Paperwork journey as a wannabe-freelancer in Germany

I’ve been officially Arbeitslos (unemployed) since November 1st.

And I can’t say I miss my old job. ūüėÄ

I actually did go to one big year-end meeting in early November, where I reconnected with my colleagues.¬† Since I wasn’t planning to bill them for it, I decided to only show up for the fun parts. Meaning no day-long strategy/goals/blah blah meetings for me, but I did attend the laid back social bits. I had a blast!

If this is what freelancing is like, I’m game. Except for the not getting paid part. ūüėē

It looks like my original plan to start freelancing in early December was too ambitious. Because I have barely made a dent in the paperwork. It’s been a lot of running from office to office to ask questions, and trying to organize that info to make it actionable. Plus we moved, so needed to hold back on/transfer paperwork flow to our new city’s office (even though everything is Federal!). So now I’m hoping for a February 2016 start date.

I had a small idea of what the paperwork would be like, but didn’t know it would be this confusing. So I’ve been slowly trudging through it with Martin’s help, and hopefully everything will work out soon.

The first place I went to was the Arbeitsamt (unemployment office), and that was the most confusing place I’ve ever been to! I was trying to get help with freelancing advice, but they were focussed on trying to find me a job and updating my resume. They really didn’t know what to do with me because I wasn’t applying for Arbeitslosengeld 1 (unemployment subsidy). It’s funny because were I to apply for ALG1, it would be so easy. Everyone at the Arbeitsamt was focussed on ALG1 but only 1 person (who was on vacation) knew a smidge about the freelancing process. And when I finally spoke with that person after 2 weeks, she recommended that I apply for ALG1, and to find an accountant and talk to the Finanzamt. GAHHH!!!!

I’ve decided not to apply for ALG1. Actually I’ve applied already, but won’t follow through with the application. It’s too much effort that I could pour into setting up my Umsatzsteuernummer (freelancing tax number & registry) instead. Plus I feel really uncomfortable receiving handouts when I don’t need it.

What would be helpful is if there were a German office like the Arbeitsamt, but to help with setting up freelancing in a centralized way!

Through all of this, I was really tempted to register as a freelancer in Canada and approach my client that way. At least I could do all my paperwork in English! But I think this doesn’t solve much. It just brings Canadian rules and tax issues into the mix, which I don’t need right now.

At the same time, I’m grateful to have this down time. Martin’s job is stable, and we are not stressed with money (only good stress). We’re able to focus on healing and health, which was the point to all of this. So the freelancing is really secondary, even though it takes up a lot of my energy. I just have to keep reminding myself this!

New era, big dreams

dreambig

Today was my last day at work!

I left my laptop and iPhone on the shelf in my office. I’ll be getting the laptop back as a freelancer, but not the iPhone. ūüė¶

So how does it feel?

It hasn’t really sunken in yet.

I have to unwind from the stress of the past few weeks, which were hectic both at work and in my personal life.

But I feel good. This feels like the right decision.

All of my fellow co-worker employees are sad to see me go, but all the consultants I work with are really excited for me.

I’ve now left the employee-of-a-big-company club, and am now part of the freelancer-entrepreneur club.

It’s a good club! Very supportive and resourceful.

I have some big dreams for my upcoming freelancing career.

I’m not going to put any numbers on it now, but my goal is to earn enough to support us both.

Then, I would like it if Martin would consider quitting his job so that we could be location independent.

We could keep a Germany-base, but I also want to be able to live wherever we want. For months.

Let’s try Toronto and Paris for starters. Berlin and Hamburg too. Then – Thailand. I’ve never been to Thailand, but it seems like my dream place.

I also like the idea of house sitting and have been drooling over researching that. There are location independent people without a fixed address, who float around the world house sitting whenever they can. What an awesome way to live!

I’m starting to feel nervous now, because when I was an employee, this type of lifestyle was just a pipe dream that I would read about. But as a location independent freelancer, I know slow travel is very much within reach – and that’s jarring. Sometimes it’s scary to know you’re close to fulfilling your dreams.

Out of all the lifestyles I consider, being a traveller is what I’d most like to do. Or at least try. And freelancing will be able to lend us that.

Still have to see how it goes, but I’m excited for the possibilities!

Changing my relationship with work

freelancer

Two weeks ago, I was feeling so stressed and down about my freelancing career.

I told Martin that I can’t do it. That I may as well just be a house wife (not that that’s easy) because I won’t be able to find clients who are willing to pay me.

I was just spewing all this negative shit.

The next¬†morning, I decided to stop the pity party and to¬†wear a dress that I love. I’ve had this dress for years but stopped wearing it because it made me look ‘fat’.¬†So it hung¬†guiltily in my closet, and¬†I decided that¬†today was the day that I would wear it.

So I did, and it didn’t make me look fat. It made me feel GREAT.

