Plenty of people get tired of their regular day jobs, and dream of working for themselves, putting their ideas into practice, and having their own business, or the life of a 'solopreneur'.
In theory, it all sounds amazing! No boss to answer to, working your own hours, setting your rates of pay, taking time off when you want...
However, the realities can be very different. I can tell you from my own experience of being a freelancer for many years, that it’s tough, really tough. You’ll work harder for longer, feel that you can never have any time off, be stressed, and feel agitated often, BUT the satisfaction of the wins and achievements can make it all worth it... in the end.
What is it you want to do?
Firstly, you need to define exactly what it is you would like to offer. Are you offering services or selling products? In the UAE, freelance permits can come with or without a visa, and are only available for certain sectors like education, media, and the arts. Anything else requires a company setup, with the various licenses to go with them. Of course, there are other options, as you’re able to freelance on the side of your regular job, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your primary work - This requires permission from your employer, or you may not require a residency visa due to being attached to your partners for example.
Permits and Visas
Using my experience as someone who offers services within the media field, let me tell you about some of the issues I face. I have a freelance permit, with a three-year visa and I had the choice to select two categories within my field. The problem here is that I offer so many things, I ended up picking ‘Media Specialist’ as it covers a whole plethora of services I provide. It’s worth noting at this point, that in some of the Emirates you are required to provide proof of health insurance coverage before you can be issued the permits and visa, but this isn’t the case in all of them. Company formation specialists can guide you through the process. Some will offer free consultations, but I also recommend asking specific questions on various online community groups for example. Obviously set up consultancies and individual freezones will have their own interests at the forefront. It can feel like a minefield to get through his stage, the best advice is to have a clear directive on what it is you want to do, and who your target clients and customers are and go from there.
Setting your rates
You need to decide on the rates you’re going to charge for the services you offer. Should you be competitive? or because you’re specialised with experience and a specific skill set, go in higher than average rate wise?
Knowing your worth is important, but we have to consider market rates also. What is your experience, knowledge, skills, and time worth? I see so many people underselling themselves, setting the bar too low and this is where they get taken advantage of because unfortunately many clients see ‘freelancer’ and assume you’ll be cheap or even work for free and they’ll haggle, quibble and moan about the cost.
You’ll need to consider how to market yourself and make people aware of what you can offer. Social media and word of mouth from previous clients have probably worked the best for me, as well as sending out media kits to potential clients, but you will spend quite a bit of time on self-promotion in the beginning. It's also important to have a pipeline and whilst constant promotion can feel exhausting, it's important to keep the workflow front of mind.
Always have a contract in place for any job that you do, clearly stating the scope of work, delivery deadline, pay and payment terms, and if you offer any revisions to the work or other things particular to your offering. You must do this, even with friends or people you’ve worked with for a long time. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, you still must have everything in writing whether it’s emails or whatsapp conversations.
One of the things that take up a lot of your time being a freelancer, is chasing payments. You will be forever chasing money from people, even when payment terms have been clearly agreed many clients will come up with every excuse under the blazing UAE sun to delay or avoid payment. I really do wish that others realised it’s like to be getting paid three, six, twelve or more months after you’ve completed a job.
Do DEWA, your landlord, bank, Etisalat, DU, etc allow you to make up excuses for not paying? No they don’t. This is something you have to be extremely firm on. I’ve gone and sat in people’s offices and refused to leave until payment has been settled before, it’s not pleasant, it doesn’t feel good and why should I have to literally beg for my money? So be aware, on this front you need extremely thick skin and you have to be prepared for it.
Freelancing is very much a juggling game between promoting yourself, negotiating jobs and chasing payments, as well as actually doing the work. But for all the problems that you will come across as I’ve mentioned previously, it is extremely rewarding. It certainly isn’t for everyone and something that you need to sit and seriously weigh up the pros and cons of going freelance. If you decide to take the plunge, then simply go for it!