I would like to share the ideas that helped me become location independent while being able to pursue a career in technology and maintain my income to support my lifestyle and family. Every time I meet new people and tell them that I am a digital nomad, they tend to label me as a freelancer. To me, this seems to be a major misconception about remote jobs having to be freelance jobs. So I would like to share some insights with those of you who are searching for a remote job but don’t know where to start and how to land one in 2020.
Costs of being a freelancer
First, let me sum up the reality of being a freelancer for you. Freelancing implies providing services to the public or companies on project-based terms, usually short-term. Examples of such services may include developing a website design, drafting legal service terms, localizing a mobile app. Those are usually one time jobs, meaning that when the project is completed, you’re no longer needed and you have to move on and search for another company or client that will be willing to pay for your services. This means that a large chunk of your time will be dedicated to selling yourself and marketing your services. Once you find your customers, you will also need to do the contract negotiation and all the required paperwork as well as customer support functions to maintain the relationship.
Here is the list of all the things that a freelancer needs to do to be successful
- Strong expertise in a field, otherwise nobody will need your services
- Doing blogging, social media to maintain public awareness of yourself and your services, building and maintaining your personal brand
- Maintaining your website and portfolio up-to-date
- Professional training to keep up with the market needs and to advance your skills
- Marketing your services and finding new customers
- Competing with vendor companies providing the same sort of services
- Contract negotiation to justify the prices you charge
- User research to understand the needs of your customers
- Sales either online via a website or in person if it requires pitching and presenting
- Customer support to respond to questions and manage expectations of your existing customers
- Tax and legal paperwork to not get in trouble with state authorities
Considering the above, how much time do you think is left for you to do the actual job after you have done the above? Not much, right?! And the sad part is that if you want to be a successful freelancer, you will have to keep doing these things over and over again to maintain your business. Another solution is to outsource most of the things but then you will have to pay people for doing this job for you. Not many people can afford this when they are just starting their remote career. This was my case, I know how discouraging and overwhelming it may feel when you don’t know where to start and if you really want to get on the hamster wheel of freelancing. So when I was looking for a remote job I realized that I want to do the actual work and minimize the metawork needed to find and maintain stable customer inflow.
Having worked for over 4 years remotely, I can definitely say that my first full-time remote job at a vendor company became a life changer…
The good news is that there is a way of avoiding or at least minimizing the above. For some reason, location independence of digital nomads is mostly attributed to people doing freelance jobs or owning some sort of business. Not many people talk and write about such options that allow minimizing this metawork while building a very successful career in international companies. Here is the hack — a full-time remote job as an independent contractor is a solution. There I said, support the post with your likes but for those who want more detail, I laid them out below.
And it doesn’t always have to be independent contractor terms, it’s just happened to be so in my case. There are plenty of companies willing to hire you legally, full time, with full social security package including healthcare and retirement benefits as well as paid time off, if you are legally authorized to work in the country of the company registration. But even if you’re not legally authorized to work say in US, Canada, or Europe, it is a common practice to compensate you for those expenses and provide the same time off as if you were a full-time employee. Examples would be Hotjar, Basecamp, Zapier, InVision, GitHub, GitLab and they compete with each other for the best applicants in the job market by providing the best terms they can afford.
I used to be longing for quitting my daily commutes, traveling all year round and not having to go out into the rainy foggy air in the winter every single weekday. A solution Google advised was freelancing or starting a blog but after several sleepless nights in attempts to type out some coherent thoughts I gave up on this idea. I had to support myself, I had rent to pay and I had to go back to my office cubicle to do the job I didn’t enjoy. But I didn’t give up the hope and finally, I landed a full-time independent contractor position doing copy-writing for a Silicon Valley startup which turned to be my life changer.
This means that a large chunk of your time will be dedicated to selling yourself and marketing your services.
