Becoming a freelancer – what you need to know

So you think you’re ready to drop the corporate life and become a freelancer. Now what?

There’s a lot of planning that goes into this, so let me share my experience and the steps I took to finally take the freelance plunge while based in Dubai. Some of these points are universal, and some specific to where I live, so I’ll mark them accordingly!

The one important thing I will say before writing more is that you not only have to put in a lot of work after starting your own business, but before jumping into freelance life as well. You have to plan a lot before freelancing – it’s not the romantic ideal of ‘I’m going to leave the 9-5 and work in my pajamas!’. It really isn’t (ok, it can be on a few days but it’s not the norm!).

Ask yourself some important questions!

I thought about the freelance decision long (and by that, I mean for months at end) and hard – WAY before I resigned from my full-time job. Am I ready to leave the structured, corporate life? Is there a market for the services I’d be able to offer? Will I make any money?! Here’s some more questions to get you started:

  • “Why am I even thinking of this step?”
    If it’s to escape ‘the man’ and no other thought, stop right there. Re-evaluate. Think about why you’d like to take on a role that could be quite unpredictable. If you thrive on structure and a 9-5 style role, maybe this isn’t for you. You need to have a really clear – and sustainable – reason about why you are entering this phase of your career.
  • “OK, what services will I offer?”
    This can be an easy or hard question to answer. If you’re a graphic designer, then you know what you can do for potential clients. Sometimes, you have multiple skillsets that you can translate into a variety of services. First put these together – just write them down somewhere. You need to know exactly what you can and cannot do. And certainly don’t do things you have no skill for. You have no idea how many times I’ve now heard the phrase ‘I can’t believe you’re being honest with me’ when I turn down a potential job because I tell them it’s not something I am good at and therefore cannot do it.
  • “Who will my clients be?”
    It’s very important to figure this out. Are you going to specialise in a sector? Do you have existing contacts who could become clients? Is there a niche that you can tap into, and be good at? Again, work this all out.
  • “What steps do I need to take next? Are they feasible?”
    So that’s the next sub-head!
Plan, Plan, Plan

After thinking about your decision, you think you’re ready. Now you’re wondering what happens next!

  • This bullet point is specifically for people in the UAE: Figure out what kind of visa you want. There’s a myriad of options in the UAE right now – you can set up as a freelancer, you can set up a free zone company. What are you hoping to do? Are you a one-wo/man band? Are you planning to build an empire? I personally went for a freelance visa, so I’ll start outlining data on that front where relevant.
  • Once you know what kind of visa you want, it’s crunch time. Can you afford this? I’ve highlighted this because it really is ridiculously important. I created a spreadsheet with initial estimates of all costs I would incur, and then budgeted for it. I knew then how much cash flow I’d need to be able to pay for everything without going bankrupt. Some of these costs will include those you didn’t even think about (the struggle is real). My own costs included the following: the permit/licence; what’s known as an establishment card (if you’re getting your own visa rather than staying on your father’s or husband’s); visa; visa amendment (paperwork related to my previous visa); website hosting costs; website design costs; express service for the visa (I had to travel very soon but this is not essential); health insurance. Please, please, please have enough money to pay for all these and still have a comfortable amount left over for living costs for the next few months. You need to have enough so that if you earned little to nothing for a month or two, you won’t struggle.
  • Find out right then what paperwork you’ll need for all the steps of the process. Get started with keeping these ready way before you even start filing everything.
  • You know what else is part of the planning process? Reaching out to your contacts. Speak to them to let them know about your move and when you will be ‘open for business’. While this could potentially help with future business, it’s also best practice for your interaction with people you may have developed a good working relationship with. Sometimes that leads to business, sometimes it doesn’t. But never underestimate the value of your contact book.
  • Pricing. This is SO important, and was actually one of the things I left to the last minute. I wish I hadn’t! There’s a lot of ways to figure out your rates for the services you offer. You may work in an industry where rates are fairly standardised so price yourself correctly. Remember this, you have to account for EVERYTHING now, it’s not just about the service but about the equipment you use, wear-and-tear, even software you may need to do your job. I used this infographic to help me work out my charges.
  • Also, plan for when you’re actually going to submit your application to be a registered or licensed freelancer. My advice is leaving enough time between your leaving your full-time role and applying for your freelance permit so the processes tick over in the background. Do NOT quit your job before you have the alternative confirmed – whether that’s a freelance permit or visa, or even your first client.
Just do it!

