Look up the definition for ‘freelancer’, and you will find a description along the lines of ‘someone who is self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments’. I don’t like that, it’s a flat definition.
Being a freelance consultant is anything but flat, especially in the Salesforce industry – an industry with unrivalled technology innovation and skyrocketing growth, has led to an ecosystem that’s ripe with opportunity.
How do people approach freelance in order to seize the opportunity? A good place to begin untangling the world of Salesforce freelance, is to make the two types of freelancers clear:
- Sideline Freelancers: professionals who work freelance in addition to a full-time job, engaging in side hustles, or ‘moonlighting’.
- All-in Freelancers: professionals who have committed to the freelance way of life, working in a per-day or per-hour basis.
I have sat both sides of the table, as a sideline freelancer for the best part of a year, then deciding to take the leap and go all-in.
As I reached the end of my first full-time freelance year, I reflected on the experiences and lessons learned finding my footing freelance.
Going freelance has been both a rewarding and self-affirming experience for me – and it could be for you, too. However, this style of work isn’t without its trials and tribulations.
This mega-post will provide practical and realistic advice, that will speak to both potential sideline freelancers, and also those ready to take up freelance full-time.
Part 1 will guide you through testing the waters as a sideline freelancer: setting up structure, the numbers, and approaching your first clients. Then in Part 2, the focus will switch to becoming established as a full-time freelancer, covering not only the practical considerations, but also who you are (which may prompt a long hard look in the mirror!) and your expectations – what matters and what’s myth. Finally, the questions in Part 3 will tie together the first two parts of this post to firm up your important decision.
Part 1: Tips For Testing The Freelance Waters
Going freelance is a big decision that should not be underestimated. There are multiple ways you can trial a new role and responsibilities while keeping your day job. Moreover, I’ve recognised several unexpected benefits of trialling on the side, including fostering a passion for fun, applying your new knowledge in cycles, and the newfound value in compounded time. I wrote about these, and more in “Ready for the Salesforce ‘Side Hustle’? 7 Unexpected Benefits of Upskilling on the Side” if you are interested.
This part covers how to set up the necessary structure, crunch the numbers, and of course, how to find and approach your first client.
I have a quote printed and propped up on my desk, it reads: “either you run the day, or the day will run you”. These words did a great job of reminding me of self-imposed boundaries when I was hungry for ‘gigs’.
Salesforce consulting requires energy for solutionising, problem-solving, and engaging with clients – burn the candle at both ends, particularly if you have a demanding day job.
Before we talk about money, let’s talk about the most important currency of all: time. Time is a currency – you spend it, it’s finite, but unlike money, you can’t earn it back. There is no glory in ‘hustling harder’ if you are making uncomfortable sacrifices in other aspects of your life. What would you be trading for 1 more hour’s pay? You will be able to answer this with more clarity once you have done the maths.
Do The Maths
Money: the topic I get asked about above all others. Two concepts go into calculating your freelance income: rates and billable hours.
Rates: To set your rates, you have a number of sources at your disposal.
- Online at job adverts,
- Websites like Upwork,
- Speak to recruiters or anyone you have a relationship with,
- Check resources for market rates, like this average salaries infographic.
- A combination of the above will help you find a rate that aligns with your skill-level and the market; do pay attention to Geography too, it’s a big factor in rate variances.
I was lucky enough to have worked in Salesforce consultancies previously, which gave me valuable insight into day rates; of course, this only serves as an indication, as I sliced this figure. As much as you may value your work, be realistic that you are not backed by a company brand. However, I did have to face the reality that I needed to earn enough income to support myself in London – one of the most expensive cities to rent in the world. I eventually came to a tidy figure that works for me, and for the market.
Billable Hours: How many hours do you need to work to meet your Target Monthly Income*?
Don’t be naive and assume your time will be 100% billable. Factor in time for selling your services, business admin and training time (note well, Trailhead addicts). Oh, and don’t forget potential downtime for holidays!
Top tip: don’t make your rates confusing. Have a day rate that can be divided nicely into 8! (which will give you a friendly hourly rate, as there are 8 hours in a working day).
(*NB: the Target Monthly Income is a concept we will come to in full detail later in the post).
Don’t Underestimate Business Admin
Running a business takes considerable work behind the scenes – yes, even a business that has 1 product (you) and next to no overheads. No doubt you will quickly discover how much you took for granted when working for a company, now expected to juggle invoicing, expenses, tax returns, and more.
I’m not a financial expert, but I do want to outline how it is in the UK, where the two types of freelancers should take different approaches when establishing. For instance, sideline freelancers, termed ‘sole traders’ in the UK can trade under their own name and submit a self-assessment tax return at the end of the tax year – whereas, I recommend full-time freelancers incorporate a limited (Ltd.) company, especially if you are aiming for corporate clients that ask for business indemnity insurance and other paperwork, as standard. For the US, you should set up a limited liability company (LLC) Business Entity, from what I’ve read briefly.
