Want to make your freelancing gig a full-time business? Check out full-time freelancer Ceej Tantengco’s tips on how she managed to transition.
For anyone who started their careers the traditional way – graduated from college, took masters maybe, and then landed a regular job at a company – continuing on without a job must be unthinkable. Of course, nothing beats the security of a salary that comes twice a month. Just do your job and do it well and you’ll be sure to keep it for as long as you can.
And then there are those who feel that there’s more to a career than being tied to one company. They are the brave ones who are willing to take the risk and see what happens if they take that big leap to the world of freelancing and entrepreneurship.
The fear of leaving a job that pays you regularly is not unfounded though. Becoming your own boss is not as comfortable as it sounds. Yes, you are the boss of your own company but you are all also the staff, you’re not only responsible for your own assigned tasks but for the entire business. But the rewards that come with it are just as big and the chance to keep on growing is in your hands and not at the mercy of an employer.
Take it from Ceej Tantengco. She calls herself a “full-time” freelancer who does all these: creator and host of the Go Hard Girls podcast, social media consultant, head of marketing, PumaPodcast (startup), host of the What’s AP? Araling Panlipunan Rebooted podcast, scriptwriter for commercials, host for events, panel discussions, writer for various publications, commercial voice talent, commercial modeling/influencer partnerships, gender advocacy work.
That’s a lot of things for just one person. But for Ceej, this is exactly the reason why she went freelance.
“I’m the type of person who can’t sit still for too long. As much as I enjoyed my day jobs, I loved the variety that freelancing brought to my life,” said Ceej. “Freelancing meant that I could break out of my cubicle to write a profile about a triathlete in Subic, review a new restaurant for a food magazine, or earn back a portion of what I spent on vacation by turning it into a travelogue for an in-flight magazine.”
It sounds exciting on paper but it’s definitely not for everyone, it took years before Ceej felt both happy and comfortable doing the things she loves.
“I remember the early days of transitioning into full-time freelancing as being very challenging. There were definitely periods of anxiety where I would compare myself to my peers in corporate jobs and wonder if it would pay off, or whether I was just wasting time before having to return to a more traditional path,” said Ceej. “There was a lot of financial uncertainty. The big worry was always, “okay, when’s the next project?”
There’s probably no amount of preparation that will make you feel 100% comfortable about leaving a stable job and stepping into the unknown that is freelancing. But do it just the same because it would at least take some of the fears away, just enough to keep you from running back every time you face a hurdle. And as you keep on going and learning, you’ll get better and better at it, and the next time you hit a bump, you’ll realize that it’s okay because you’ve already come a long way.
Here are some of Ceej’s tips for those who are planning to go freelance:
Your full-time job is definitely not the enemy here. It’s actually the most crucial part of your journey to entrepreneurship. This is where you’ll learn the skills you need to be able to run your own company. Take every job opportunity to diversify your skills.
“I can run a social media consultancy because I used to manage different social media accounts for one of the country’s biggest TV networks. When I write scripts for commercials, that draws on my combined experiences working as a segment producer for TV and a copywriter for a branding firm. I can lead the marketing team of a start-up because I got to observe other managers and learn from their process early in my career,” said Ceej.
“To be a full-time freelancer, you have to be a Swiss Army knife, not a hammer. So be open to learning and upskilling in various fields—don’t take the “day job” for granted. Even if it’s not your ultimate purpose, it can prepare you for the future you’re trying to build.”
Leaving a job and going freelance is scary because your next salary isn’t promised but if you plan your finances ahead, save enough money to pull you through for at least 6 months like they always say, and then live modestly, that gives you enough leeway to build your freelancing career with minimal worries.
“You have to build that sense of security for yourself. See if you can invest in mutual funds, unit investments, time deposits, bonds—ask your bank what your options are.”
This is how your full-time job can also help you prepare. While you still have the salary and bonuses, make sure you’re putting it in a place that will push you closer to your goals and not away from it.
The first simple step to building a network that works for you is to treat every person you meet as a potential client, employer, or a person who can refer you to your next big project.
“Freelancing and business don’t have a clear cut ladder to climb. Getting considered for projects is as much about building connections in the industry as it is about your talent,” said Ceej. “Be kind to people you meet and professional to people you work with—you never know what doors may open for you!”
This also requires an active role. You don’t just wait to meet these people. You go out and look for them.
“When I was just starting out, I would email publications with my resume and writing samples, asking them to keep me in mind when they needed contributors.”
Social media is also there for you to use in a way that would make every post worth it. Ceej recommends turning your social media platforms into a digital portfolio. Showcase the things you do and the things you advocate for. You’ll never know who might be looking at your feed.
Ceej considers her love for sports and her background in marketing and social media as one of the things she does best. So she nurtured it and made it known. It then became one of her biggest projects turned social media consultancy company.
“It happened quite organically! I was working as a courtside reporter at the time, and to wrap up 2017, I wrote an article for a basketball magazine saying my new year’s wish is that PBA teams would step up their social media game and run it like the NBA. I listed a bunch of examples of content I’d like to see, and I was surprised when two weeks later, one of the PBA teams actually reached out to me and asked me to pitch. By January 2018, I was officially working with the team!”
This is also what made freelancing life more comfortable for Ceej. After two years of uncertainties since she went full freelance in 2016, things became more stable after she landed a year-long contract with this basketball team. This accidental project even led to more projects outside of sports.
In the words of Ceej, when you go freelance, you are your own agent, accountant, PR, HR, and everything in between. So get ready to do more than your share, as you would have while working as an employee. Seek the help of other people and project management apps like Asana and Meistertask, too!
“Accept the “boring” bits – pitch decks, project proposals, contracts, invoices, taxes, receipts—it’s honestly daunting at times. I still don’t like the clerical aspect of it, but there’s no getting around it unless you expand your team.”
Apart from the boring bits, get ready to face the scary bits, too. As a beginner and far from being a big-time CEO, you might have to create a space for yourself because no one will readily give it to you.
“I’ve encountered the same challenges that many women in business face. As a young female entrepreneur, there’s a sense of pressure when you go into board rooms and you’re the only woman there, and the only one under the age of 50,” said Ceej. “It’s not enough that you know what you’re talking about, you need to be able to project confidence and push for your ideas without worrying how they perceive you.”
When we imagine ourselves becoming entrepreneurs, we have a tendency to focus on the image of us at the finish line – where we have it all figured out. It might take quite a while but that also depends on the effort you’re willing to put into it.
But the key thing is to just take everything that is being given to you first – take as many lessons as you can from your full-time job and managers, take every project that may always lead to the next one, take the advice of those who have made it or are in the same journey as you – take everything you can so you can bring them with them you. And once you’ve made it, you’ll have a chance to take only what you want.
And because Ceej has prepared herself well enough by planning her finances and diversifying her skills, though the pandemic hit her hard because some of her projects got cancelled, she was able to quickly pivot to different jobs. She’s also maximizing her digital tools like social media to connect to her podcast listeners and talk about her advocacies as well as project management and communication apps to keep her projects running smoothly.
So, to anyone out there who’s preparing to build your own name in whatever industry, this is what Ceej has to say: “My big advice to others is to first know yourself. Know who you are, what you believe in, what you stand for, what you’re willing to sacrifice for. Know how you define success, and let that guide the decisions you make. Yes, adapt and compete, but never lose sight of what makes you, you. Do the thing only YOU can do.”
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