Independence Day Part 1

In my post about it being a spend-y month of August for me, I was asked this question:

“I was wondering if you could drop a bit of advice about starting out as a contract employee –it’s really freelance, I don’t even have a real contract.

The situation: lower level mgmt. e-marketing gal, moving from DC to Minneapolis. A couple of years of experience, but w/ the crap job market things look grim!

I have a current freelance job going on, but I’m entering into a job market that is only looking for folks w/ 5+ or even 10+ years of senior experience.

Any tips, advice, etc.

Anything would help–I’m completely new to the whole freelance/contract biz-nass — many thanks!”

I’m pretty new to it myself, so I’m not sure how much of a help I’d be, but this is kind of what I had to go through..

Short Answer

I don’t think you can go independent yet from the info you’re giving me.


1. Clients want 5 – 10 years experience. In my field, they wanted 3 – 5 years, and now even THAT is decreasing due to market conditions

2. The job market looks grim – this is the total opposite of my market. The hotter the industry is, the higher the chance you have of succeeding because clients will be more willing to take a chance on you than if there were a lot of experienced people out there.

3. You’re switching job markets right? That transition may be hard to foist off on clients because they won’t be sure if you’re solid enough in the new market to really handle the work.

With that being said, my advice would be to freelance on the side while holding a steady job somewhere to build a client/reference base.

Long Answer

Experience IS a big deal, despite all my posts to the contrary

Clients are looking for 5 – 10 years? You’re at a very big disadvantage, and I’d even reconsider going independent or doing freelance work. Try and see whether you can do it on the side in addition to your job, because a couple of years of experience especially in your field is insufficient to really make the jump.

The only reason why I could go independent after 2.5 years of working as an IT consultant is because of a number of factors, but the main one being that the market was VERY hot.

I saw and still see job postings, listings and advertisements for people in my line of work every time I go to a job site. They’re wanted all over Canada and all over the U.S.

The market is so hot, that they originally wanted 3 – 5 years experience in my field, and now they’re almost willing to take new graduates right out of school or people with only a year experience or so.

As a result, the bare minimum of requirements for a job are getting even lower and lower. But keep in mind – these are usually postings to join a company, not to go independent. The reason why I care is because I was just using what corporations were looking for as a benchmark to see what I could get as an independent and what is required.

My logic was as follows:

If a company can hire a new graduate to someone with only a year experience in the field, and manage to train them for half a year then throw them at a client ,that means that I right now, have a very good chance at 2.5+ years of going independent.

This is because if I tried to go independent with only having a year of experience, I might as well kiss my chances good bye.

But with 2 years? That’s the bare minimum.

PLUS on top of that, I had experience in those 2.5 years that were chock full of things that sometimes only senior people get to experience a couple of times in their career.

It’s also not a question of years….

Keep in mind that the number of years of experience is not even really the issue. It’s the preconceived notion of what those number of years entail. They think that with 5 to 10 years, you are BOUND to know more than someone who only has 2 to 3 years on the job.

This is not necessarily true, because there are some people are in my industry for 5 years for example, but they may have only really been on one or two projects that related to what they actually do.

So in hindsight, their 5 years of experience is not really 5 years.

It’s more like a year and a half, maybe two if you distil everything down.

But clients don’t know and don’t care. They don’t know enough about the market and the industry to know HOW it works for experience, and they’re not really willing to take a shot that you, a person with 2.5 years experience (well, me in this case), would be able to do the same job as someone with 5 to 10 years experience.

This is where confidence and sass comes in. More on that later.

It was a really lucky experience for me because I already had 4 projects under my belt, 2 of them being major ones and with my leading 2 of them was a big factor in proving to myself and building my confidence that I was able to make it on my own.

It’s all relative of course. 3 – 5 years for me, is your 5 – 10 years. Which means with only 2 years experience with 5 – 10 years in your industry (particularly since I don’t know much about it), makes me nervous to say “GO AHEAD!”.

I think judging on the requirements that you’ve given me, and my gut instinct, I’d say you need a minimum of 3 to 4 years before you can consider going freelance.

If it weren’t for the market being so hot the way it is, I’d never be able to leave until I had at least 3 to 5 years experience. The minimum would be 3 years experience, but it was also backed up by the fact that I also had a lot of good opportunities and projects to pad my experience.

