Who here is freelance and/or self employed?

Jul 15, 2011

Curious about how you made the jump and would love to pick your brain or have someone I could ask a few questions off.  Had to leave my position at University of California to relocate with fiance to Indiana, and looking to start doing this on my own or subcontract for others.  If anyone is amiable to answering my questions, PM me.

54 Replies
Jill Tracy

This is my very first post but I just wanted to add that I recently (and more suddenly than I expected!) entered the world of freelance only by posting my resume. I had a fulltime gig as an ID but was thinking more and more about going solo and focusing more on elearning so I put a good resume together and almost immediately after I posted it got several replies. There seems to be a pretty big need for IDs out there. I'm not sure if it's a regional need (I live in the Seattle area) or global but my recommendation would be to just post a CV or resume on one or more of several online job-hunt sites. See what happens!

Another quick note: I got health and dental for 150/mo for something very comparable to what I was getting at a Fortune 500. I was surprised at how affordable it was. Or maybe my insurance was way too expensive at my former job!!

Best of luck! It's scary but very exciting!

Debbie Palmer-Mack

This is my first post. I know this is going to sound bizarre. I worked in the airline business for 14 years as a flight attendant. I spent 13 years in the training department and got to use Articulate to develop in-flight training. I LOVED DOING IT!!!

But I never knew the proper term for what I did/who I was until I decided to leave the industry last month. (Cue tears) Once I was TOLD what I did, I put myself out there and I got a  contract job with a great company designing training courses. But I too have this ‘side-eye’ looking down the road to doing this as a consultant.  I already have a small media/photography company on the side and e-learning development would be great to add to it.

I am so excited at what I see folks doing with Articulate it really inspires me to push boundaries. I look forward to learning from the gurus on here…and eventually going solo J

Dana Dutiel

Hi all and to Hugh for this great question.  I keep wanting to try some freelance work.  Your question and everyone's responses has completely inspired me to create my own blog.  I have wanted to create one for a while, however I got so stuck on the "look" of the blog that it became a huge obstacle.  Now, I have ripped that obstacle to shreds and have created the layout for my blog - I have to realize that I can always change it later. 

I am also thinking that I can create my own portfolio of work, but I think I am going to call some local nonprofit organizations to see if I can help them create any trainings for them.  My specialty is creating instructor-led courses, however, I continue to practice my eLearning skills until I reach my goal of becoming an "eLearning rockstar">>>yeah I'm still learning the "notes"

Denise Cook

I recently left a toxic office job for a  full time remote position developing training courses, but since I started working at home, I've gained a couple of great freelance contracts that have me wanting to just concentrate on my business full time.  However, the delayed payment aspect is one that I'm not yet ready for!  If I could buckle down and put away a little safety net from my job, I could actually afford to wait on my clients to pay.  It's definitely something I'm considering these days.  The eLearning field is growing so quickly that I feel like there is plenty of work for everyone and we have such a great opportunity to help shape the future of rapid authoring.  I'm on a contract for my "day job" but when that ends in 5 months, I am seriously considering focusing on my company full time.

Vicki Kunkel

I've been freelance/owned my own company for 14 years.  There's nothing like it!   I recently turned down two full time job offers from clients.  

The thing about being freelance is this:  If your work is outstanding (it's not enough just to be "good" when you freelance), and if you're easy to work with, you will always have gigs--and always get full time job offers.  At least that's what I've found.

I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you may have.

Holly MacDonald

I've been solo for 4 years now and it has been full of ups and downs.  I am lucky that my husband has a job, but we opted for me to go solo and start building up my practice with a view to the long term so that he could retire before me (we're only in our 40's, but planning ahead), and we could move to our semi-rural island paradise but still be close enough to urban centres to work (think Pacific Northwest, but in Canada).  I am also probably a little different than others here as I offer pure consultancy (learning strategy) and instructional design/development.  I had also always wanted to consult, so it was a conscious choice (quit a very good job).

Here are some things I've learned on my journey...

