Survival Guide for the Product Manager Freelancer

June 21, 2023
by workmade
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Essential tips and strategies for freelance Product Managers to survive and thrive in their industry.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, companies that want to stay competitive need to design, develop, and produce new products as fast as possible. Or maybe you already have a career as a freelance product manager and are looking to build your business. Accordingly, there’s a huge demand for talented product managers that can help oversea these product launches.

Freelance product management will give you much more control over your schedule, your income, and your life.

What is a Product Manager Freelancer? Overview and Role

A product manager freelancer is a professional that helps companies launch new products and take them to market. This typically involves things like high-level product strategy, overseeing employees, and developing these products on time and within budget. As a freelancer, you’ll work with multiple companies as a contractor instead of being an employee at just one company.

A few of the day-to-day responsibilities of a freelance product manager include:

  • Sales and marketing: Before hopping on a call to discuss anything product related, you’ll first need to sell your skills to the company you’re working with so that they’ll hire you and trust you to handle their product launch.
  • Product strategy: Once you’ve landed the gig, companies will often look to product manager freelancers for expertise and guidance. This includes things like market research, defining product requirements, establishing a budget, and creating product roadmaps.
  • Collaborating with team members: Once a project has begun, you’ll be expected to work closely with other team members like engineers, designers, marketers, and management.
  • Product testing and launch: After completing the product, you’ll also need to oversee testing and marketing activities. This means collaborating with different marketing teams to ensure consistent messaging and positioning of the product.
  • Client Communication: Throughout the entire process you’ll need to maintain regular communication with clients to provide updates on progress, answer questions, and address any concerns.
  • Administrative tasks: In the background, you’ll also need to handle all the administrative tasks associated with running your own business like sending invoices, keeping financial records, and paying taxes.

Pros of Product Manager Freelancing

Here are just a few of the benefits of product management freelancing:

  1. Freedom: As a freelancer, you’ll enjoy a lot more freedom than a salaried employee. This includes freedom over the projects that you want to work on, the types of companies that you work with, and how you schedule your day-to-day routine.
  1. Higher Earning Potential: You’ll also have the flexibility to negotiate higher rates for yourself and use different pricing models to increase your income. This is especially true as you gain experience and the demand for your services grows.
  1. Professional Growth: As a product manager freelancer, you’ll have the opportunity to work on many different projects which will expose you to various business models, industries, and strategies. Additionally, you’ll slowly gain a new set of skills from running your own business which includes sales, accounting, web design, and management.

Cons of Product Manager Freelancing

With that said, product management freelancing isn’t without its downsides. Here are a few of the cons:

  1. Irregular Income: Your income will be much more variable than a salaried employee. There may be periods with a high volume of work and income, but also periods of lower demand or no projects. As such, it’s crucial that you have a good handle on budgeting.
  1. Uncertainty: Freelancing comes with inherent uncertainty and the implication that you’ll have to constantly be hustling for new gigs. It can be challenging to continuously secure consistent projects and clients, especially while managing your workload from clients.
  1. Business management tasks: As a freelancer, you're not only responsible for the product management work but also for managing your own business. This includes things like marketing, sales, contract negotiations, invoicing, and administrative work. It requires additional effort and skills beyond product management.

Becoming a product manager freelancer is a highly rewarding career decision. But, it comes with a lot of work that’s not directly related to the work that you do for clients. That’s part of the reason why why we started WorkMade

WorkMade offers product manager freelancers a helping hand by automating most of the administrative side of your business like invoicing, accounting, and managing expenses. This way, you can focus on providing value to your clients while putting the rest of your business on autopilot.

Finding Gigs

Becoming a product manager freelancer is one of the few freelancing careers that likely requires corporate experience. Before deciding to make the jump to a full-time freelancer, you’ll want to make sure that you developed the essential skills and gained practical experience in your field. 

If you already feel confident in your skills then there are a few steps you’ll want to take to start your career as a freelancer:

  1. Determine your niche, services, and rates: It will be your responsibility to clearly define the industry that you work in, your services, and how much to charge. We’ll cover this in more detail in the next section. 
  1. Create a portfolio: You’ll want to create a portfolio or website so that clients can get an idea of your skills and experience. Creating a resume and LinkedIn page is a good start. But, ideally, you’ll want to develop your own website to go more in-depth. 
  1. Market yourself: Once you’ve got these pieces in place, you’ll need to develop a strategy for marketing your skills. This could involve tasks like using LinkedIn Sales Navigator to reach clients directly, attending relevant conferences, contributing to industry publications, or using freelancer websites.

When it comes to listing your services on freelancing websites, some of the best places to start are:

As a final step, you should also let your professional network know about your new gig by posting on sites like LinkedIn, Polywork, and even your other social media pages. This might seem like an obvious step. But, you’d be surprised by how many clients could come from people that you already know.

