven’t lived there for several years. I worked with a client in Los Angeles and finally met most of the office team after several months working with them remotely. When the company flew me out to meet the team, it felt like I already knew everyone–because I did. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to work in the same office to share a deep respect for other human beings with whom you co-work. That’s a weird thing to explain to those who are used to only networking with in-person offices, but you learn how to work around it and genuinely connect with those you haven’t met face-to-face.
4. You learn to become very skilled at conveying what you do and why it’s valuable.
Every single successful independent contractor I know has had to learn how to convey the value of what they do with others on a frequent basis. Though I’m versed in digital marketing and showcasing the value of the solutions I deliver to clients, and most of my work comes from referrals, each of my successful graphic designer, UX/UI and developer friends have had to learn how to sell themselves and their work services. It’s another thing that comes with the turf. I like Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers blog post on the subject.
5. Your beliefs about retirement change.
I believe in investing for retirement and planning for it in the traditional sense, but when you’re an independent contractor, life doesn’t feel like it’s leading up to an eventual goal of being able to retire to finally do what you want–that’s our reality, right now. It’s a powerful place to be in and one that changes you on a deep, and I’d dare say even spiritual, level. FastCompany’s recent article is a great long read on the subject.
6. You develop a great sense of self-reliance and also learn how and when to ask for help from others.
It can be daunting and somewhat unnerving to not rely on anyone else to take care of everything for your work concerns. As an independent contractor, you have to figure out how to set and keep a budget, do your taxes (and plan for them), find and purchase health insurance, host and maintain your portfolio and website, manage your billing and schedule and client relationships and tackle various other tasks most people in traditional work settings don’t have to think about. You learn how to manage each challenge, and when you have trouble, you learn that you can and must seek help and guidance from trusted sources and fellow contractors who’ve been through the ropes. With Freelancer’s Union and other free resources available online, it’s not too difficult to solve challenges. You just have to be willing to ask for help.
This list isn’t exhaustive–I wanted to share a few ways my independent contractor colleagues and I have changed, and would love to hear others’ thoughts about this topic.
Are you an independent contractor or business that hires independent contractors? Have you noticed anything else that should be on this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.