Looking for help in crossing over to freelance

Hello folks. I've been an instructional designer for seven years and six of that I have used Articulate products in my work. Currently I am not working and spent several months off due to health reasons but I am ready to get back to work now that I have a clean bill of health again. I am really leaning towards becoming a freelance designer rather than going back to am employer for several reasons: 1) I live in the South suburbs of Chicago and most of the work is located In the North and NW suburbs (at least 60 mile drive each way) which is a long hard drive, and 2) I prefer to be closer to home with some flexibility to my time because I have a son with ASD and being closer to him would help out my family tremendously. I really could use some help finding out what steps I would need to take to become a contractor. I'm really quite ignorant as to what I would need for say setting up a proposal, figuring out a rate, etc. Does someone know where I could find a good "How-to" web page or blog? Would someone be willing to walk me through what I need? I realize I am asking for much but I am determined to look for another option other than the 9 to 5 routine which just does not work work for me and my family. Your feedback would be most welcome!

29 Replies
Wilson Santiago

Thanks for the link Nancy.  I have been going through that discussion.  The problem I am having is that the information is all over the place and specific to particular issues.  Its very hard to find what I need to do to get started when many things are already being assumed that the reader knows by the posters in the discussion.  What I really would like is to find some type of "how-to" instructions which could walk me through the process.

Bruce Graham

Wilson...

Slightly off-topic, but very important...

Do you know HOW to run a small-business?

All this "Instructional Design" stuff is great, but probably only a small'ish % of what you need to do/know to be successful.  There is no real "process" to either running a small business, or being an Instructional Designer. There are some hints and best practice, but in the need it all depends on what you want to do, how you want to do it, and your business planning/execution processes.

Also - do you want to be a "contractor", or a "home-based freelancer". Certainly (over here in the UK), if I were a contractor, I would spend my time away from home, on contracts. I am a freelancer - running many projects side-by-side, based almost exclusively at home, and able to manage my time around my own personal circumstances.

I would recommend that you look at both things side-by-side, and make sure you understand the concepts of business - for example, how much of your "flexible" time are you going to have to spend travelling to clients and presenting proposals etc?

Bruce

David Tait

Hi Wilson,

One thing I'd say about trying to leave the 9-5 grind is that it isn't always possible to do so.

From experience clients want/need to be able to contact you during their own working day, which is also typically 9-5. This is completely understandable too as it can be a nightmare trying to resolve issues when all parties involved aren't available at the same time.

This suggestion may not always be possible but working with people in different time zones might be worth considering as you have a time offset in which you are able to complete work with a limited window for interruptions from clients.

Bruce Graham

The thing is - once you work for yourself, everything changes.

9-5 can become irrelevant, as can weekends and evenings. It all depends on what your financial needs are, what your drive is like, and what your circumstances are. As David correctly points out, what you want has to come second to what the clients require. I'm based in the UK, and most of my work is for US clients, so I have to (potentially) be available until around 2200hrs UK as and when.

Your motives for wanting to do this are very pure, however, all I am saying is beware of the reality.

Phil Mayor

Agree with Bruce and David here, I love working for myself but there is a commitment in there that cannot be understated.  It becomes very much a 24-7 job.  I check my emails when I wake at 6am, I am normally working at 7am and can normally still be found working at 7pm.  I continue to check email up to 10pm and will do work between 7-10pm if necessary.

The great thing is I get to do a job I love. If I want to i can wake up and decide I am not working today (as long as I don't have a deadline) or that I will take the morning off.

You need to be motivated (if you are successful the financial motivation may be enough) and it is a business you will spend a good proportion of time doing other things than developing so need to work your rate out to cover this unpaid work. You must also chase/find work at the same time you are developing your current work to avoid having any periods with no work, but expect to have quiet and busy periods of time.

I love it and wouldn't change it for the world, good luck!

 

Wilson Santiago
Bruce Graham

Wilson...

Slightly off-topic, but very important...

Do you know HOW to run a small-business?

All this "Instructional Design" stuff is great, but probably only a small'ish % of what you need to do/know to be successful.  There is no real "process" to either running a small business, or being an Instructional Designer. There are some hints and best practice, but in the need it all depends on what you want to do, how you want to do it, and your business planning/execution processes.