Advantages of a full-time job
Here are the advantages of a full-time job over being a freelancer. You don’t necessarily need to have a very strong expertise level to find a suitable job. There are plenty of companies willing to hire junior specialists to do such jobs as data entry and customer support that require being comfortable with using a computer, internet and fluency in English or your country official language. Those companies are even willing to provide paid internships and boot camps to train junior workers getting onboard to teach them their special ways of doing things. So the expertise bar can be lowered here in case of such position instead it is your soft skills that will help you win the spot. As long as you’re diligent, willing to learn and can communicate efficiently, you can try applying for junior positions that require minimum experience.
For companies, it is a long term investment. They can spend a month on training you but they will end up paying you slightly less than the market rate for about a year or two until you become more experienced and request a raise so it is a win-win for both in this case. In any case, your first remote job doesn’t have to pay well. It is your long term investment, it is the line in your resume that will work for you even in 10 and 15 years in the future. You’re getting your first remote job experience, you have a chance to pick up some basic skills to jumpstart your remote career and the company gets a loyal affordable contractor for quite a long time. Both parties benefit!
Finding a job in such a company and working there doesn’t require any publicity from your end so you don’t have to have a blog or be active on social media to apply for such jobs. In fact, when I landed my first remote job, I only had a LinkedIn account and a resume uploaded to a local job board where the company found me. The only thing I did is I made sure my CV on LinkedIn was updated and well written which is the key to getting noticed by recruiters. If you are a designer, software engineer, or an illustrator, etc. you will most probably need to maintain your portfolio updated as well as it will help you stand out from the other applicants.
As for professional training and development, when you are a freelancer, you have to own the expenses for your professional development. With a full-time position, even being an independent contractor, you can negotiate terms of handling training costs with your company. Most of the companies have an annual training budget for each team member and they are willing to cover up to 100% of the cost of professional training costs, workshops and conferences you attend. It is their investment into your relationship, companies have to compete for high-quality specialist by providing best terms to keep the team member onboard as long as possible so if you are providing high-quality services and show devotion and passion for the product they make, they will be happy to foot the bill for your training because it costs them less to keep you happy than to hire, train, and ramp up a new person.
Companies that allow remote work can be of two types: vendor type that sell services and actual product companies. Vendors usually provide services such as design development, testing, support, research, marketing, sales, legal, accounting, operations, recruitment, and whatnot. Product companies usually have a product of their own that they build and hire for specific positions around that product. For a freelancer, it is really hard to compete with vendor companies for prospective customers due to the range of services they provide and more often because of the rates that they charge. So in this case, becoming a full-time team member of either vendor or a product company can be a solution for you to avoid having to do with this competition directly on daily basis and to jumpstart your remote career.
A life hack for freelancers who would like to avoid sales and customer support metawork is to become an independent contractor at a vendor company that provides long term services to other companies. They basically hire you but then resell your services to another company at a higher or same rate and takes away such tasks as sales, marketing, customer management, operations, promotion, and contract negotiation. You basically can relax and focus on doing the actual work, getting the valuable experience you need to gain expertise in the field. With time you will want to move on, get promoted, get a better-paid job, or start your own project and you will need to learn to do all of the operational tasks but at least at the beginning of your journey, you will be able to prioritize working on your hard skills and getting the necessary experience to become more independent in your craft.
So to sum it all up, working as a full-time employee remotely can become a stepping stone for your location independence, it can also contribute to better professional development.
Having worked for over 4 years remotely, I can say that my first full-time remote job at a vendor company became a life changer, it allowed me to jump start in the industry I liked, pick up new skills, pivot my career to a more technical direction, and continue pursuing my career goals. I hope my story can help those who want to become digital nomads, are tired of daily commutes or are considering making a pivot in their remote careers or getting out of freelance business. It can also become a career saver for future parents who want to have kids without sacrificing their career progress, students who are willing to gain valuable experience in top industries and international companies.
I hope this blog post was helpful and has saved you hours of the time of hesitation and googling. I’m open to any questions and suggestions and I will be happy to hear from you! Hit me up in the comments below if there is any specific aspect of remote work that you would like me to cover in my future posts. Cheers!