This section is quite specific to Dubai folk – you can skip to the next section if this isn’t relevant to you!

  • I applied for my freelance permit at the end of June, knowing I’d be leaving my full-time job at the end of July. If you’ve already got all the paperwork ready, then it’s a simple matter of submitting all the information.
  • I personally found GoFreelance amazing to deal with. When I applied, just ‘education’ and ‘media’ activities were on the roster, now ‘tech’ is also available. What I also loved that it outlines exactly what you need for the application which goes back to my point about preparing all your paperwork in advance. The team there are also super helpful. Follow the instructions, and go for it!
  • Extra tip: Start the health insurance process well before you have to apply for your visa. When you submit the visa paperwork + get your medical done, the visa cannot be processed unless you have health insurance. Shopping around for insurance and getting it underwritten takes time. I got a basic insurance at the time because I needed my visa quickly in order to travel soon, but it’s been months of searching for the right one and I finally signed off on one I was satisfied with at the end of December 2018.
Living that freelancer life

OK so you have taken the plunge. You’re a freelancer. Congratulations. Now what? Now…you hustle.

  • Remember all those contacts you reached out to? Well, if you haven’t posted about your move on LinkedIn already, then post away. Let the world know you’re ready for business.
  • Do you have a website yet? On a personal level, I decided to include the website in the planning phase (I worked with the amazing Rubber Design for this) and had it ready to go just before my last day at my full-time job. I personally felt it was important to have a place where all my skills were outlined, and in a professional manner. Vicki from Rubber Design created my logo and the website, and I also had a photoshoot with Aasiya Jagadeesh.
  • What about your social media? Can you use it to your advantage? Don’t forget to post updates about your work, being out and about, or just plugging away your services. It was hard for me to do this, I almost felt a sense of being shameless, but hey, you have to hustle.
  • Network! Depending on what your work is, find a way to connect with both existing contacts regularly and make new ones. Hustle away, go out to events, hand out business cards (on that note, if you’re in the UAE and want business cards – or anything else – printed, head to Pearl Printing Press; you can email Joel at pearlpp.dxb@gmail.com).
  • Be methodical. OK, some of your freelance work may mean you have to go into an office to work – in which case you’re still experiencing a sense of structure. Or your work may mean you can be huddled in a tent on top of a mountain with portable Wi-FI getting your emails out (unlikely, but who knows?!). In the former, OK, you’re sorted in that you have to be there at 9am, or whatever the case may be, and work through the day. For the latter, or more realistically, if you work from home or from a café or a co-working space, have some structure. Wake up at the same time every day, start work at a similar time every day. It’s up to you whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, set your own work timings and largely stick to them. It will help you get work done. No structure altogether seriously does not help.

So, here’s my guide and my experience taking the freelance plunge. What questions, if any, do you have for me? Comment here, and I’ll try to answer as many as I can! And good luck with your freelance journey!

And finally, because I now have to continuously hustle, check out my website and let me know if you have any professional needs I can help with!

cropped-fq8a1206P.S. – I am considering writing posts about apps I’m using as a freelancer and where I enjoy working from in Dubai; if that’s of interest, do let me know!

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Want to learn how to swim in Dubai?

OK, so as of the beginning of April 2018, I didn’t know how to swim. As a child, I was never sent to a swimming class, and I eventually developed a fear of going anywhere beyond the shallow side of the pool, or letting go of the wall. Worse, I have friends who have tales of how I jumped onto them out of fear pushing them under water, or grabbed on so tight when they were trying to help me learn how to swim that I left nail marks on their skin, or… You get the picture.

Anyway, in March this year (just before I managed to pinch my sciatica, aggravate my scoliosis and end up in a back brace – yep that’s another story), I saw a swimming class for adults wanting to learn on GuavaPass. I thought, doesn’t hurt to try this out, right? Right? On April 1, off I toddled to the location and got into the pool. I enjoyed that first class so much I signed up for the next term (it’s not on GuavaPass, you go directly through the academy), and then continued through the summer classes. Yep, it was pretty much the only thing I could do while undergoing physiotherapy.

And finally, on August 29, it happened… I swam the entire length of the pool! Not very gracefully, and certainly not in a conventional manner, but, nonetheless, I did!

Swimming - Devina

Since I started my journey, I have been sharing updates on social media, and what has been great to see has been all the responses – from people who can swim encouraging me, as well as those who, like me, have managed to reach adulthood without learning this skill.