Also - do you want to be a "contractor", or a "home-based freelancer". Certainly (over here in the UK), if I were a contractor, I would spend my time away from home, on contracts. I am a freelancer - running many projects side-by-side, based almost exclusively at home, and able to manage my time around my own personal circumstances.

I would recommend that you look at both things side-by-side, and make sure you understand the concepts of business - for example, how much of your "flexible" time are you going to have to spend travelling to clients and presenting proposals etc?

Bruce

Bruce, thank you very much for your input.  My intention is to become a freelancer so that I could work from home. No, I have never ran a small business so these are skills I would definitely need to build up asap.

Wilson Santiago
David Tait

Hi Wilson,

One thing I'd say about trying to leave the 9-5 grind is that it isn't always possible to do so.

From experience clients want/need to be able to contact you during their own working day, which is also typically 9-5. This is completely understandable too as it can be a nightmare trying to resolve issues when all parties involved aren't available at the same time.

This suggestion may not always be possible but working with people in different time zones might be worth considering as you have a time offset in which you are able to complete work with a limited window for interruptions from clients.

Great advice David!  I do realize working freelance is not a 9-5 job.  I'm okay with that as it does provide me with the flexibility I need.

Wilson Santiago
Bruce Graham

The thing is - once you work for yourself, everything changes.

9-5 can become irrelevant, as can weekends and evenings. It all depends on what your financial needs are, what your drive is like, and what your circumstances are. As David correctly points out, what you want has to come second to what the clients require. I'm based in the UK, and most of my work is for US clients, so I have to (potentially) be available until around 2200hrs UK as and when.

Your motives for wanting to do this are very pure, however, all I am saying is beware of the reality.

Thanks for that insight Bruce.  I understand that my client's needs will come first.  Its something to consider when  taking on a new client.

Bruce Graham
Wilson Santiago
Bruce Graham

The thing is - once you work for yourself, everything changes.

9-5 can become irrelevant, as can weekends and evenings. It all depends on what your financial needs are, what your drive is like, and what your circumstances are. As David correctly points out, what you want has to come second to what the clients require. I'm based in the UK, and most of my work is for US clients, so I have to (potentially) be available until around 2200hrs UK as and when.

Your motives for wanting to do this are very pure, however, all I am saying is beware of the reality.

Thanks for that insight Bruce.  I understand that my client's needs will come first.  Its something to consider when  taking on a new client.

...and therein lies the rub with being a freelancer. When you start down this road, it can be very hard to turn down a client, any client. You have to answer this question - "Do I want eat and pay the rent, or can I afford to turn them down?"

Wilson Santiago
Bruce Graham
Wilson Santiago
Bruce Graham

The thing is - once you work for yourself, everything changes.

9-5 can become irrelevant, as can weekends and evenings. It all depends on what your financial needs are, what your drive is like, and what your circumstances are. As David correctly points out, what you want has to come second to what the clients require. I'm based in the UK, and most of my work is for US clients, so I have to (potentially) be available until around 2200hrs UK as and when.

Your motives for wanting to do this are very pure, however, all I am saying is beware of the reality.

Thanks for that insight Bruce.  I understand that my client's needs will come first.  Its something to consider when  taking on a new client.

...and therein lies the rub with being a freelancer. When you start down this road, it can be very hard to turn down a client, any client. You have to answer this question - "Do I want eat and pay the rent, or can I afford to turn them down?"

A very tough decision.  

David Anderson

Hey Wilson. It's really great to see you. First, there is a lot of work out there. One thing I'd recommend is hooking up with some freelancers or studios who need to outsource production work. It's not uncommon for users to take on side work, production work, before moving on to owning the entire project.

If you do want the full project, a lot of times companies will handle the paperwork since they'll have an idea of what they want and how much they're willing to pay.

I have a list of ideas that I like to share with users looking to build their personal brand and freelance business. If you still have the same email @comcast I'll use that one.

Wilson Santiago

Hello Dave!

Great to hear from you again. I still have that old e-mail, but prefer to use my att.net email.  The first part is identical, just change comcast to att. This is a live-changing decision for me, but it would benefit my family tremendously. My son has autism so if I am closer to home to help with my son's needs with his therapy. I reached out to get some help with small business management from a not for profit organization near where I live. Hopefully I can make the jump!

