[Guest Post] Life after teaching: Freelancing
It is my pleasure to welcome my friend and colleague Tim Thompson as the charter member of the 3 time guest poster club here on ELT RRR. Tim taught in Korea universities for 16 years, including the last eight at KAIST, before starting his own consulting business. You can follow his projects at www.timthompsonkorea.com
His previous posts here were “Five reasons my conference presentations are better than the others” and “University Conversation Courses: A Last Chance Effort?”
I am happy to share Tim’s post about his initial steps in freelancing and some advice he has based on his experiences. Over to Tim after his picture from a recent job in Thailand.
This is the first March since 2002 that I will not be starting the new semester in a Korean university. It’s strange reading all of the back to school posts on Facebook and sending my daughter off to third grade but not going to campus myself. I have been a freelance English consultant and working from home since the beginning of February; but with the start of the spring semester it’s really starting to hit me now. This is really happening. Luckily, things are going well and I’m staying busy. I am confident that this new chapter of my life will be successful and I’d like to share some of the reasons why.
I spent years collecting business cards and contact information with people I wanted to work with. The two best places to do this were academic conferences and off-site training courses. Speaking at, and ultimately organizing, conferences allows you demonstrate your expertise and professionalism to attendees who could end up becoming your clients or recommending you for projects. Off-site training courses are like auditions. You meet the people in charge and show them what you can do. If the feedback is positive, you have solid justification to ask them to hire you directly for future opportunities.
All of the projects I have worked on to this point have come from personal recommendations or my own contacts. Very few organizations reach out to strangers who they find through a web search. People prefer to work with people they know or who come recommended by someone they trust. It is essential to have a strong professional network if you decide to venture out on your own.
Whatever it is that you want to do as a freelancer, you need to have a solid portfolio of work. When people ask if you can do something, it eases their concerns when you can explain that you have done it before and completed it successfully. Look for opportunities to volunteer if paid gigs aren’t available at first. Often the experience you gain from a volunteer task will qualify you for a project down the road that you would not have been able to land otherwise.
Also, don’t be afraid to name drop. People like to hear that you have worked with well-known companies and organizations. Their credibility gives you credibility.
Things don’t happen overnight and you shouldn’t expect everyone to come knocking just because you decided to hang your shingle. You need to let people know what you are doing and remind them that you are doing it but they may not need you until next month or in the fall. Keep in touch with your contacts but don’t assume they don’t want to work with you because they didn’t reply to your email or phone call with a job offer.
I don’t mind moving on after a prospective client tells me “no thanks” but I always keep in touch when someone tells me “not now. ” So many people have forgotten to get back to me or promised that they would contact soon and didn’t but by keeping in touch with them I was able to stay on their radar and be the first person they contacted when an opportunity arose. The wait somehow makes those jobs the most satisfying.
Timing is everything. Sometimes you contact someone at exactly the right time, just when they were looking for someone with your background and skillset. I have found that talented people rarely have time for new projects because they are always in demand and so busy. When a decision maker finds out that someone they know and trust actually has time to work with them and they don’t have to spend time looking for someone qualified it makes the decision to hire you that much easier.
Working for myself has been a challenging and enjoyable experience thus far. I’m only five weeks into my new career but the angels in my network have helped me get off to a great start and I am making lots of new exciting contacts and adding new experiences to my CV. Hopefully, at the end of the year I can check back in to let Mike’s readers know how things are going and give more concrete tips for thriving as a freelancer.