Whereas my 2.5 years experience, from what I’ve learned and the projects I’ve been on, can warrant to be about 3.5 years or maybe 4 – 5 years worth, only because for every project I’ve been on, I made it a point to learn a totally new aspect of my job on that client, so that I could add it to my CV later.

Double check the health of the market with your network

Another point I should make is that I had a lot of contacts.

Keep in mind, I hate networking.

Everyone knows I hate that word, I hate the idea of having to force yourself to network., collect business cards, blab la bla. It’s all so exhausting and cheesy.

But luckily, it’s the nature of the beast when I get on a project, I just tend to get to know people better and poof! I have a network, and clients telling me that I can use them as a reference any time I’d like. The great thing is that you can network with anyone – even friends of friends at a party, your local waitress who’s husband is in the IT industry, random people at the bus stop (no for real…. I made contacts by accident this way), etc.

The key is to network without trying too hard. If you try too hard, people read it as being desperate, and pick up on the smell of you just wanting to get their name and email just so you have a network contact instead of genuinely getting to know them.

So don’t push them, and within the first 2 seconds, ask for a business card. That’s just going too far. Give it a break and if you find a real connection and a real network that could form there, then ask for contact info to keep in touch. If not, you’ll just be building a network out of sand and air – insubstantial.

Anyway, the network really helped because I just emailed them, or gleaned information off them about what kind of projects were going down, how clients were treating them (they were independents), what they’ve heard, seen, read lately, or know whether there’s a need somewhere for someone with my skillset.

They just all kept repeating about how hot the market was, and how they were just dying to find people to fill the positions but were getting screwed because there was too much demand, and not enough supply.

This was a big factor in my confidence in leaving – it’s nice to be reassured by a solid network who knows their stuff because they’re actually IN that market every day.

I had mentor(s)

I had have 2 or 3 fabulous mentors who are very VERY experienced, senior and intelligent beyond belief.

Without them, I wouldn’t be, and that’s the truth.

The key is to be humble.

You just don’t know everything. I know I don’t know anything, but even at 10 or 15 years experience, I’ll NEVER say “I know it all”, because there’s always something to learn. You can’t possibly know or have seen everything, especially in IT. You can know and have seen maybe 95% or 90% of everything after 10 to 15 years, but NO ONE knows it all.

People respect you more if you admit that you don’t know, are willing to learn and will do your best. Even clients like that over someone who “knows it all”, but then ends up delivering a crap solution at the end.

Mentors work along the same sorts of lines. When you ask a question, or you want to know about something, it makes them feel good because people LOVE to help. They love answering questions, and feeling good that they know the answer and can help you out. In fact, it makes people feel even better than if they asked for your help. No kidding. Get someone to do a favour for you – they’ll love you even more than if you did a favour for them.

The more you appreciate mentors (meals, coffee, thank you notes), the more they’ll want to do for you, and go the extra mile when you need them to. Treat them like gold.

I had a backup plan

Like I mentioned before, I had a backup plan. If things didn’t work out in 2 months, I’d go back to a consulting company.

But don’t forget, the most important thing is…


A lot of really great consultants and freelancers don’t go independent from a corporation because they just don’t believe in themselves.

They’re not dumb. They’re not stupid. They’re not unskilled. They’re just uncertain, shy and not confident at all.

To be a freelancer, you’ve really got to sell yourself all the time, and be on your A-Game all the time at a client site as a professional. You have to brag a little bit without saying you know it all.

Many people can’t handle that kind of confidence that they need to project because as their own selves, they wouldn’t be able to hide behind a big corporation name to give their skills validation.

All they have is their name. And that’s scary. If you screw up, it’s YOU. If you do something wrong at the client and fuck their systems, it’s YOU.

The good thing is that if you do something great at the client, they remember you and are pleased with your work instead of attributing it to a corporation as being fabulous.

(That is total crap by the way. Corporations GENERALLY don’t do enough training or provide enough solid, good resources to help out – I always had to go outside the company to get good help – this is because it depends on the person who needs the help or training, it’s their attitude that determines whether or not they’re a good consultant or employee, not the Corporation’s policies. But clients don’t know this).

That pretty much sums up how I decided to go independent as a contractor.

Tomorrow: What to do once you decide to go independent. For sure.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.