  • Feast or famine in the early days - put away during feast to help you through famine
  • Generalist or specialist? - I'm still grappling with this one - it is hard to say no to work, but in the early days, you may need to eat, so determining how to parlay a less than perfect opportunity into your long term focus is helpful.  Don't say yes to things you absolutely can't do, but say yes to exploring a solution with the client and developing a relationship. I don't know if this is true in Indiana, but I find that people approach me for all sorts of things related to training, not a lot comes to me as a nicely packaged elearning request.   
  • Learn to sell - I think this is the biggest challenge that anyone who is solo will face.  You have to continually find work!  While I wouldn't argue with Kevin that having an online presence helps, I have found nothing gets business more than a cup of coffee and a chat.  The online presence is both a pre-qualifier and post-sales call follow-up.  But blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and portfolio will take time to both develop and maintain, so factor that in.  If there was anything I underestimated it was how much time I'd spend doing business development, and how long it might take to go from relationship to actual paid work.
  • Build networks - all my work comes from referrals and if you do work within an organization, make contacts across the organization - not only for additional opportunities in that organization, but they share their connections through their professional contacts. Honestly, one of the best things for me has been when clients move on to a new company I'm their top "training person" to call, but I don't want to lose the first client organization, so I've found it's best to not become too attached to one person within a client organization (risk) or one organization (also a risk).  
  • Partner and "associate" yourself.  You may want to be solo, but it's helpful to join forces and many independents are associates of other consulting companies/design shops.  So, partner with people who need your skill set and who are good at finding work.  For example, I partner with a branding and communication firm.  They find themselves doing things related to training all the time, even if it isn't what they are known for. You mentioned subcontracting which would fit in here.  I do both.  To some it is helpful to let someone else do the selling and client admin, but if you are doing it long term, you miss out on opportunities to develop your own brand and prospects.  I worked for an IT consultancy and had a 6 month "no competition" clause, which seems pretty common, but cut off opportunities I may have had with the client. So, there are pluses and minuses to both.
  • Volunteer at professional associations, conferences, as a way to immerse yourself in the business.  Also if you need to generate portfolio, volunteering to produce a community project is a good option - you may end up doing something free/cheap, but the exposure to the board of directors and the goodwill you'd get producing something is positive.
  • As Bruce has pointed out - factor in the "administrivia" that you will need to do, regardless of whether you are subcontracting or not.  

Hope some of this helps...best of luck - happy to offer more if it is of help!

Bruce Graham

What a great post Holly

Agree with everything just written, top drawer advice.

Twitter, Blog and Linkedin have been greater helps to me than I would ever have imagined - potential employers use them in the same way that people chat by the water cooler. One recent client specifically mentioned the fact that I generated repeat business with my clients. For an initial second or two I had no idea how he knew (!), then I remembered "online feedback".It all helps.

If you can partner/associate to start off with it also helps with the "shock" of suddenly losing the support networks of the big empoyer.

Thanks again Holly, sounds like you are trying to "live the dream", and succeeding... 


Mariano Aran

Hi Hugh, Good on you for thinking of working for yourself.

I recently started working 100% as a freelancer (again) and found reading this post very interesting! I thought I'll share a little bit of my story...

I worked on my own for more than 15 years and I remember saying that I'd never be an employee again (I loved it!)   Then some big changes came along in my life... I got married, my son was born, moved overseas... 

After two months of arriving to our new 'home', I was offered a job as an employee in a good multinational company.  When everything around me was new (and I must admit, a bit scary); new country, new language, new friends, no family..., it seemed like a good idea to take it.   I remember thinking that it was only going to be for a little while, until I felt that my confidence was 'high up' to start working on my own again...  

Well, 6 years later...  I was still there.

Caught up, tangled in the powerful spiderweb of 'stability', 'sense of security', maybe 'laziness'... and I had great excuses of course.  - I have a family now... two little kids to feed... 'I can't risk it'.  

A few months ago, I finally took the BIG step and left the company I was working for... I gathered some courage, and moved again from the big city to a small town up in the north coast, next to the beach (A dream I had since I can remember!)...

I have to say that it hasn't been easy... but I am loving it!  As James said a few posts back...  love the freedom of being able to spend time with my kids and wife.

The office is setup at home, and usually work during the day when kids are at school, but when I'm on a tight deadline, I usually find myself working long hours, late at night.   You have to consider that you will have more freedom, but you will have to make some sacrifices too. 

I live now in a small town, so I work 100% remotely. I got some customers through relationships with people from my old work, and some others I met in this forum.

These are some things I've learned along the way that I thought I'd share:

  • great customer service is the key to success in any business (take these folks @Articulate and their 'unbelievable' customer service as a great example)


  • positive ‘can do’ attitude makes obstacles easier to overcome.
    A challenge will always make you learn something new.


  • A happy customer is a returning customer

    As Bruce said, when you do a good job, your clients keep coming back... and recommending you to other people.

It might be a bit hard at the beginning, and will probably take some time to build a good portfolio of customers (I'm still struggling to have some continuity), so it's a good idea to have some money saved that can take away the pressure of having to produce money straight away.

