For anyone who’s ever toyed with the idea of quitting their full-time job and working independently, CNBC speaks with two successful freelancers who’ve been there and done that.
Jon Yongfook Cockle, is a Singapore-based entrepreneur and software engineer who has founded several software companies such as Beatrix and Pitchpigeon, some of which were successfully acquired.
He had also spent the last two years as a digital nomad, rotating between sandy beaches and Asian cities which were his offices, and stayed in hotels where chores were never a concern.
“I travel from country to country and when I get the urge to explore another country and work there, I simply just go,” Cockle told CNBC.
“That’s the kind of independence you don’t get with a typical office job.”
Another expert, Jon Myers a digital product designer says he functions like a proper company, is able to scale up if a project calls for it, and customers who work with him also get to “plug into [his] network of A-list talents.”
Myers has worked on various freelance projects from biotech to finance, and his most recent project was for a venture capital firm in Vietnam, where he helped to design a new digital bank from scratch.
Myers and Cockle are not exceptions to the norm.
“Freelancers are an important part of today’s workforce,” says Rahul Shinghal, general manager of Southeast Asia at PayPal, which also provides a payment services and ‘seller protection’ for freelancers.
“They add immense value to the global economy and provide high quality work at competitive rates,” says Shinghal.
Tip 1: Where to set base?
Cockle said he enjoyed being location-independent and could work from anywhere with an internet connection.
His advice is for freelancers to find a country with a low-cost of living.
“The benefit of being location-independent is you can earn your money online in dollars, but live in a country where things are cheap,” says Cockle, who had worked in various cities, from beaches of Koh Samui in Thailand to the rolling hills of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
Tip 2: How to get projects rolling
Cockle adds that freelancers “must have a basic level of self-promotion figured out” which include having an online portfolio and “getting out there and speak at events.”
Meanwhile, Myer said nearly all the ‘breaks’ he received were the result of just building relationships.
Both expert freelancers said it is important to write for publications or even to blog about the related industry.
Myers’ most important tip for impressing clients is simple: have processes.
“You don’t need a fancy website, slick business cards, or a huge portfolio to land projects,” said Jon Myers. “You just need processes, from the sales process to managing the project to handing over the deliverables.”
“The more you map out your processes, the easier it is for the client to understand the value you create,” Myers added.
Tip 3: Work-life balance?
Myers works eight hours daily, but with the flexibility of being able to schedule activities however he likes. He also has a time management technique in which he sets aside a distraction-free 45 minutes of focused work.
The important part of being distraction-free is to keep all social media apps turned off, he says.
“I wake up early and work from around 7am to 12pm, and take the rest of the day off to explore whatever country I’m in,” said Cockle, but cautions freelancers to make the distinction between work and play.
There are also pitfalls to the freelancers’ lifestyle.
Myers says some of the pitfalls include the “irregularities and ups and downs.”
“Some people find it lonely,” said Cockle. “I think it does suit a certain personality type, the folks who are fine with being by themselves for extended periods of time, but also enjoy being around others whenever possible.”
Tip 4: Understand where the demand is, find a niche
Mobile app developers are the most in demand in the freelancers market, according to Jon Yongfook Cockle. He explains that with the increasing penetration of smartphones, more and more firms will want to have a strong presence on mobile channels.
But having a niche and being known for it as a freelancer, will turn the tables around, says Cockle.
“When clients come to you with projects, you’ll know that you’re one of the best for the job, rather than it being a choice between you and 10,000 other freelancers,” he notes.
Myers tells CNBC that there is demand for coders, copywriters, marketers and designers, but says that critical thinking must be infused into one’s approach.
Tip 5: Accept the payment you think you deserve
Cockle is not a fan of freelance job marketplaces, some of which work on a bidding process.
“Those websites drill into clients the “paid per hour” mentality and the last thing you want to do is try to compete on price,” he says.
“That’s why it’s best to have a niche, where there aren’t many people around who can fill the need.”
Jon Myers reminds aspiring freelancers that “you’re investing in yourself in an uncertain world.”
“You don’t hit earning ceilings or salary cap, it’s all entirely up to you,” he adds.