The workplace is changing. The past decade has seen a significant increase in remote work, and recent world events have accelerated this paradigm shift even more!
Online platforms and services of all types that are leveraged over the Internet have played a major role in enabling this new approach to employment.
I have had the privilege and fortune of taking advantage of working as a network professional freelancer since January 2016, well before the measures put in place by the pandemic.
These six years of freelancing experience and over 20 years of experience in the telecommunications sector have given me a unique perspective on working remotely as a network professional and a freelancer.
In this article, I share my experiences with you, detailing advantages, disadvantages, success stories, and pitfalls that will hopefully help you in your endeavor to better yourself in your networking career.
I studied Physics and Astronomy, specializing in Space and Communications Sciences in the late 1990s, with an emphasis on satellite communications. I then went on to do a Master’s in Telecommunications Management.
I started working at the traffic engineering department of a large telecom company for about a year.
I went on to several subsequent jobs, including manning a network helpdesk at a university, heading the team supporting the network for a school board, as well as performing the duties of a network administrator at a large municipality.
During this time, I spent much effort obtaining and maintaining industry certifications, especially Cisco certifications.
I participated in as many conferences and training sessions as possible in the fields that interested me, including network architecture, VoIP, and becoming a trainer for telecommunications professionals.
In 2016, after 17 years of working as an employee, I tested the waters of freelancing, examining the opportunities made available via online platforms supporting such work.
Interestingly enough, the big leap for me, from employment to freelancing occurred when I was watching a reality show on television.
People were leaving their home countries wanting to start a new life overseas, and most were going to continue to work remotely. I said that’s what I want as well, to have the freedom of working remotely!
So, I asked around, and I talked to a friend that advised me to take a look at a couple of freelancing platforms. I signed on the next day and began creating a profile and showcasing my skillsets.
It all started with a deep desire for the freedom that such a working arrangement provides.
Getting a foothold
The big challenge at the beginning is getting your first high-quality gig. This step requires patience.
Within a month, I had made over 100 proposals for work on various projects that clients had posted on Upwork.com.
I finally got a response from the 107th proposal I sent. It was a network architecture job that was part of a larger effort to design a communication system for a US military installation in Africa.
It was exciting, it was a perfect fit for my skill set, and I learned a lot. But the most important thing is that I got an excellent review from the client. That was it.
From there on, the freelancing platform gave me a good ranking for all future jobs. So clients started to find me rather than the other way around.
Costing your work
Another critical aspect of the whole process is how much you should charge. If you charge too much, you will scare away potential clients. If you charge too little, you will shortchange yourself.
Initially, you must charge low enough to get that first gig. Remember, money is not that important at the beginning, it’s gaining a foothold that is the crucial thing.
Over the past six years, I have more than tripled my rate since that first momentous contract. So you can see that it is advantageous to lower your cost at the beginning until you’ve made a name for yourself. Then you can increase your rate by degrees based on the responses you see from clients.
Transitioning to a freelancer
The process of moving from being a full-time employee to a freelancer is not straightforward, nor is it easy. During that transition period, you often spend more time working because you can’t just leave your day job.
Freelancing is a risk, and you must get a sound footing before you quit the safety of your employment.
I was fortunate to have an employer at the time that allowed me to have very flexible hours. Some days I committed solely to freelancing, while others I spent focusing on my day job.
But even so, it is impossible to compartmentalize your tasks completely, resulting in some overflow of one job into the other. This can be stressful and should be expected.
My six keys to success
Based on my experience, there are some vital considerations to keep in mind if you are considering moving part-time or even full-time into freelancing and remote working for telecommunications.
- Before you start, it is best to have several years of experience under your belt. If you begin freelancing right out of school, it will be nearly impossible to get that crucial first gig. It is your experience that will get your foot in the door.
- Secondly, obtain valuable industry certifications, as these are also vital to prove you are knowledgeable in your field.
- Subscribe to several freelancing sites (I initially started out with Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru), and spend time creating a good profile for yourself, showcasing your certifications and skillsets, as well as the experience you have gained over the years.
- Be patient. Send as many proposals as you can and accept jobs that may be low-paying or even a bit outside your expertise. However, be sure that you can do an excellent job because it is the quality of your work that will bring good reviews to your name. If you’re not sure you can deliver a good quality outcome, don’t take the job!
- Be as responsive as possible. When working remotely, many times, clients won’t ever see you. Respond to questions or communications within 24 hours, or sooner, to show you are keen about the work you’re doing. This will get you good reviews and will increase your rank on the platform you are using.
- Increase the rate you charge in stages and see if you are still invited to look at client jobs. If you are, feel free to keep increasing your rate, but don’t do it too often. Review your rate at most every one or two months.
Effects of freelancing on personal life
You can’t get something for nothing. If your freelancing endeavors are successful, this will affect the rest of the areas of your life. Freelancing means that your clients can reach you at any time.
And when you have clients in different time zones and/or expecting a quick response from you, you can understand that there is no such thing as “working hours.” Vacations mean bringing your laptop with you at all times and having your phone on.
Successful freelancing also means that you will have more difficulty managing your time. Say goodbye to an eight-hour workday, as freelancing success usually means 10- or 12-hour workdays or more.
Maintaining a balance between work and home life is a challenge. It is difficult at times, and if you’re like me, you will often fail to maintain that balance. It takes practice and patience from both you and your loved ones.
Remember to keep things in perspective. Sometimes one’s freelancing success can become somewhat of an obsession if you’re not careful.
There are times when you may have to delay projects or even decide not to take on a particular task simply because you don’t have the time or the energy.
It’s a good problem to have, because it means that you have the potential for a lot of work, but it can be challenging to say no.
Achieving a balance between all aspects of your life is an ongoing battle. It is not a goal to be achieved but a state that must be continually maintained.
Freelancing as a network professional truly does deliver freedom. Most telecom jobs can be done remotely, save for the physical installation of devices and equipment.
Your potential client base is not geographically limited. This means more jobs, more opportunities, and more money. But this can also lead to less free time and a lower quality of life if you are not careful.
Ultimately, for me, it is worth it. Hopefully, my experiences will help make it worth it for you too!
Is there any aspect you’d like to read more about? Let us know in the comments below!