My intention is not to bore you. Clue yourself up on any options you have for establishing as a freelancer in your own country, and which is the most suitable for your circumstance.
I chose to ‘rough it’ in the beginning, doing the heavy lifting myself. Although I know the ugly ins and outs of business administration, I’m still recovering from the frustration and hassle it caused! A great burden was lifted after I handed it over to my superstar accountant. You’re a professional in a hot industry full of potential – is it worth your time?
Assemble Your Toolbox
Staying on the topic of business admin, select good tools to support you do your work. There’s enough admin to do, so don’t make more work for yourself unnecessarily.
At first, I was reluctant to fork out for tools, however, I recommend the following vendors that have considerably improved my organisation*:
- Project management: Asana, Trello, Jira.
- Accounting platform: Crunch (UK based), Freshbooks,
- E-signature: HelloSign, Sign Now, Ever Sign
- Time tracking tools: Harvest, (Project Management Tools typically come with this feature).
Document storage: Google Drive, and Evernote for light-weight note-taking. Dropbox is still a popular go-to.
*the tools in italics are my preferred choice.
You need impeccable time management; I estimate 90%+ of my overwhelm comes from slips in time management, which the right combination of tools has helped me maintain as I became wiser!
Classically, this is the top torment for freelancers: how to find and close new business. There’s plenty of business in the Salesforce Ecosystem – but leads don’t just grow on trees.
Are you going to invest in lead generation for the short term, or the long term?
People have asked me this before, but my answers tend to disappoint. I have no silver bullet, but I can offer these pointers:
- Build relationships: I am grateful for the wonderful people that make up my personal network
- Salesforce Registered Partner: investing in becoming a Salesforce Registered Partner will put you on the radar for leads from Account Executives when they are looking to match their customers with consultants.
- Give, give, give: contribute quality content*, and answer questions on the Trailblazer Community Groups. You will be surprised if I shared the end numbers.
- Social media presence: be a part of the conversation. Be interesting. Also, be critical of your LinkedIn profile – what do prospective clients actually care about? Read some really great advice from John’s post on standing out as a Trailblazer on Social Media.
- Loyalty: Finally, the most lucrative source of business? Keep existing clients happy. Come with fresh ideas that will continue to improve their operations.
*cheeky plug: Salesforce Ben guest posting is a good place to start!
Trust Your Clients
Salesforce’s number 1 value, and your work should reflect that value too as an industry professional.
Everyone has motives, be upfront with yours as a self-employed professional, and ask them to be upfront with theirs.
You’re going to go through the motions with them, mistrust breeds resentment. A foundation of trust makes your client-consultant relationship unshakeable.
Part 2: Diving Further Into Freelance
There’s one thing being a freelancer on the side, and another fully committing. This part is broken down into sub-sections, which I’ve categorised: Professional Prep, Your Spirit, and Your Expectations – including a sprinkling of what I wish I knew before.
The Full Package
What experience have you clocked up in your career?
I was extremely lucky to collect a wide range of experience prior to going freelance, working in teams across various business functions: business development, partner alliances, content marketing, and of course, marketing automation consulting. Going freelance, I was grateful that I could apply my knowledge of each almost every day – like a one-woman-band that could play multiple instruments.
Before you panic, ancillary skills you will require does depend on how you will source your leads (see ‘Sourcing Leads’), as you may not need to do as much ‘selling’.
Start listing the roles you’ve had over the years (take your CV if it helps), and annotate what skills and learnings you could apply to your future freelance role.
What’s Your ‘Edge’?
How will you advertise your skill set? Do you have a specialisation that clients are willing to pay for?
I find that having a Salesforce specialisation (depth) is supercharged by being 6x certified (breadth). Having a niche is the best way to succeed as a freelancer, but don’t isolate your knowledge.
Work for a Consultancy First
There is a reason why consultancies are successful in doing what they do. Working within a consultancy will teach you best practice technically, and how to master client engagements. In fact, the more unhealthy orgs and difficult clients you encounter, the better!
The graduation from one type of freelancing to another is a big decision. Aside from all the practical considerations I’ve covered so far, I ask that you pause for some introspection before diving in!
Why this section? Without many of the safety nets full-time employment gives you, it’s important you seriously question your motivations and reinforce your self-awareness. Reading this section could ‘nip it ‘in the bud’ and save yourself the hassle, instead of discovering 1 week/month/quarter in, that freelance is not a good match for you personally. I spent time grappling with the title for this section – as cheesy as it sounds, you don’t want freelancing to kill off your spirit!
Set The Why
All good businesses have a purpose nowadays, so why should you be any different?
Why are you considering going freelance?
This comes as point no. 1 for a few reasons. Firstly, your purpose is your motivation; intrinsic motivation will pull you through the thick and thin. Secondly, when you become busy, returning to your purpose will keep your priorities in check. Thirdly, your purpose can easily be transcribed into your unique selling point – what differentiates you from everyone else offering services.