When the head of¬†the department came¬†to my office¬†to chat with me, I casually told him that I’ve decided to freelance. He said that was great news and affirmed that I’m doing the right thing (he thinks I shouldn’t give up my life to look after my husband), and¬†said he is for it and to figure out how to get the ball rolling with my contract.

Since then, things have been falling seamlessly into place.

My¬†contract is being pushed. I didn’t even have to negotiate like I thought I would. My boss just said I should make what the senior freelancers make (3x my current rate!) and wanted to know how many hours I wanted to work so she could get the contract process started.

Well that was easy!

When I asked for a 10% raise earlier this year, plus working from home 2 days a week,¬†I was met with resistance. I don’t blame my boss, it’s just how the organization works. But as a freelancer, I’m about to sign a contract earning more¬†than I do now, but working only 1/3 of the time and all from home. Now the company is asking me if I am willing to come into the office once in a while.

It has completely turned the tables on how both sides are approaching work terms.

Now I have more control, and I tell them what I’m capable of doing and when and where.

It was not easy for me to quit my job, but I’m so glad I did it!

I have no idea how things will work out, and I expect freelancing to have its own pitfalls too.¬†But if I never dared to step out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t¬†be able to entertain all these possibilities.

Running club

runners

I haven’t written anything about that mini-6K marathon I ran back in June.

It went well! I¬†fulfilled my goal of running the entire track without stopping. I ran it in a leisurely 43 min and wasn’t sore the next day. While 43 min is slow,¬†I¬†still consider it a success!

Since then, I’ve kept up the running and am training for two upcoming 10Ks¬†also sponsored by my company. A few days after that second¬†10K, I’ll work¬†my last day at my job. *sniff*

Running is helping me a lot with stress management. If not for my consistent¬†running, I’m¬†sure I¬†would¬†be crippled with stress right now. But instead¬†I’m keeping it¬†cool. ūüėé

Believe it or not, I’ve also started a running club at work! We go running during lunch¬†every Tuesday and Thursday, unless it rains (it rains a lot here!). It’s just a small group of 2-5 people, but we’re known as ‘the¬†lunch time runners’¬†now. ūüôā

This is crazy to me, because I don’t consider myself a runner – or at least not a very good one. When I told people I wanted to try running, people offered to run with me! Which is largely why I’ve kept it up, because it’s become a social gathering. I’m also flattered that these good runners continue to run with me even when I slow them down.¬†¬†We have a lot of fun though, and I’ve gotten to know more¬†people through running.

Running is helping me become powerful and strong. Physically yes, but¬†this feeling is spilling over to other areas of my life¬†too, and helping to sustain me during times of change.¬†I’m so very¬†grateful for that. I hope to keep this up in my new Niederrhein life.

Re-thinking priorities: my last month at work

Essentials-of-negotiation-workshop

By pursuing freelancing, I’m essentially changing my career.

If you’ve ever changed careers before, you know¬†it takes a lot of energy. It’s starting from scratch all over again and¬†heading into the unknown.

I’ve changed my career many times before, so this is not new to me. But this time it¬†feels different.

I’m very fortunate because I work for a¬†big, well-respected company in¬†a niche industry. If not for the name of my company, I would be struggling to land clients. But instead, I’m ripe with¬†opportunity and¬†connections.

There’s still¬†about one month¬†for me to go as a full-time employee (less my vacation days), which is also one more month of networking in person and organizing myself to launch into¬†freelancing.

So far freelancing seems to suit me well. While I’m not a freelancer yet,¬†I’m¬†actively laying the foundation for freelancing and¬†am amazed at how well it’s going.

Someone pinch me because it doesn’t seem real!

It’s been a very emotional past couple of weeks. I hadn’t been talking about my resignation much, and asked people who knew to please¬†keep it on the d/l at first. But¬†now my leave is¬†officially¬†out in the open, so I’ve also¬†started talking about it more and¬†have been receiving an outpouring of love and encouragement.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to land clients, but it appears that I have almost too many on my plate now! This is only¬†because amazingly kind and generous people are helping me out¬†in very real ways (without me asking), and I’m shocked, grateful, and so very touched.

Nothing is set in stone, but these leads are quite strong and it appears to be up to me, whether I want it or not.

Which of course, makes me think back to negotiating rates.

I’m not at all good at money-negotiations, and was feeling far too much stress about asking for $100+ an hour as a junior person. I’m sure there are fantastic money-negotiators out there who could pull this off, but I don’t think I’m one of them.

If I think about my goals, it’s not¬†to make $100+ an hour off the bat. Maybe one day, but right now, I want to be able to consistently land projects so that I can continue freelancing and supporting my family and FIRE goals. Which means, I am willing to start at the bottom.

In my case, the bottom¬†happens to be more than double my hourly rate now, which is not too shabby.¬†I’m still planning to enter negotiations at more than that, but I know that if I get bargained down to that rate,¬†I’ll still be happy.

