This year marks my second year quitting the corporate world, and going freelance. I cannot believe it has been two years already! I thought I would write something a bit different today as I reflect on my personal journey transitioning from a career in-house, to becoming a consultant.
Two years ago, when I left my established in-house legal & compliance career in Dubai, I had no clue what I wanted to do. The perspective of no longer earning a comfortable salary every month was scary, but I just felt, deep in my heart that I had to take a leap of faith, outside of my comfort zone. I was burned out and longed for a new adventure and greener pastures.
I’ve done many different things since: from delivering virtual compliance training sessions, speaking at conferences and webinars, to helping fellow compliance officers with their compliance programs. I’ve started a compliance networking community in Morocco, and even became a content writer assisting compliance solution providers increase their online visibility.
Here are the top 5 lessons I’ve learned from going solo so far for those considering delving into that daunting but exciting journey.
Lesson 1: Don’t fear the unknown
The most important lesson I have learned in the past two years, is learning to accept uncertainty. With zero visibility on how to work in freelance, how much I was going to earn, how to run a business, how to market myself, what services to offer, if I was going to get enough work, or if my project would even be viable, pressure was definitely on.
In the first year, just as I established my own LLC, and was about to announce to the world I was going solo, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. I thought to myself, well there goes nothing, my freelance adventure finished before it even had a chance to get started. How was I to meet people and sell my services, when the world was in crisis and in shutdown mode? I thought almost every day about going back to a ‘safe’ in-house role.
But just the thought of going back to work in the UAE, tied my stomach into a knot. I spent 12 years of my life there, when my initial plan was only to be there for five at a very maximum. Morocco is not the Mecca of Compliance, let’s be honest. There was certainly the consideration of going back to the US where I studied, or trying my luck in Europe, but I learned very quickly the reality of that prospect: not many companies are prepared to hire international compliance candidates and navigate the immigration process with them. Also, I had very specific goals in mind: either work with a company looking to establish a genuine compliance program, or go home. So my pool of prospects shrank even further.
So I chose to continue walking the path of my solo career. I looked at the bright side: with the pandemic constraints, the business world was gradually shifting to virtual. With the profusion of classes and webinars suddenly available online, I utilized my lockdown time in Morocco that first year, to educate myself on everything I could possibly get my hands on, for free or at a reasonable cost. From videos, whitepapers and articles, to conferences, I consumed every bit of information and best practice, I felt could help me sharpen my skills. I spent my days attending events, and spent nights learning the art of building your own website, and marketing. I can honestly say I have learned more in a year than I have in 13 years of working in-house.
Along the way I developed a passion for sharing that information with my extended networks too, but whilst I loved writing, it wasn’t paying my bills.
So when I came across these two classes by renown blogger and columnist Holly Johnson Earn More Writing and Earn More Blogging, a light-bulb suddenly switched on. That’s when “The Compliance Lady” was born. I loved every bit of that creative process.
Fast forward, two years later, I’ve learned that the thought of quitting only comes from a fear of the unknown.
There’s never any guarantee an office job will be ‘safer’ than working for yourself. After all redundancies and terminations happen at companies when times get rough. You could loose your pension, or medical insurance at companies too. If the pandemic taught us one thing, is that people could be terminated in a second, notwithstanding the amount of years, efforts, dedication or loyalty one could have to an organization.
Life is full of risk and uncertainty. Going solo simply makes you accept and adapt to that reality faster.
Lesson 2: Be visible, and collaborate.
I am the type of person that has always been too shy to ask for help. I have always preferred to ‘leave things to fate’ rather than ask for anyone’s assistance. Obviously, that won’t take you very far in the world of business. Fortunately, this has changed since.
To put it plainly, nothing will happen if you are invisible. This applies to networking, improving your online presence, and opportunities for collaboration. You need a website and social media to showcase yourself and your work.
100% of my clients or partners approach me through sharing my work online and telling people what I do on LinkedIn, Upwork, networking groups, and my own website.
Be honest with yourself, where there are limits to the projects you can deliver on your own, don’t hesitate to join forces with other consultancies.
Partners and clients alike will have no clue you exist if you don’t put yourself out there.
Lesson 3: Freelancing does not mean working for free. State your price
When starting in freelance, you may find it difficult to price your services. You can go at it two ways. You can either ask/ research what prices peers would charge for similar services. Or you start low and build up experience.
I chose a solution in between. I wanted to build up a portfolio and gain some experience in the beginning, but at the same time I wanted to work with quality clients, producing nothing less than quality work.
Today, my prices are not cheap, but at the same time they are nowhere near what a more established firm would charge. With each positive feedback received from my clients, I started feeling more confident that I was worth it.
A good chunk of what I earn is reinvested on improving myself. And the more I improve my skills, the more I can offer clients, and the more I can ask.
Lesson 4: Get out of the house, and look pretty once in a while
Working in freelance means I often work from home. At first, I thought there was nothing cooler than making money in my PJs from the comfort of my couch. Well, to be honest, after a few months it got a bit isolating and boring. I now combine working at home with working in a café or a decent working space with internet. I enjoy talking to “real” people from time to time, and feeling good about myself dressed up with a bit more coquetry than my usual sweats.
If you reside with a family or with a noisy pet like I do, you might be able to concentrate a bit better somewhere else.
What I look forward most is being able to travel again, and working from exotic locations.
Lesson 5: Don’t give up
There is no magic formula for success. Working in freelance, you will go through exciting highs and profound lows. You will go through dry spells where there is absolutely no work, and then you will go though plentiful seasons, where you must turn down work or refer work to a peer. I utilize the down time to work on my website, or improve my skills.
Learn from your mistakes, and celebrate your successes. With time, you’ll develop a pretty clear idea of what you like and you don’t like, what works well and what doesn’t. You are a lifelong student. There’s always something new to learn.
Life is meant to be lived with its ups and downs, but when you feel like quitting, remember why you started in the first place.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― Andre Gide .