It doesn’t have to be work-related. My ‘why’ was to have autonomy over my time and be location-independent, so I’m able to do my (one and only) hobby: Travel. I’m much happier working in intense bursts, then taking the foot off the pedal when abroad.
Have a solid ‘why’. If you want to go freelance for a flakey reason, or short-term gain, you will be walking on unstable ground.
Are You An Impostor?
Impostor Syndrome, also known as ‘Perceived Fraudulence’, is a psychological term for the “self-doubt, intellectual inadequacy, and anticipated failure” many high-achieving people feel. It boils down discounting your own achievements, not as a display of modesty, but genuinely believing that success was due to luck or overworking.
Being an Impostor prevents you from acknowledging your capabilities as a Salesforce professional, regardless of how much ‘overt/objective’ proof exists, such as certifications.
You are your business’ product. I’ve found investing time in becoming self-aware has paid dividends, leading to self-belief I lacked at the start. Be confident in your own abilities; clients can sense hesitancy a mile off.
Adaptability & Stress-tolerance
Being self-aware means that you can be ‘elastic’ to new or unexpected situations, able to adapt without breaking. The assignments that make up your new work schedule may not be consistent* or as well structured as you’re used to.
Every new client is like starting a new job. If you don’t cope well with change, you may want to reconsider.
(*if you’re ‘pigeon-holed’ in your current role, this is one way you can break out).
After a little introspection and self-awareness, it’s time to become aware of your expectations. This section will give you the necessary reality check.
We have already done the maths, which was necessary to get some starting numbers. Now, we need to align your lifestyle expectations with your expected income.
How do you live currently – modestly, extravagantly?
Can you even put a figure on how much your lifestyle costs?
Those that know me well will tell you I’m frugal when it comes to money; however, I went freelance while living in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, which claims the top spot for rental prices in Europe!
Ponder the worst case scenario: What would happen if you didn’t have work one month? If a client didn’t pay an invoice?
I swear by Tim Ferriss’ ‘Target Monthly Income’ (TMI) concept because it makes budgeting granular and encourages you to think aspirationally. After all, you will be working hard consulting, and you should reward, not restrict, yourself!
Discipline is highly desirable; remember, the first tip was to learn how to set yourself boundaries. Yet, discipline takes other forms; the discipline to push through tight deadlines, to solve a thorny problem, or simply to wake up on time!
Ebbs & Flows of the Market
The Salesforce market could be compared to the low and high tides – correction, it is more like low tide, followed by a tsunami.
We are lucky to have bet our careers on a market like Salesforce that’s showing no signs of drying up.
Don’t quit if it takes time for you to find your feet. I was met with crickets the first month I went freelance; with London rent to pay, there was the temptation to return to the safety net of employment. Of course, anyone on the sales side of the ecosystem knows that January is Salesforce’s end of financial year; the tide rushed in as soon as February arrived!
No Escalation Point
A resounding difference going from employee to freelancer is losing your escalation point.
An escalation point is someone you report issues to beyond your job’s capacity – typically this would be your line manager or project manager.
Everything is on your shoulders. You’re wearing all 3 hats: the consultant, project manager, and Direct of Delivery…so, you better get solving!
Be Prepared to Fail, but Fail Fast
You’re going to go through a multitude of changes, so you have to forgive yourself if (when) you encounter your first failure.
Own up, take responsibility – and always offer solutions with your explanations to clients.
Part 3: Ready To Freelance Full-Time? Summary Questions
As you’ve made it this far, it’s likely that you are ready to make a change. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
What’s Your Edge?
Having a Salesforce specialisation, a specific skill set, will help you succeed as a freelancer.
- What’s your one-line pitch?
- Is there enough demand for services?
- Does working with this product engage you?
- What kind of clients purchase this product? Are they the kind of organisations you want to work with?
- What’s the nature of these projects? Will you be tied down for longer than you want?
Do you have a support network?
Going solo can become suddenly lonely. I’m lucky to have a strong support network including solid friendships in the industry, and an ever-expanding group in the wider Ohana.
- Who could you ask when you’re stuck on something out of your depth?
- Will you able/willing to repay them the favour?
- What Trailblazer Community Groups are you part of?
- Do you need to find an alternative workspace to your home for ‘people company’?
- What about moral support after you close the laptop lid? Boyfriends, wives, siblings, pets…?
- How much does your lifestyle cost to maintain?
- Do you consider yourself adaptable? Do you like ‘thinking on your feet’?
- Have you set boundaries? Made a promise to yourself to not blindly chase money?
- Have I missed out an important aspect of becoming a freelance Salesforce professional? What burning questions do you have, currently unanswered?
Now I have reached the end of my take on starting out as a freelancer in the Salesforce Industry. Going freelance has been both a rewarding and self-affirming experience for me – and it could be for you too. Remember that this style of work isn’t without its trials and tribulations, and I hope you have learnt to set realistic expectations before diving into any rash decisions.
Structure is a blessing. Set yourself up for success, stay connected, and have genuine fun – life is too short.