Changing Careers: A Seasoned Freelancer Discusses the Lessons He Learned in 2017

By Jackie Lam, Contributor, on February 19, 2018

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For Oz Chen, 2017 was a year of transition. Chen, a digital publisher on UX design and content strategy, decided to begin the process of changing careers. After discovering that his passion lies in writing about UX and content marketing, he worked to build these skills — shifting his efforts to creating and selling online courses.

“I’ve always enjoyed writing and knew how powerful words and language were,” says Chen. “But I never thought I could make a living from it.” That changed in the spring of 2016, when the major financial company Chen worked for as a UX designer completely shut down its digital department. Instead of looking for another full-time job, Chen decided to try freelancing. This decision was partially driven by the success of a particular course on his site, UX Beginner. “While I wasn’t making all my income from my online course, earning revenue from something I created gave me the confidence to freelance.”

Fast forward to 2017. After juggling both freelancing as a UX designer and working on his two sites, UX Beginner and Oz Chen, Chen decided to focus entirely on developing online courses in both UX design and content strategy.

Here’s what Chen learned this past year that helped him grow professionally and financially:

Dial Down Your Spending

Even though he decided to pursue less outside freelance work to focus on what he was most passionate about, Chen was able to maintain the same standard of living while making about half of what he made in 2016. “I’m not a big spender as it is, so I didn’t have to go into my savings or spend much less,” says Chen. In fact, he managed to go on a two-month trip to South America earlier this year, even on a reduced income. If you’re typically a big spender and looking to make a career transition, take the time to evaluate your budget and cut down any unnecessary costs.

Surround Yourself With Like-Minded Individuals

Recently, Chen joined a mastermind group, which meets weekly. This group is made up of online course producers who specialize in different niches, including product management, SEO, analytics and personal finance. So far, this group has benefited the freelancer in two major ways: It keeps Chen accountable to his goals and deadlines on his own projects, and feedback from the group helps him clarify and narrow down his focus on his product. Plus, it’s a great medium to share advice, resources and tools. “It can be hard to get objective feedback on your own projects,” says Chen. “And externalizing my thought process and strategy to someone else has helped so much.”

Focus on the Right Things

While Chen provided free 15-minute consultations to increase his leads, he veered away from one-on-one coaching to solely creating digital products. “There’s a lot to be said about focus and how that can impact your income,” says Chen. “I realized I had to choose one.” Instead of working on his portfolio and prepping for interviews, Chen’s recent goals included releasing his two digital products — an advanced online course in UX design and content strategy — and shifting most of his efforts to his personal development site.

Attract More Attention

In 2017, Chen focused on writing consistently on his site to establish his niche, develop his personal brand and build an audience. After all, producing more content is one of the best ways to get noticed. “At its core, branding is saying the same thing over and over again,” says Chen. The indy committed to writing one post a week during the last few months of the year, and he plans on branching out to different topics.

Save for the Black Swans

As Chen explains, a black swan is something that’s very risky, but can change everything. A black swan is very rare, but when it comes around, it can be a total game changer. This year, Chen shuffled some money from his savings to a Roth IRA, but also invested in cryptocurrency and a peer-to-peer online lending platform. After doing some research, he found that the average yield for a particular online lending platform was 6 percent and was FDIC insured. “I figured, why not?” says Chen. “If I lose, there’s a minimal loss, but there’s a potential for huge gain.”

Keep Your Auto Contributions Intact

When Chen became a full-time freelancer, he was tempted to stop automatic contributions to his savings, retirement and investments because he assumed he needed more money without really digging into how he was spending it. However, he quickly realized that this was not the right financial decision. “It felt better to make do with what I had instead of putting auto contributions on halt,” says Chen. “In addition to the financial benefits — such as the tax-advantaged accounts like a Roth IRA — there’s a psychological benefit knowing that I’m consistently putting money away.”

Make the Change

In 2017, Chen recognized where his passions were and pivoted professionally. The best part? He didn’t have to sacrifice too much financially. By living on less, he was able to continue making contributions to his savings accounts. Chen is proof that it’s totally possible to keep your finances and budget intact when you’re changing careers.

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