How Freelancing Is Like Network Administration

Network Admin - FurbyI don’t regret my past life as a computer guy.

There was a time, back in the late 90s, when I could switch jobs every 6 months and make 30% more than I’d made previously. In two years, I nearly tripled my salary.

I went from working the phones at a help desk to administering networks in a short time. Things slowed down after Y2K was over and the dot-com crash, but overall the industry was good to me.

At any rate, I spent some time thinking this weekend, after pulling my hair out trying to get a new program to work, about how quickly my tech skills have become dated. Even if I wanted to go back to IT, does anyone really need a network admin certified in Windows 2000 Server anymore?

I got to thinking, though. There are some lessons from those bygone days I can use in my freelance writing business.

Devise A Reliable Backup Configuration

Backup tapes are fine and dandy for servers, but what about your freelance business? Do you know what will happen to your freelance writing business if you get sick? How about if you have an accident? What if you want to take a few days off to go to Disney World?

Do you have a backup plan that allows your business to function for any period of time without you? If your business can’t function without you, you’re doing it all wrong. I realize that all sounds very Tim Ferris, but I think it’s essential to your long-term success as a freelancer and an entrepreneur.

Monitor Your Equipment For Failure

My network equipment and servers were always set up with alarm and notification systems that would page me when equipment went down. If those monitors weren’t working, I’d still know the equipment was down because users would be calling the help desk, clamoring for service.

In your writing business, though, failure often goes unnoticed. You have a client, for example, that doesn’t come back when she needs another eBook because the last one didn’t meet specifications. You lose track a project entirely, and the client doesn’t say anything, assuming you’re just unreliable. You might even have a client who is just waiting for you to call, who just needs to be reminded that you’re there, doing your job for him. In other words, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of your business the same way I did with my networks.

Keep Current With Technology

The IT field, maybe more than any other, was one of learning and relearning. New operating systems and new equipment passed across my desk faster than you can say “outdated.” I spent 2 weeks a year, at a minimum, in training classes.

How are you doing when it comes to learning? I’m not just talking about learning how to improve your writing; that’s important, but there’s more to it. I’m talking about every aspect of your freelance business. Are you learning how to use new tools? Are you learning how to more efficiently run a business? Are you spending the time you need to learn new skills and do other types of writing?

Don’t Play Games When Your Boss Is Looking

I worked for one company that actually removed the built-in card game “Freecell” from its computers. We in the IT department, of course, weren’t subject to that policy. In fact, we were known to use the company’s network to play multiplayer games (after hours, of course). Goofing off was, in many ways, an accepted part of the job.

When you’re a freelancer writer, however, it’s different. You don’t have a taskmaster preventing you from playing Freecell. You can’t hide your computer screen so that your boss won’t see you emailing your uncle about Saturday’s golf game. You are your own boss, and you see everything. When you’re not productive, you don’t make money.

That all doesn’t mean you can never take a day off (see my first point above). What it does mean is that you have to develop a laser-focus that allows you to get your work done first, and play around later.

Rely On Your Co-workers To Help Solve Problems

Even the smallest company I worked for had four employees in the IT department. We had a manager, a server expert, a PC expert and a network expert. Every day we shared information between us, and split up tasks based on our position, knowledge and expertise.

If your freelance business has a staff of one, you’ve got some challenges. You can’t do it all alone. You’re not going to be good at everything. You may be able to make a comfortable living as a solo freelancer, it’s true.

However, opening up the possibilities, whether it’s outsourcing the accounting function or farming out some of your work, will only help to grow your business. It also helps shore up your own weaknesses.

Keep cool

Whether it’s a virus outbreak or a dead router, a network admin always has to be on his toes. I can’t tell you the number of times I found myself working on a server or a piece of network equipment with a boss staring down my neck asking, “how soon will it be working?” Never once did I say, “A hell of a lot sooner if you’d back off.”

A freelance writing business can be tense. Some weeks, there aren’t enough hours to get everything done. Sometimes, you make a mistake and spend hours fixing it. Sometimes, you have a client breathing down your neck and you want to tell him to kiss off. Freelancing is stressful, and not for the feint of heart.

To be successful, you’ve got to have a level head, and train yourself to keep it all in perspective.

My own freelance business is going through some changes these days. I’ve recently hired my wife, Angie, to help with project management and sales. (And, might I just say, she’s kicking major ass already.) I’m finding more and more work that I can farm out to subcontractors. I’m broadening my skill sets and doing all sorts of new kinds of writing.

I’m plugging away at plans for my writers’ mentoring program. With all of the similarities I find between my IT jobs and my freelance business, I have to say I wouldn’t trade this one for that one if you offered me all the money in the world.

For all its challenges, there’s no better life than the freelance life.

Bob Younce


About the author: Bob Younce is a full-time Internet writer and writing mentor living in Linwood, Michigan. He is dedicated to helping Internet writers to achieve their dreams. Visit Bob at The Writing Journey or follow him on Twitter.

Image in this post: kgantz