Another benefit to working for a¬†well known¬†company¬†in my industry is that it puts me in touch with a lot of talented people. Just because I’m not the best at negotiating, doesn’t mean everyone else is like me too (thank goodness!). So I’m¬†asking one of my ex-consultant colleagues to coach me.¬†He is great at all sorts of negotiations, and¬†has really helped me understand things differently.

Like how I could probably get the amount of money I want to get, because I’m leaving my team at a sensitive time and I carry a bulk of the knowledge and expertise that cannot be replaced so quickly or easily. But that strategically, it’s not as wise to have a higher hourly rate than other more senior¬†freelancers (I won’t get selected as much), and if I¬†start so high it may¬†leave a bad taste – like¬†I’m screwing them over when they need me most.¬†He says when people think of me as a consultant, the image shouldn’t be that I will¬†cause them problems.

So he is helping me figure things out in a way that makes sense to me, while also helping me land a higher rate in other ways.¬†I didn’t even think of it but there are other ways to structure a negotiation, not just a straight forward ‘give me X amount’. I’m very excited, and feeling more confident to enter the talks. Also I’m making it sound like this is all a hard negotiation, which it’s not. I’ll be speaking with good people who aren’t trying to screw me over. I just need to be clear about what I need to run my business, and what I can provide to my clients.

How to negotiate $100+ per hour

balance

I’ve already quit my job, announced that I will freelance, and now what’s left is for me to negotiate my new hourly rate of $100+.

Truth be told, I am nervous!

Here’s why:

As an employee, I earn ‚ā¨21 per hour ($31 CAD, $24 USD, $33 AUD) not including bonuses. This is more than double the German minimum¬†wage¬†of¬†‚ā¨8.50 per hour. My salary is¬†average¬†in Germany, and comes to¬†about ‚ā¨45K per year.

Though it’s nothing fancy, I’m very grateful to be earning this amount.

As a freelancer, I was planning to negotiate ‚ā¨65 per hour. That’s 3x what I earn now, which to me, is pretty wow!

But my colleagues who have been in the business longer than me, think that‚Äôs ridiculous and say I should definitely ask for at least ‚ā¨90 per hour.

‚ā¨90 per hour is¬†$136 CAD or $103 USD or $143 AUD per hour!

That’s a¬†ridiculous amount of money to me. I‚Äôve never earned that much, and never thought I would. It’s almost laughable, which I know is a mindset I need to change if I want to earn that much.

But do I want to earn that much?

No really, I have to ask myself that. Because if I don’t want to, I won’t. But if I do want to, then there’s a chance I could if I ready myself to push for it.

Self doubt running through my mind

I’m an INFJ, which apparently is one of the worst personality types for marketing myself and negotiating wages.

What also makes me nervous is that other more senior colleagues who go freelance only make the ‚Äúmaximum‚ÄĚ of ‚ā¨65 per hour. This magic number of ‚ā¨65 is the maximum amount that our company will pay for the type of work I do. But as one of my teammates¬†posits: who says that and why do I believe it?

She says my work is essential to the company, and that I need to gain more confidence in fighting for myself. She reminds me that I asked for a measely 10% raise and still didn’t get it, so now it’s time to start high and then work my way down if need be. Not the other way around.

I agree, it’s just hard to do. But I also feel like I need to do it, because as a woman in the field, we are often short changed. My industry is male dominated, but the little niche I work in is female dominated and hence, commands a lower pay with less respect and almost no room for advancements. It is also a professional field where a lot of experience and education is required, so many people think the company asks for a lot but gives very little.

I’m still psyching myself up for it though, and am not certain what I will do. But I have a few months to make a proposition in person while I’m still working here, and will of course continue to prepare, ponder, and pontificate until I leave in early October.

What’s scary for me in writing this entry is I’m essentially and publicly making it a goal, when really I just want to take the easy way out and negotiate a low rate of ‚ā¨50. Which is not really a negotiation.

Taking a chance on freelancing

fish

This week I turned down all the counter offers my company gave to convince me to un-quit my job.

I also¬†shared my future plans, which –¬†surprise surprise –¬†is¬†freelancing! :mrgreen:

What a relief!

The counter offers had been hanging over me. Not because I actually wanted them, but because I know they were given to me¬†to try to help me out.¬†I felt personal pressure to accept the counters, because I really like the people¬†I work with. Basically, receiving counter offers felt like quitting all over again – which wasn’t easy for me the first time around.

Since making my announcements, I’ve only received positive feedback about¬†me freelancing!

I already have verbal confirmations from 2 groups that they want to work with me as a freelancer, and I will likely get more from another group plus another freelancer who I have yet to approach.

My boss also urges me to contact her any time if I want my old job back. ūüôā

While it has been stressful to make all these changes all of a sudden, I have high hopes about everything.

Next up is finding a flat to move to near Mr. G’s office!