It’s a rare feat, but some people are properly remunerated for their skills in the workplace. Therefore, it’s understandable why some don’t want to break the 9-5 cycle. That’s the comfort of a good vacancy, but over time, many get too comfortable and remain in the same place for over 20 years.
However, regardless of how comfortable and secure one experiences their job, life has other plans. For example, when the pandemic hit, many people lost their job, regardless of how long they stayed in a single place. In other words, many got back to the start again.
Our guest Chai was also one of those people who lost their job during the pandemic and had to find an alternative way of supporting himself. Instead of looking for new open positions at different companies, he decided to open one for himself, and that’s how his freelancing story began. Let’s see the first impressions after shifting from a full-time job to freelancing.
Q: Please tell us about yourself, your expertise, etc
A: Hi, I’m Chai Lee, and I am an experienced freelance marketing communication consultant specializing in business strategy content. Over my career I have worked with companies from various industries from arts and culture and fashion, to contract furniture and textile manufacturers and architectural interior design. Currently, I have a job as an advisor and I manage content channels for six clients.
Otherwise, one of my greatest fortes is storytelling which allows me to create content for all industries. When working in a fast-paced environment such as digital communications, being flexible to unannounced changes is essential.
Q: Please describe your previous work as an employee
A: Before dedicating my time to building a career as a consultant, I previously served 16 years as Associate Director of Public Affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago. During my time there, I successfully executed a myriad of projects for the museum, and I additionally expanded my knowledge in marketing communications. I pivoted from more than 20 years in the arts and culture realm to architecture and design sales in 2017 before becoming a freelancer in 2020.
Q: What was the point where you decided to become a freelancer?
A: The pandemic made me do it! I had lost my job in NYC as an architectural materials sales director during the summer of 2020, and didn’t know what to do with my life. So I decided to move back to Taipei (where I’m originally from) to be closer to my parents, and work for myself. I broke out of the “9 to 5” mode and transitioned into “work anytime, work anywhere” mentality.
Q: What are the challenges you’re facing as a freelancer?
A: My transition into freelancing was actually pretty seamless—but if I had to name my challenges so far, it would be budgeting and taxes. I had to learn a lot about these intricacies and remember that I can expense things! The first year I did my taxes, my accountant had to remind me to keep receipts.
Another challenge is frankly the FOMO mentality. The “work anywhere” mindset is a double-edged sword when you’re traveling around the world and still need to devote time during the day to cater to your clients’ needs. Sometimes I have to get up extra early for meetings due to time zone differences, then finish my work before feeling “free” to play.
Q: What can you advise a beginner freelancer?
A: I can’t emphasize enough about good networking to get your clients. You’ll never know where your first client will be coming from. I got mine through a gay dating app! We went out for Mexican food and right afterwards, I was literally hired.
Q: How to handle the inflation as a freelancer?
A: The inflation hasn’t affected me that much, really – I don’t have much of an overhead and my professional subscriptions are all reasonably priced.
Q: How are you getting new clients?
Continuing from Question 5…lots of networking! I’m fortunate to have a solid reputation and network of people, who don’t mind referring me to others for potential work. I have just returned to Taipei from NYC, where I’ve picked up new leads that might translate to solid projects and clients soon.
Q: Name one mistake you did as a freelancer?
This is a tricky question, but the one mistake so far as a freelancer is that I’m charging too little for my services. I recently had a potential client telling me to not “undersell” myself after I told her my hourly rate. I’m now in the process of upping my hourly and retainer for new clients next year.
The Bottom Line
Usually, when shifting from a 9-5 job to freelance, the beginnings are more challenging as people struggle with getting used to the isolation and breaking on the market. However, as Chai explained, he had a pretty seamless start. In fact, he didn’t have much choice about adjusting and isolation because social distancing was mandatory in 2020.
But, starting out on your own also means taking financial care of yourself as well. It can be challenging if you’ve never done this, especially since you don’t want to experience any financial leaking. Chai also had to find a reputable accountant to teach him the basics of budgeting and financing.
Otherwise, if anything we can stress out from this interview, then that would have to be the building networks method. You never know where you might find a client as Chai found a stable client at a gay dating app! It’s important to start making a name for your business as soon as possible. Once you make a few connections, you will start gaining clients from word of mouth, and your clients will begin to refer you to other clients, thus growing your business.
Another thing that must be pointed out is the mistake Chai made. Underselling is one of the most common but crucial mistakes every freelancer makes and regrets later. It’s important to always sell yourself according to your skills, abilities, and experience in the business because some clients are willing to pay more for a project done right.