Wilson Santiago

Well, its been three months since I first posted here and I have to admit I am ready to throw in the towel.  I have applied for 14 different freelance assignments since then, ten never responded after initial contact and four rejected me without much explanation.  I really did not think it would be this dismal, but it is what it is.  I did not think my work was bad, but now I have come to doubt my abilities.  I do appreciate the advice and suggestions from you all, but I guess I am simply being out classed and out gunned by the competition.

Holly MacDonald

Wilson - sorry to hear it's been a tough slog for you - it is not for the faint of heart. I've been at it for coming up to 8 years and I'd never change it, but it is hard to get started and it is challenging to balance everything that you need to do as a small business owner. The biggest thing that people don't consider in making the leap is how much time you have to spend selling. http://www.markevans.ca/2015/04/09/consultant/. And, you have to kiss a lot of frogs along the way. You spend much more time doing things that are not elearning development than you'd ever imagined.

My advice: Stay focused on your goal (to stay home with your son), and brainstorm ways that you can do that with your current skillset. You may consider a remote position that is still with an employer, so you don't have to travel is a better option than outright freelancing. I also agree with David's advice above, find larger orgs/others who will own the project and contract you. 

Hope that helps,

Holly

Kris Lafleur

Hi Wilson,

I have one suggestion to get you moving - agencies. Placement agencies (you know, the ones that supply temps to the government offices and pm's for everything else!) often have short 1-6 month contracts that are actually courseware dev. projects but titled oddly, like HR Admin. If you can register with a couple of reputable agencies and get your foot in the door somewhere, you can transition into long term clients. This is also very effective for word of mouth type work. All you need is one happy client and things will start rolling. 

Good luck,

Kris

David Tait

I think that Kris' advice is good advice for you Wilson. 

Obviously each and every one of us has differing circumstances and ultimately we all need to earn a living so only you know whether 3 months is the maximum you're able to invest in getting your new venture up and running, my advice however is that if possible don't get too disheartened just yet, 3 months isn't very long, particularly in this industry where projects can often take an age to get going. 

You mention a lack of replies when you've contacted certain people about their projects. Where have you looked for work? For example, if you've looked here I've noticed that there are often projects advertised on these forums where the person advertising asks for A, B and C and when you get in touch they go cold. I consider myself to have a strong portfolio backed up by a lot of experience and to be honest have been surprised by the lack of replies myself so my advice is not to take it personally. 

Aside from Articulate products perhaps if you use any other industry-standard software it could be worth frequenting some of the other forums too to get more exposure. Perhaps build a portfolio using a variety of tools to showcase a wider skill set. 

One other thought, do you use LinkedIn? There are always discussions about Elearning there and joining them could get you some more exposure. You might even post an article about the experiences you've had so far whilst setting up, you might even come across people in a similar situation who need someone with your skills!

Wendy Farmer

Don't give up Wilson if that's what you want to do...

Walt Disney: Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a bit of a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn't last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept plugging along, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.
Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was "too stupid to learn anything." Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.

Wilson Santiago

Friends,

I deeply appreciate the advice and encouragement you have just given me. I didn't want to turn this thread into a pity party for myself, but just to vent my frustration.  I do thank you for your advice and encouragement.  

Holly:  Thank you for the encouragement.  I will try to stay focused on what I need to do.  My son deserves that.

Kris:  I have tried two agencies in the Chicago area that claim they place instructional designers , and they were not very helpful.  When I called them and asked if I could speak to someone about their services they took my number and said an agent would call me back.  A year later neither has ever called me.  Maybe I need to look further out from my immediate area.

David:  You made a good point; I have tried some listing here as well and to be honest, I had the exact same experience you did.  I suspect that with so much talent here they got a lot of responses so they pick who they feel is the best and ignore all the rest without any follow-up. That doesn't leave a good impression with the other candidates but this is not a concern apparently.  I do have a limited skill in photoshop and am good with Camtasia and Audacity.  Maybe I need to highlight those skills more.

Wendy:  Thanks!  I will try to remember your two examples.