Many students dream of becoming freelancers upon graduation. In their fantasies, a freelancer’s life means waking up just before noon, meeting friends and traveling on a whim, and turning down boring or low-paying work.
But is this really the way they live? We talked with three young freelancers to give readers a more authentic sense of their life and work:
You`ll need a full contact book
Contacts are critical to freelancers, as most of their job opportunities come from friends.
That may require you to maintain a good relationship with every client. Wen Yujie, a 23-year-old graduate from Communication University of China, has been a freelance model and animation designer for nearly a year. She has a model contract with VIVI magazine, and so she accepts all job offers from VIVI – even the ones that don’t pay.
"I can make a lot of friends who may later introduce me to other modeling jobs,” Wen said.
Potential employers are increasingly using the Web to learn more about freelancers. To attract more contacts, Wen suggests that would-be freelancers set up a website, or simply a blog or a webpage at social networking sites like renren.com, to highlight their skills and experience.
Social activities in business circles also help freelancers. Connections they make help gain a better grasp of the industry.
Zheng Yuantao, 29, is a freelance translator and writer. “I used to volunteer a lot for an HIV/AIDS organization and thus have some contacts in the NGO world,” said Zheng. “They would give me assignments, trusting both my language skills and my understanding of specific terms.”
Outstanding skills are a must
It’s hard for a freelancer to compete against corporations. Zhao Tianting, 27, was disqualified for several projects because he was an “individual” freelancer instead of a “corporation” when he freelanced as an art designer for half a year.
"Corporations have more financial and personnel support. So a lower price alone is not that appealing to your potential clients. You need to show that you’re strict with deadlines and have reliable skills,” said Zhao.
Zheng Yuantao agreed: “It’s not that my friends give me work because they favor me, but because they believe they can trust me with certain assignments.”
Zheng suggests that would-be freelancers learn more about their industry by joining online communities of industry insiders, like QQ groups and douban groups.
"This will help them to learn about the industry’s ‘mysteries’," said Zheng.
Prepare to lose a little sleep
Freelancing is not as “free” as you might think. Freelancers, especially those just starting out, don’t have much freedom when choosing assignments. Wen Yujie sometimes has to bite the bullet and undertake jobs she doesn’t like, low pay and picky clients in order to “return a favor”.
"For example, a friend who in the past gave you a well-paying job now is asking you to take one that is not so satisfactory. You have to accept it in order to return the favor,” Wen said.
Also, freelancers seldom have long-term contracts. Failing to meet a deadline once could burn one’s bridges with a client forever.
For this reason, freelancing often means days packed with work. For instance, although Wen receives animation design projects twice-monthly, she often goes three days without sleep to meet the deadline.
"You have to be diligent,” added Zheng. “That is, unless you are a genius who everybody wants to hire no matter how terribly you tend to procrastinate.”