I hope my 2 cents are somehow useful...  

Mark Brown

I have been doing e-learning a long time (+ 25 years). I never did contest because I had too much other work and have alway done e-learning for large cooperations. Now I work for the government and have compressed work weeks. Do freelancers sublet out work? I might try and blog way to assisting other consultants with piece work if there was a market.

Sam Currie

I have a part time job in a major blue chip company working as a trainer and eLearning developer 3 days per week.  Quite out of the blue I was contacted by a chap on LinkdIn who asked me if I was interested in doing some freelance development for him. I was a little cautious at first, wondering if I could handle the "big bad world" of freelancing, but I decided to accept the project.

So far, it's been fantastic, he is a dream client! He and his clients really like my ideas and he also sends narration work my way too. I am now nearing the end of completing my second course for him and I am glad he found me! Having this work in addition to my job has worked well, and I have learned lots of new skills in the process.

Hugh Gardner

One of the things I am trying to decide, is how to incorporate.  To get work with many universities and corporations you need to be incorporated and have liability insurance.  I am leaning toward a LLC with myself as the sole owner, but have to figure out the taxes issues with that.  If anyone has some really good resources along that route, please share.

Kevin Thorn

@Hugh. You don't need an LLC unless you partner with someone or have at least one employee. If you're doing everything solo, you just set it up as "Sole Proprietor." 

Find a good accountant/tax person to help you. Then just put back a percentage of what you make freelance (tax person will help you determine how much). When you file, your accountant will fill out the Schedule C and tie it in with your overall filing for you/family. If you owe, just pull from the money you've been putting back. Plus, I claim my tax guy's fee against my business. It's well worth the $300-$400 bucks to make sure everything is done right.

LLC has too many limitations and rules for a single person doing freelance. Sole Proprietor is just you. Even if you hire out some of the work, you're just hiring another freelance contractor and treat it as a business expense.

Sheila Bulthuis

Kevin Thorn said:

@Hugh. You don't need an LLC unless you partner with someone or have at least one employee. If you're doing everything solo, you just set it up as "Sole Proprietor." 

Find a good accountant/tax person to help you. Then just put back a percentage of what you make freelance (tax person will help you determine how much). When you file, your accountant will fill out the Schedule C and tie it in with your overall filing for you/family. If you owe, just pull from the money you've been putting back. Plus, I claim my tax guy's fee against my business. It's well worth the $300-$400 bucks to make sure everything is done right.

LLC has too many limitations and rules for a single person doing freelance. Sole Proprietor is just you. Even if you hire out some of the work, you're just hiring another freelance contractor and treat it as a business expense.

To tag onto this:  If the concern is just the liability insurance, you can definitely get that as a sole proprietor.  If you belong to industry associations (ASTD, ISPI, etc.) they often have a relationship with a broker or provider – that’s how I got my liability insurance (which isn’t too terribly expensive). 

As far as clients requiring incorporation, I have projects with a lot of big corporations and I have only had one client in almost 4 years who had that as a requirement – and when I explained I had a DBA and a business license, along with liability insurance, they were fine with that. (They were just trying to avoid a situation where the IRS might consider the independent contractor to be more of an “employee.”)   

Vicki Kunkel

I have to echo and support what Sheila and Kevin said.  In 14 years as a sole proprietor, not having an LLC has never been an issue as long as I can (a) provide proof of a business license, and (b) provide proof of liability insurance in the amounts the company requires.

Yes, business liability insurance is expensive.  I assume no one is in this boat, but if you are 50 (and thereby qualify for AARP membership), you can get business liability insurance for a very, VERY low price, according to one of my business colleagues who hit the bit 5-oh last year.  He says AARP offers many business insurance discounts for its members.  I'm not there yet, but when I am, I plan to check it out.

Steve Lyne

I have been freelancing using only Articulate for about 3 years.  I have a background in education, including having been a school Principal.  The things that are working for me are:

1. Value-add what you do in the way you promote your services, i.e. explain that you are not just doing some clever IT work but you are building an educationally sound solution.  Be ready to sell all of the benefits of online training from an educational persepective, not just that it saves money or works better administratively.  Other wise your potential client will be tempted to just put on some admin staff to build the courses, if they think its just a matter of using software.  And, whatever you do, don't tell them how easy Articulate is to use!!  If I'm asked what program I use I usually say that I use a suite of software products depending on the job.  (I use audio and video software as well)

2. Following on from 1. above - I did an articulate course in San Francisco in 09.  I'm based in Australia.  It works a treat to say that I travelled overseas to do specialst training in the software I use.  Such an anecdote helps to establish your expertise.  Use as much as you can about YOU (your background etc) to sell yourself.  In other words you are selling a package, not just your ability to do some fancy IT stuff.

