It is exactly 2 months since I embarked on full-time remote freelance writing as a means to continue splurging at the expat grocery store downstairs. A journey not unfamiliar given that I was doing it just a year ago before I quit to make almost no money working as an almost nothing at a basically nowhere. I'm being nasty, it was a fun job while it lasted even if what I said is 100% true.
Anyway, 2 months ago, I went back to freelance writing by creating an Upwork account... For the second time. Yes, this is a story of second chances. Let me share with you 2 very valuable lessons that I have learnt along the way. I can still comfortably disclose how much money I made because it's still not enough to warrant paying taxes. Besides, it's foreign income (?). Speaking off these big words...
- Earning money on Upwork is one thing. Moving it to a local bank account so that you have access to the money to buy that addictive Honey Nut Granola is a whole other story. Simply put, Upwork gives you two options with your 'earnings'. You can either directly transfer it to your local bank, or transfer it to your PayPal account. With the former, you will get quite screwed by the exchange rate from Upwork. With the latter, you will get less screwed by the exchange rate from PayPal, plus a $2 transfer fee. If you want to outsmart them with a Wise account, tough luck if you're in Malaysia.
Your best bet would be to have an incredibly trusted friend to whom you can send money to on PayPal for them to then send it back to you via Wise to your local bank. Risky business. Or you could be lucky enough to hold a bank account in Singapore or Indonesia, which has all or most of the services Wise offers. But no, not Malaysia! Unfortunately for my dumb self, I am not able to regain access to my Indonesian bank account. A story for another day. Meanwhile, here is what happens to $600/2,519 MYR to give you an idea of what 'screwed' means:
Option 1: Upwork to local bank: Lose 119 MYR
Option 2: Upwork to PayPal to local bank: Lose 75 MYR
Option 3: Upwork to PayPal to Wise to local bank: Lose 22 MYR
Yeah. I went with Option 2 and tried to forget that it cost me an entire durian. Kampung, not Musang King obviously. But still. So this is something you will have to try and work out. How do you pay yourself? How often do you pay yourself? Do you have to pay taxes? This $600 was my first transaction, and in Malaysia, you are obliged to declare your income if it amounts to 34,000 MYR minus EPF deductions annually. But recently someone told me that foreign income is not taxable in Malaysia. This is something I will have to look into. If you have not already, please make sure your grown-up pants (trousers?) are on.
- How much work is too much work? Do you stick to the classic 9-5 on Mondays to Fridays that we are systematised to? Do weekends even mean anything anymore? What if all your existing clients are unresponsive? Should you send out proposals in a desperate display of "pick me, choose me, love me"? What if they all respond at the same time? What if no one responds for an entire week? Should you get on Fiverr, Freelancer and ProBlogger just to keep your options open? What if you're invited for a position that pays incredibly well but to which you know you are ill-suited because A. you don't want to go back to working full-time for any one client, and B. the words 'Client servicing project manager' just don't scream 'DREAMS!!!' loudly enough? What if you make between $150-$350 every week only to find yourself making $0-$10 in the next few weeks? What if you're working from 8am to 11pm, and find yourself completely burnt out by the end of the week, thinking "Man, even working in the hospital wasn't this hard." What is an appropriate metric for success? How much money you make? How many clients you have? How good your ratings are? How do you deal with the pang of guilt that accompanies wishing for the job where you had to review ethical porn videos more than editing transcribed voice notes of a geriatrician?
I know this second point is a list of questions rather than answers. But the things I learnt here is how to ask them in the first place.
I want to say something dramatic like "full-time freelancing is not for the faint-hearted." But that's not true. The institutions we grow up in make it very convincing for us to chase prescription jobs, set somebody else's goals, and covet a stable salary.
But I don't want any part of that anymore. Everyday is a new day in the world of a full-time freelance writer. The road ahead is long and uncertain, but filled with vessels of experience and excitement. You get to assert yourself that you can work your dream job for clients that you choose, within boundaries that you define, on projects that you care about, at hours that you are willing, at rates that you are worth... All without even needing to wear pants.
Are you with me?