Pawel Szczesny has decided to give up on his attempt to be a freelance scientist. Here are some of the hard lessons that this PhD candidate from Poland has learned:
- The consultant’s dilemma: when you’re working you’re not generating new ideas or business, and vice versa.
- It’s tough to launch a freelancing career outside the major urban centres.
- You will need more cash in the bank than you expected.
On a more positive note, Pawel found out that you learn a lot on your own; more than you ever would inside an organisation. That’s because you have to do a heck of a lot more. Pawel also learned that he was not alone, “Many times I was blown away by the help I had not expected.”
I’ve discussed similar issues in So you want to be an e-learning consultant? and want to underline a critical factor in going on your own. Having a good skill set as well as contacts is not enough to keep a solo business going. It’s possible to be a long-term contractor, which is what Pawel actually wound up doing, but it’s much more difficult to sustain all the components of a business just by doing contract work. Contracting will pay the bills but won’t grow the business. For that, you need a sustainable business model.
After five years, I’m still not certain about my business model but generally it includes:
- Integrating my professional development with marketing and connecting with my peers; AKA Blogging.
- Raising my professional profile and enlarging my network by writing articles, doing product/book reviews, facilitating online communities, etc. – mostly for free.
- Consulting on a wide range of services in order keep the cash flow positive
The first two activities, though enjoyable, are a cost of doing business and I view them as replacements for marketing & advertising, which I don’t spend any money on. All of my consulting projects come through my network and luckily I had existing contacts when I went solo.
Most of my revenue is generated through consulting. Some projects are interesting and challenging but some are just work. My plan is to continue to publish through various media and discuss what I learn through my consulting and other activities. The aim is to do fewer and more interesting projects and increase the writing and speaking aspect. I know that I won’t get rich on this model but as long as I can have a sustainable business and an enjoyable lifestyle, then I’m fine with that.
To get to this point, I have kept my costs very low, spending only when necessary and taking advantage of every free or cheap option for my work. It’s a simple business model but it seems to be working. It’s also not a quick and easy way to success, however you measure it.
I think that Pawel had a great idea as the freelancing scientist and that this is a model very much enabled by the Internet, as is my own. However, it’s still not easy to go solo in any field.