Ever wished you could get into the same elevator with a successful freelancer who has been on the job for some time and actually survived to tell the tale? Ask them some questions about their experience and possibly receive some advice? Well, Nabbesh just made the chase much easier. We sat down with three top freelancers* working in the Middle East. Enjoy their ‘ real life’ testimonials!
H.A., Magazine freelancer, based in Beirut, servicing clients in Lebanon and the broader Middle East (15 years)
I’ve been freelancing for about 15 years starting off by mixing it with full or part-timework but eventually going entirely freelance about eight years ago. The best thing is you get to dictate your schedule to a certain extent – take a coffee break, nap, go out, take a day off – these are all decisions you control, and even aspects such as if you want to work entirely in your pajamas from the comfort of your sofa. Yet while freelancing gives you flexibility, you may end up working more than if you were full-time — particularly if you work with clients who think nothing of dumping urgent jobs on you on a Friday evening. This makes it important to maintain a balance between being available and committed to your clients while ensuring you still have a personal life left.
…One of the big lessons to learn is when to say no. In the beginning you might feel like it’s
good to say yes to everything. You will reach a point, though, when you realize the great feeling that comes with saying no. Maybe the trickiest topic for any freelancer is how to gauge how much money to charge – and make sure that you get paid. Be smart in thinking how to secure compensation for your time. Always make sure the client gives you a firm and detailed brief. You will meet a lot of people who want something but don’t know how to express what they want and who are happy to send you off on a wild goose chase to find out, only to tell you when you have done all the work what exactly they had in mind was something altogether different. Your time is not free or limitless. Don’t accept a revised brief without explaining it will cost more.
Starting out on the right foot is the best way to minimize your time involvement and end up with a happy client – which as a freelancer is exactly what you should be aiming at.
Ramy K., graphic design and digital media freelancer, based in Jordan, servicing clients all over the Middle East and Australia (6 years)
In 2009, I was a graduate student studying in London when I first started helping some of my friends who still hadn’t graduated from university in Jordan. They would ask me to check a digital render, an illustration, weigh in on the choice of font or color, among others. I used to do it free of charge at first. A couple of months later one of my classmates noticed that I always had extra work. She looked at me and said, “You know, it would be great if those people you’re helping could at least buy you the coffee you order every time you come to the coffee shop to look over their projects.”
…It was hard for me to talk to people I knew—my friends—about it. I was surprised that almost all of them welcomed the idea and didn’t mind paying a fee for my services. They even started referring me to professionals in the field such as agency owners. I started a full-time job in 2012. Five months later, I had quit, purchased a new computer and a beautiful, wide desk and transitioned to freelance. I now work not only on small projects but also on large-scale campaigns and commit to long-term contracts.
I would say managing my time, prioritizing tasks, and knowing how to approach a client about suggestions and concerns have been the most challenging skills to acquire and develop, but I’m getting there.
Mehr Farahani, Magazine and technical reports writer, based in Beirut, servicing clients in Saudi Arabia/broader GCC and Europe (3 years)
I am fairly new to the freelance game—I started while based in Beirut in May 2012 after having lived in the West all my life, and I have been doing it full-time up until the present. If it’s done right it can be the best possible way to live: you get to schedule your own time, you can pick and choose what to take on, and you usually end up doing a wide range of work.
…As a freelance writer, I feel like it is very similar to being in grad school — at least in terms of tempo and levels of stress. Despite my best efforts, I find I have to pull a few all-nighters a month just to get through my work. Most other freelancers I speak with have the same problem.
The most challenging thing about not working a 9-5 is being disciplined enough to stick to your deadlines. This requires a great deal of self-motivation and time management skills since you don’t have a boss over your shoulder policing you. If you can do that then working for yourself is the best possible way to live your life. Just remember: with freedom comes responsibility!
*The real names of the subjects have been replaced with pseudonyms.