So, how did I go from being terrified in the pool to bobbing about in the deep end?

TLDR: Go to Urban Swim Academy (find the academy on Facebook here or on Instagram here).

But to find out why I have stuck with them and what makes them a good shout to learn how to swim – or indeed, go for the masters classes if you’re already a swimmer – read on.

I cannot continue this post without mentioning the instructor for the ‘adults learn to swim’ class: Diana Mruk. I genuinely do not know how or if I would have ever been able to get here without her. Her insanely patient nature is why she put up with me and my fear – there were days when I just stood at the edge of the pool for minutes, freaking out about gliding because how would I survive, or days when I somehow managed to go underwater and then panicked while trying to stand up from a float, and so many other random moments.

What I also LOVE about her is her ability to take on your individual quirks to make them work for you. It’s never been about the “right” or “traditional” way to do things, it’s about, how can we make this work for you? I have so many examples (and honestly I feel really silly because of this but hey ho) to share. Here’s just one: My core has no strength or balance, so it was a struggle learning how to get out of a front float in the first place, but what’s been even more difficult has been the freestyle stokes, because every time I turned to take a breath, I’d lost control of my body and flip on my back, like a helpless turtle. While this has caused plenty of merry mirth among my friends, it’s clearly a problem if I can’t do anything after that except float uselessly. Diana helped me convert that problem into an advantage… I now take a few strokes, flip on my back, and then flip again and keep moving forward. It’s not the most elegant way of swimming a length but until I can figure out how to balance my body, this works!

Everything was a milestone to Diana, and to me. It honestly felt like no one was cheering for me as hard as she was. Learned how to float? WAHEY! Learned how to get out of a float? High-five! (Seriously, it took me a while to sink from a float.) Worked out how to tread? YASSSS! And so on.

Our classes happen at the same time as the ‘masters’ sessions, and while I have never had to work with him, I see Brett Hallam (the academy director) training veritable merpeople as they swim multiple lengths, with the same passion and dedication that Diana has always shown us. All the advanced students I’ve interacted with before we begin class seem to love coming there and polishing up their skills, so there are classes for accomplished swimmers as well.

So where are these amazing classes? Up until August 2018, Urban Swim Academy was using the pool of a school in Umm Suqeim. But from the start of the September term, we will be at Talise Fitness at Madinat Jumeirah. All you need to do is contact the academy and they will share term times, prices, and so on. It’s totally worth it. SEE YOU THERE!

And I’m proof that it really is never too late to learn how to swim. I absolutely love it, and my goal is to one day join the more advanced class, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get there – especially if the amazing instructors at Urban Swim are there to help me.

Geek alert: Mystery Box ME

Do you like sci-fi (books, movies, everything)? Anime? ‘Verses like Star Wars, Star Trek (yes you can like both – look at me!), Firefly and more? Comics? Gaming? OK, well you’re going to want to know about Mystery Box ME, if you don’t already!

I’m not sure how I came across the geek-themed Mystery Box ME, but I’m really glad I did. If I had to hazard a guess though, I’d say it was something I found via the geek-in-the-know, @theregos.

Anyway, the premise is simple. You sign up to receive a… well, a mystery box every month. You don’t know what’s in the box, other than that it will arouse the interest of all geeks.

Here’s an example of just one month:

Other months have included a Batman-themed fidget spinner, a Baby Groot bobble-head, a t-shirt with Futurama’s Bender, a Deadpool chef figurine, a t-shirt with Serenity (the ship) on it, a variety of comics, and so much more.

The website lists all the subscription opportunities; you can buy a one-off box for AED 199, or take monthly plans, ranging from a three-month plan to a one year plan, with prices obviously dropping with the volume that you purchase. I find that it’s always worth it…opening that box has never disappointed.

This month, the website released a “themed” box – Star Wars. The website also currently lists a video game-themed box. These do list what you’re getting when you order the boxes. Definitely looking forward to more of these!

Check out the official website for more information and to order your own box!

Want to see more? I’ll end with one of my (many) unboxing videos… 

Literaturhaus at Nadi – an ode to literature at Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue

Literaturhaus at Nadi – an ode to literature at Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue

Earlier this month, I attended the launch of Literaturhaus at Nadi, which is a literary event that will continue to be hosted at Nadi Al Quoz every Saturday until September 30. The first Saturday was helmed by Afra Atiq, an Emirati spoken word poet. She was mesmerising, to say the least. This was my first time attending a poetry slam performance, and I really enjoyed it.

