The Business

“What do you do for a living?”

And 3 related questions you need to know how to answer.

People gathering over food

While visiting others during last week’s Chinese New Year celebrations, I got the usual question of what I do for a living. And I think I still need to work on my response.

Because I’d give my standard, simplified answer of “I write marketing content for software companies”, and then…the person I’m talking to just looks at me blankly. LOL.

So after that, I’ll try to explain how I write blog posts on digital marketing topics and try the sell the client’s product at the same time, etc, etc, until they hopefully get it more.

If you, like me, still don’t have a good layperson-friendly response to what you do as a freelancer, start working on it!

You never know when you’ll be asked the question—it need not happen only during special occasions or holidays.

And while you’re at it, think of how you can address these related questions (and what the people asking them actually want to know):

“What’s your work day like?”

Translation: They don’t know what you do.

How to respond: Cover what you usually do at work, from the start to the end of a typical work day.

Here’s how I previously answered this question.

“So, how busy are you?”

Translation: They want to know whether you’re actually working or whether you’re just sitting on your butt all day doing nothing.

How to respond: Communicate that you are working. E.g. talk about your current projects and what your upcoming schedule is like.

If work is slow right now, talk about what you’ve been doing to get more projects.

“How much do you usually charge?”

Translation: They want to know whether you’re making money.

How to respond: Explain your process for charging for work, e.g.:

  • Whether you charge by milestone or according to standard package rates for example
  • The factors you consider when pricing your projects

You can give ballpark figures too. But although people actually want to know whether you’re making money, you don’t need to tell them your exact rates or income numbers.

Because that’s not the question they asked. If they really want to know, they’ll directly ask you that. 😜 And even then, you can still give them ballpark figures.

The common thread running through all these questions is this:

People don’t really know what freelancing is and may be sceptical of what you do.

So, your responses should communicate the fact that your job is just as legitimate as theirs.

They may or may not be convinced, but it doesn’t matter.

As long as you have confidence in your abilities and your work, you’re good. 💪

More freelancer news

The 4 types of platform workers

(Platform workers are people who get matched to gigs via online platforms. The platforms set the price for each gig—the worker doesn’t have much say in this. The workers also aren’t considered the platform’s employees.

And the report below came out some time back, but I thought it was worth sharing nevertheless)

The Digital Platforms Industry Association, which consists of platform companies Grab, foodpanda and Deliveroo in Singapore, conducted a survey of platform workers and found there were 4 main platform worker types:

  1. Opportunists: People who do platform work on the side while already having a career. Or, people who do platform work because it’s impractical for them to work a “regular” job. They plan to continue doing platform work so long as they continue making decent money from it.
  2. Switchovers: People who have tried both platform and regular work and decided that platform work is for them. They especially like the flexibility of platform work and are in it for the longer term (i.e. more than 3 years).
  3. Hustlers: People who have gone all in for platform work because they want to use the money to fund a dream, like a new venture or financial independence. So, of the various reasons why platform work may appeal to them, their greatest motivation is the $$$$!
  4. Explorers: People who are just trying out platform work, without fully committing to it, as part of their self-discovery journey. Many of them are students, retirees or people on a break.

Check out the report in full here. (It also contains other findings, e.g. people’s reasons for pursuing platform work, which you may find interesting)

And even though platform workers aren’t the same as freelancers, I think these 4 categories can apply to freelancers too.

For example, you could be an Explorer trying to see if freelancing is for you. Or maybe you’re a Switchover-turned-Hustler: you earned more money from freelancing than holding a 9-to-5, so you decided to focus on freelancing after that.

Which category do you belong to? Reply to let me know!

This post was first published in my email newsletter on 15 Feb 2024. If you liked it, you can sign up for my newsletter here:

Tan Siew Ann
I’m a freelance writer for some of the most amazing software businesses in the world. On this blog, I share tips on how you, too, can run a sustainable and meaningful freelance business. Let’s forge your freedom. 💪

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