Being freelance vs running a business

Timewasting prospects. Fool me once… shame on you…

In 8+ years of freelancing most of my business comes from connections, referrals, and other soft in-bounds. It’s almost a little too easy.

But there’s a lesson here for newbie freelancers, heed the tale, be aware of the return of false hopes and timewasters. It’s a balance to run your freelance work like a business (where you can and should reduce timewasters) vs. as an extension of your personal brand (being nice to people is expected).

In late 2019 I had a contact in my network who needed help with grants and tenders, my bread and butter, and was opening an office in Barcelona, where I was based. We had a few long chats (including an all-day meeting) about what was needed for his business, and perhaps what I could provide. Read: I gave a lot of free consulting. Then 2020 came and he paused our work together. We’d never actually set up a fee arrangement, and I was too experienced for this to be an accident, so I’d spent a lot of time giving valuable advice with no result. Oops.

Well, no bother, I don’t mind chatting with people if I can help out. Pay-it-forward.

And then in Q4 2020, things seemed to be back on. I got an urgent email, shortly after we had a Teams call to go over the pipeline. I followed up with an email stating my rate and a brief schedule of deadlines. It petered out. No reply. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Then 2022… another contact, the third attempt. They were being contracted from another company to write a tender and wanted to subcontract to me, all stealth as expected. Several more calls, another round of free consulting on how to set up a bid and how they should price it.

A few follow-up emails from me went unanswered. Ultimately I received a text message (!?) saying they weren’t sure they’d got the okay from their client.

So that’s 3 strikes and approximately 20 hours of wasted time over 2 years. Not great, not professional on their part, but also I was too lenient.

And have I learned? Probably not. I don’t mind helping people if I can. But this is not a brag. It’s just the balance of being a freelancer and why freelancing is not and cannot be as cutthroat as business. With Mockmate, we also had a timewaster client who wanted 3-5 calls, lots of customization, and I immediately shut it down. That’s because it’s a business. Freelance is something…else. It’s your name and your reputation.