Afra used themes she identified with personally, and certainly themes a lot of people in the audience identified with as well, considering the applause she got in response! Starting off with an ode to true love (food, and its fickle nature), to schoolyard bullying, to being labelled ‘different’, to dealing with heartbreak, Afra used the power of words to really bring a sense of energy and empathy in the room… I know I was nearly in tears at some points.

I love the vibe Dubai’s culture and literary scene has right now, and Literaturhaus at Nadi seems like an amazing opportunity for people to sample what the city’s literary artists have to offer. It’s not just poetry, the programming offers up authors, historians, musicians and much more.

The events are free to attend, but there is limited space to do RSVP.

All info on the link here

Stationery I love: Surat Journals, your little blank book

Stationery I love: Surat Journals, your little blank book

On December 13, 2014, I stumbled across a little pop-up market at DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates. I’d just gone there to return books to my library (it’s called The Old Library, if anyone’s interested, and it’s fabulous). While I browsed the stands, this one caught my eye. Books – an easy way to get my attention.

It turned out to be blank books (‘little blank books’, even) created with leather from the Philippines, and recycled paper. Shut with a strip of leather, I thought the books were stylish, eye-catching, and an attractive companion for people who take notes, and enjoy stationery. Very affordable too, as you can see from the pictures. The one I picked up was AED 80, and it was to be a Christmas present – and the recipient seemed to love it, so that’s a job well done! I now regret not getting one for myself, so that’s on my to-do list.

The founder is a man named Ken Surat (hence the name Surat Journals) and here’s the Surat Journals Facebook page if you’re interested in getting a book for yourself.

Lush’s 12 Days of Christmas

Lush’s 12 Days of Christmas

I’ve loved Lush for a while now. I can’t remember when I first discovered the gorgeous smells the company produces, but I was instantly hooked. Recently, I wandered over to the Lush Christmas event in Dubai, and boy, was that literally a feast for the senses! New products, new colours and beautiful gift boxes everywhere.

Some Instagram photos from the day here:

At the end of the media preview, we all walked away with this beauty: the 12 Days of Christmas box.

12 Days of Christmas box

Here’s what I found when I unboxed:

I haven’t started using these yet, but I tried a few of them at the media preview, and I cannot wait to pamper myself. The Christmas range should be available in UAE Lush stores this week – are you tempted?

Do you have a favourite Lush product? Which one is it? Let me know!

Autism coffee morning – let’s talk about camel milk!

Have you ever tried camel milk? I have. I admittedly don’t have a lot of it, but we did have quite a few bottles of it in my house on a regular basis for a while – when research emerged that camel’s milk is an alternative to regular milk or soy milk etc for people with autism.

It’s Autism Awareness Month in April, and to herald that, there’s something pretty interesting happening in a dew days. If I wasn’t travelling, I’d definitely be there! So here’s something for families or professionals who deal with autistic spectrum disorders on a regular basis:

What?
EICMP (Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products) is hosting a coffee morning in co-ordination with Autism UAE and the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre to talk about the issue that camel milk might support in the therapy of autistic children.

US author (A Real Boy: A True Story of Autism) Christina Adams will speak at the coffee morning about her experience with her autistic son and the use of alternative therapy methods.

FYI she will also be speaking at the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre charity gala dinner on April 2, 2014.

When?
Monday, March 31, 2014 at 10am.

Where?
The Majlis Dubai, next to Jumeirah Mosque on Jumeirah Beach Road.

Special needs event on Saturday, Feb 22, in Dubai!

Running a press release which I received about an event in Dubai this coming weekend, which aims to raise awareness about special needs kids and allows them to enjoy themselves in a relaxed setting while interacting with kids who go to mainstream schools.

Also, it’s Karan’s birthday on February 22 … so go celebrate! 😀

PRESS RELEASE:

TRIBE WATSON to Organize 7th Annual reaching you “party in the park”
(formally known as reaching you “family fun day”)

Dubai, UAE – 16th February 2014 – Under the patronage of HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, ‘reaching you’- a programme created to increase awareness and integration of children with special needs across the UAE- will be holding its 7th annual Party In The Park (formally known as ‘Family Fun Day’), at the Mega Bowl, Zabeel Park on the 22nd of February 2014 from 12:00 until 18:00.

