Remote Work: Freelance vs Full time
4 min read

Remote Work: Freelance vs Full time

Today I'm writing about a fast growing topic of interest among remote workers: • Starting a remote freelance career


I'm Sergio Pereira, and this is the Remote Work newsletter 👋

Last week, I told you how to handle the anxiety that many remote workers are feeling, with all these news about layoffs and return-to-office mandates in the industry.

Today I'm writing about a fast growing topic of interest among remote workers:

• Starting a remote freelance career

Many people reach out to me and ask how they can start working as Fractional CTOs or other type of freelance around their skills and experience. Including members of the Remote Jobs Braintrust.


1/ The freelance opportunity

It's fair to say that there are more non-full-time opportunities now than ever before in tech, especially fuelled by remote work.

These opportunities include C-level roles, such as Fractional CTO (curiously that's only the 3rd C-level role in highest demand, after Fractional CFOs and Fractional CMOs, I learned). But there are even more opportunities for individual contributors, ranging from specialist profiles (such as React.js Developer, or AWS cloud architect, etc), to more jack-of-all trades profiles such a Fullstack developer with deep experience in the MERN stack.

Remote work is boosting this increased demand for non-full-time roles, because it blurs the lines of full time work across a number of angles:

• Hiring pool: Companies that would otherwise hire in the city around their office are now hiring anywhere. Most startups are actually being founded in that culture, and their teams become global very soon.

• Contracts: When hiring remotely in a different country, most companies extend offers through a contractor agreement. That's both for full time, part-time, hourly or fixed-scope engagements.

• Dynamic ramp up and ramp downs: Companies may often offer a freelance role for 10 hours per week, and later offer the same person a full time role, depending on performance and company funding. The opposite also happens. These dynamics weren't so common before remote work became mainstream.

• Non-exclusive contracts: Full time contracts that abide by local employment laws tend to have hard exclusivity clauses. But in remote work, where most people work under contractor agreements, is common that people work with more than one company at a time. Either because they have a couple part time clients, or because they have a full time job plus a freelance client, or because they have a portfolio of freelance clients.

2/ Why most people fail in their freelance attempts

There's one major misconception that people feel when thinking about freelance gigs. They often look at another freelancer and think "Wow, great hourly rate, I could probably do that job better than John Doe". Certainly, having the right skills for the job is fundamental for success.

However, what most people do NOT think of is "Wait a sec, how did John Doe land that client, at that hourly rate". And that's when people realise that establishing a successful freelance/fractional career is less about doing the job, and way way more about landing the client in the first place.

This is actually the biggest distinction between a full time career and a freelance one:

• Full time: You need a job -> You apply in job boards -> Get into interviews -> Eventually land a job. It's a well defined funnel.

• Freelance: Is not as well-defined, there are multiple channels. Most people apply to gigs on Upwork and get ghosted. Others send a few messages to former colleagues but nothing lands. It's an open world, where you need to be a sales person.

The people with the best Fractional/freelance careers I know did one of these things to get there:

• They became top rated in a freelance marketplace. They started low, did great job after great job, got stellar reviews and became one of the best in that platform for their specific skills.

• They write online and became known to serve a certain client on a certain use case. Eventually they gathered an audience, and some of those followers eventually send a DM with hiring intent.

• They are consistently referred by other people/companies tackling adjacent use cases. Either by reputation, or by creating referral incentives, they get deal flow through channel partners who need them to increase their value proposition to their own clients.

Each of these pathways takes considerable effort, and each of them has some sort of "valley of cringe", in which you work on very low rates in exchange for reputation, or you write online but no one's reading yet, or you offer your services for free to some partner in hopes you'll monetise follow up gigs.

This is fundamentally different from a full time career, in which you're paid a salary for every month you work for your employer, once you are the top candidate at the end of an interview process.

Both can be very exciting careers, but it's important you know what you're getting into when opting for a freelance career. Finding clients is not as easy as it may seem when you look at all those freelancers on social media who are "living their best life". There's always some effort and investment that's not visible to you.

In the Remote Jobs Braintrust, I'll be adding an extra session on this freelance topic, especially about my own path to becoming a Fractional CTO, probably in March.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a full time job, you should check the I'm very excited to get into the final stages of building it, and I'll be opening access to some select early users in the coming week or so. Get yourself in the waitlist and gain early access.

Thanks for reading this newsletter until the end. You can read all past editions here. Make sure to share it with your friends and colleagues so they can read it too.

See you next Friday,

Sergio Pereira, 
Startup CTO & Remote Work Lover

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