3. Don't under-price yourself.  My accountant nearly had a fit when he saw how little I was charging initially.  He advised that I charge an hourly rate and to double what I initially charged.  I haven't had an issue with price.  As a freelancer you are competing with large companies that, in Australia at least, will charge around $10000 for a course that has 20-30minutes of content.  I can do it for less than half that and still be quoting solid consultancy fees.  Big companies are used to paying consultancy fees of between $150 - 200 per hour (again, Aussie context).  If you charge just $75 per hour (as I was initially) the big players won't even look at you.

4. I never quote.  I estimate or if pressed I'll give an indicative price with some contingencies for over-run.  The nature of the task is that things change during production.  Either the SME has new information they think of as they see the project unfold, or you think of a better (fancier) way to do something.  Once you have quoted you lock yourself in.  With an indicative price you say you will only charge for the hours you work; and if that is less than expected the client wins.  Any overuns are usually be negotiation.  This also communicates to the client that you are doing a customised job for them and not using just an "off-the-shelf" product.

Hope this helps. 


Vicki Kunkel

Steve made some outstanding and excellent points--especially about promoting courses that are educationally-sound (adhere to ADDIE and Kolb's Learning Cycle), as well as how you measure results (the Kirkpatrick model is useful for this).

Steve's point about selling YOUR unique skills and accomplishments is also key.  Last year a large HR consulting firm approached me wanting to buy the entire online library of leadership eLearning courses I had developed.  They wanted to take my content, rebrand it as their own, and put the courses into THEIR university.  When I tell clients that another company bought out all of my leadership content to use for their clients, it's a big draw for the prospect in that it adds a ton of credibility to the work I have done.

Finally, although you should not focus on "fancy IT things," I find that -- especially companies catering to Gen X and Gen Y audiences--not only expect but DEMAND some type of 3D avatar animation to have characters role play and create simulated conversations, activities, or sales interactions that reinforce the learning points.  Not only that, but four of my clients in just the past year have asked me to set up online "learning cafes"--  educational microsites devoted to one specific group (such as field sales people, store managers, or VP-and-above-level employees) that included not only online courses, but also chat areas, videos, articles, the latest research into the topical area (sales, or whatever), 3D virtual learning simulations (think SecondLife),  and an animated avatar that served as the "host" on the microsite.   The reason these companies were interested in going with the microsite approach (as opposed to just courses housed in and linked to an LMS) was because the combination of peer-chats, a fun, engaging environment, and solid educational content created a wholistic, sustainable, constantly-updated learning environment, rather than a few one-off courses.  I'm not suggesting this is by any means appropriate for all companies;  it's not.  But I bring it up only to reinforce the need to stay current on IT skills and capabilities.  I didn't suggest the microsite approach;  my clients told ME that's what THEY wanted. Now that I have four of them under my belt and have seen the increase in employee engagement, I am a believer.

Lastly, I would just like to add that mobile learning is also becoming big (at least with about 40% of my U.S. clients).  That means to stay ahead of the curve and charge appropriate fees, you have to constantly reinvest in your own education.  Budget for it.  Figure out where your skill gaps are in terms of eLearning, writing, education principles, technology tool use, and either take courses or go to workshops to close those gaps.   If we promote education and lifelong learning to our clients, we really need to walk our talk and keep our own skills up to date.

Bruce Graham

Vicki makes some very important points.

For example - you have to understand the concepts of mobile learning, and what is possible, but also know it is not for everyone. Salespeople may get on the road to get away from corporate learning, yet they may be able to do some important certification at an airport while waiting for a flight. My experience (UK) is that whilst everyone is talking about it, very few people in corporate-land, when asked the right questions, find they need it, yet.

Mobile learning has to be available to us with a "button-click", (Storyline - YEY), BUT are you ready to design for smaller devices, (is anyone?). We all have to keep up our skills,

Credibility and repeat-customers are fantastic tools to leverage a sale. I have won 2 customers in the last fortnight this way - one a national company, one a Fortune 500 company. These are linked to another point Steve makes - know your worth, and do NOT underprice. You may feel "Oh - I lost that because I was too expensive", but in the long run it's much better to feel "I won that with a high yet realistic bid that they also felt was right".


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