Invitation to Reaching You party in the park

A complimentary day full of festivities, the reaching you “party in the park” is committed to providing a relaxed environment for special needs and mainstream children to interact and enjoy a fun filled day of activities, merriment and health.

“We see health and fitness as a key element in enhancing children’s lives and integrating them into their community,” said Nick Watson, Co-Founder of TRIBE WATSON and reaching you. “As such, we wanted to create a worthy cause, which encouraged this involvement, sharing with parents and the UAE community the wonderful joy this can bring to children of all abilities.”

“In Dubai alone there are over 6000 children with special needs, however caring for them is not always at the forefront of people’s minds, thus events like the reaching you “party in the park”, help in bringing us all together,” said Mr. Watson.

In its 7th year and expecting over 5000 visitors, the reaching you “party in the park” promises to be a fantastic day full of activities including – DJ’s, bouncy castles, obstacle courses, climbing walls, Dubai Drums, art work, puppet shows, theatrical shows, games as well as face & henna painting – delighting children in this renowned family affair.

“It is my personal belief that every individual has the right to receive the necessary support needed to live as a member of the community and benefit from experience and social relationships. reaching you and its various initiatives are a perfect way to achieve this,” concluded Mr. Watson.

Nick and Delphine Watson are parents of Rio, their beautiful boy who has special needs. Inspired by their own experiences, in 2006 they were motivated to establish the program reaching you, using their own understanding and appreciation for the cause, as the currency for their success.

Details of Reaching You Facebook page-
https://www.facebook.com/reachingyoudubai

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with the letter “a”

I guess people who deal with special needs of any form can identify with this.

Often, it feels like having a superpower – the power to spot special needs where others don’t. I know it sounds overbearing, awful and sad.

Some people don’t have external, identifying “marks” of having a special need. But I can see them (it’s starting to sound all Sixth Sense even as I type).

I was out yesterday in a mall, and I was walking towards my destination in the mall, my eye moved towards a boy (perhaps 17? 18?) with a bright pink t-shirt with a slightly unfocused look. And in around 10 seconds, I thought, “he has autism.”

Then I observed a little more.

He was accompanied by a man and woman whom he resembled slightly – his parents I surmised. With them was another man, didn’t look like them at all, had (how do I write this in the most PC manner? Perhaps there is no way) slightly worn/not very expensive clothes on…I pegged him as their helper. He had a shopping bag in his hand, and I think the father asked him to give it to the boy. He did. The boy held it limply for a while, then dropped it, not realising, not caring. The other man picked it up, stayed close.

I stayed for a minute or two, and figured I was right.

And then I mentally wished them all the best, and felt glad that at least they had some help with the boy. It’s not easy, and frankly not recommended, to take care of a person with special needs with no extra help – especially if it’s within your means to get that help.

Lunching with my brother

I’ve been trying to get Karan to go out for lunch every weekend, at least once, so that he gets out of the house instead of staying cooped in. So far we’ve experimented as a family (all four of us), as a trio (Karan, my Mom and I) and today, it was a duo date – just Karan and I.

I took Karan to Aappa Kadai in the Dubai Marina a while back, and he fell in love with their kababs and mango lassi.

So today, when it was just the two of us, I decided to go back there. I quite forgot about the time, and ended up there around 2.40pm rather than much earlier.

It was packed.

I decided to order the food as take-away, but the staff members there (who recognised Karan and I from our many outings there) said one of the tables was clearing soon. So I gave my order and waited. They were really cool about it…gave Karan a chair to sit on so he wouldn’t get agitated.

I did get the usual stares from the pre-dominantly desi crowd. But there was one woman there, with her husband and two kids. She looked at Karan for a bit, but it was different from the usual weird stares I get. She then looked up at me and smiled.

I felt much better instantly – till that point I was fretting a bit about whether Karan would wait for the tables to clear, whether he would get upset because he was angry. She, however, with a smile that said to me: “Hey, hope you’re okay!” , made me feel just a little less worried.

A table did clear up within 10 minutes or so, and Karan gobbled up loads of kababs and his customary mango lassi. He was really cute… he was quite hungry and every time a waiter walked past with a tray of food, he would straighten up and look at the tray hoping it was for him.

Honestly, the staff at Aappa Kadai are absolutely lovely when it came to dealing with us. We’ve never told them Karan has autism or anything, but they’ve always treated us well. And that is why I love going back. Apart from their crazy good food of course!