At Don’t Panic, most of our virtual assistants work as freelancers. And in my time here, the way I see it, there are two types of freelancers in the world:
People who actively chose this career and know how to manage it well, and people who fell into virtual work as an alternative to a traditional nine-to-five gig and are kind of feeling their way through the dark.
These two types of people are both doing the same job, but their approach is very different.
The Intentional Freelancer
The first kind of freelancer is what I like to call the Intentional Freelancer. Intentional Freelancers probably had a corporate desk job at one point in their life. Then, one day, they decided that the nine-to-five lifestyle wasn’t for them anymore.
Maybe they didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle all day and aspired to live as a digital nomad.
Perhaps the position they held wasn’t exercising their creative skills enough, or they weren’t being valued in their role.
It could also be that they just wanted to “stick it to the man” and live life on their own terms.
Either way, the move to an independent freelance career was a conscious one.
This person really loves the freedom that they have from being their own boss. They choose which clients to take on, and they decide how much time they want to spend working vs. pursuing their passions. They have the business connections necessary to attract new work, which gives them the opportunity to turn down jobs that don’t excite them. They’ve got it all figured out. They’re living out their best life with a laptop on a lounge chair sipping a Piña Colada from a pineapple. It’s the Instagram-worthy VA lifestyle.
Good on ya, Intentional Freelancers.
In general, though, I think most of us fall into a different category when we start out.
The Accidental Freelancer
Which leads me to the second type of freelancer in the world: the Accidental Freelancer. This person probably went to college and assumed there was a traditional career path waiting for them on the other side of their education. Then, after graduation day, that path never showed up. They couldn’t get a job that would support them financially, or maybe they had other obligations like family, kids, or continuing their education that kept them from being able to work a traditional job.
They hopped online searching for a virtual job to make ends meet and found mostly scammy telemarketer positions that promised hundreds of dollars a week on commission. Then, with the rise of sites like Upwork or Zirtual, they discovered that there were other options.
They had skills, and they knew how to get the job done, but they couldn’t figure out the logistics.
Where do you even get clients, anyway?
How do you know how much to charge?
And how should you keep track of billing to make sure you’re getting paid?
These are the kinds of questions that someone asks when they’ve fallen into a new, unknown world of a freelance career.
“You’re in Charge Here”
I was definitely an Accidental Freelancer when I began my career. I had no idea when I started working with Don’t Panic that I was actually the boss! Of course, I was eager to take on all kinds of new work and learn new things, but I didn’t really know that I could also ask to get paid more for a certain type of work or turn down a client that I really didn’t get along with. I sort of assumed this was just a new way to get paid doing traditional types of work, mostly because I really didn’t believe that people could actually love working every day. I started falling into old habits and was working on a few projects that quickly felt like the same old soul-sucking work I’d been doing in an office gig in college.
Then, someone on the DPM team gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget. She said to me, “You’re in charge here.”
From there, a new world opened up to me. I started realizing that I was holding the keys to the kingdom all this time. As a freelancer, you’re FREE. You can ask for more. You can turn it down. You can say yes and then decide it’s not for you. It’s all up to you, and everything changed for me once I realized that.
Freelancers v. Employees
Here’s what you need to know: working as a freelancer is NOT the same thing as being an employee. You have rights as a freelancer that, if you fell into this career accidentally, you probably don’t realize you have.
This frame of mind applies to both Intentional and Accidental Freelancers, whether you’re working with an agency like Don’t Panic Management or gathering your own roster of (hopefully) amazing clients. If someone asks you to work on a weekend or gives you an unreasonable deadline, you can tell them no. You’re not going to get fired.
You set your own hours, you set your own rates, and you can accept clients outside of your agency relationship (assuming it isn’t a violation of your contract). In short: you’re the boss. You do what you want.
Of course, there can be consequences to the choices you make. Just as you have the right to create your own path, so does everyone you’re working with. The agency might not be able to afford your usual rate and can negotiate a different sum. That client who needed you to work on a weekend may decide that your work schedule isn’t a good fit for them. (But, usually, I find that those relationships probably wouldn’t have been fruitful in the long run anyway. If you compromised on your schedule once, you’d likely be compromising on other things down the line.)
Find Your Balance, Boss
There’s always a balancing act between what you want and need and what your clients want and need. You need to find the right dynamic for your unique freelancing business. It’s not always about sipping that Piña Colada out of a pineapple on the beach. But sometimes it can be!
You will have to do some mundane tasks that you don’t feel like doing. But the motivation for getting those done is usually in the other aspects of working with that client that are exciting.
Or, hey, sometimes the Piña Colada is motivation enough.
Are you an accidental freelancer or an intentional one? Either way, there could be a spot for you on our team of assistants. Interested? Join us.