Deciding Your Rate

The rates that you’re able to charge as a freelance product manager will ultimately depend on your experience, skillset, and ability to market your skills. With that said, there are a few common ways to set your rate:

Hourly - You get paid X amount per hour until the project is completed.

Pros: This is a very common way to charge clients and makes it easy to forecast your earnings. 

Cons: It punishes you for completing projects quickly and efficiently. 

Per project - You get paid X amount when the project is completed, regardless of how long it takes. This can also be broken down into smaller deliverables or milestones for bigger projects.

Pros: This method makes it easier to charge higher prices and experiment with new pricing models.

Cons: Many projects can last months from start to finish which makes it difficult to assign one value to the completion of the project.

Retainer - You get paid X amount per day/week/month and agree to work a set amount of hours for that time period.

Pros: This allows you to bill upfront and lets you know that consistent revenue is coming in every month.

Cons: These deals have more moving parts and are a little bit harder to negotiate. This strategy is typically better for more seasoned freelancers working with bigger companies.

With these strategies in mind, remember that you can also shake up how you charge depending on the project at hand. For example, if a project is fairly straightforward and will take several months then it might make sense to charge hourly to secure consistent income. But, if a client has a huge need to bring a product to market in a short period of time then you can switch to a lump sum and charge a higher rate to compensate for the short deadline. Finally, it’s also a good idea to continuously experiment with new pricing models to see what works well and what doesn’t.

Getting Paid

Regardless of which pricing model you choose, you’ll also need to be responsible for making sure that clients pay you on time. Here are a few of the most common ways to do that: 

  1. Set up a routine payment schedule: Get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Since most companies are designed to send out payments bi-weekly, it’s easiest just to follow this schedule.
  1. Per Deliverable: Get paid when the project is completed. For larger projects, you can also break this down in smaller increments and get paid whenever you’ve submitted the most recent deliverable.
  1. Upfront/Retainer: Get paid for a pre-determined amount of work upfront and commit to a set work schedule over the following weeks/months.

While getting paid is always the best part of the job, it can also add quite a bit of additional work to your schedule. This is because getting paid requires creating, sending, and following up on invoices, setting aside money for taxes, and keeping track of your income/expenditures. 

However, if you use WorkMade then we can automate all of these tasks for you.

Sending contracts

As a product manager freelancer, it’s typically a good idea to start using contracts when signing a new client. A contract is a great way to set put the negotiated agreement and help keep all parties on the same page. Without a contract in place, it can be easy for the client’s expectations to shift over time.

Additionally, having a contract in place will help protect you in the event that a client attempts to back out and not pay you for your services.

Managing Taxes

While being a freelancer comes with plenty of benefits, it also comes with one major downside: you’ll have to manage and file your own taxes. If the thought of doing your own taxes makes you break out into a cold sweat then consider checking out WorkMade. We can automate the tax process for you while also making the most of your deductions. 

  1. Saving for taxes - You’ll need to put aside a portion of each payment your receive to help cover your tax bill. If you don’t, then you’ll get hit with a huge tax bill at the end of each quarter.
  1. Quarterly payments - Additionally, since you’re technically considered a business now, you’ll be responsible for paying taxes each quarter as opposed to just once a year.
  1. Writing off expenses - Finally, you’ll need to make sure that you’re deducting all of your relevant business expenses so that you can minimize your tax obligations. 

The bright side of paying your own taxes is that you’ll be able to capitalize on the number of deductions that you can claim to reduce your tax bill. Let’s examine that in more detail.

Common Tax Write-offs

A tax write-off, or tax deduction, is a business expense that you’re legally allowed to deduct from your income. Some of the most common tax deductions for freelancers include:

  • Health insurance payments
  • Technology and software
  • Home office expenses
  • Advertising and marketing costs

So, if you’re currently paying for any of these expenses out of pocket then you can legally deduct them from your income to pay less in taxes.

For example, let’s say that you brought in $110,000 last year as a product manager freelancer. If you didn’t know about tax write-offs then you’d be on the hook to pay tax on all $110,000. But, if you know that you had $20,000 in relevant business expenses (like health insurance payments, home office supplies, etc.) then you can subtract them from your income. This way, you’d only pay tax on $90,000, instead of $110,000.

This process can get a little confusing when it comes to determining what is or isn’t a legitimate expense. That’s why so many freelancers just use WorkMade, which can file taxes on your behalf while also maximizing your deductions.

Each individual and business tax situation is different and unique so WorkMade does not provide specific tax advice, only supplying general information based on information published by various taxing authorities, which may change over time.

Best Apps for Product Manager Freelancers

In order to get your freelancing career up and running, you’ll need to use a wide array of tools. Here are a few of the best tools for product manager freelancers:

  1. Trello: Product manager freelancing involves a ton of coordination with different stakeholders across the organization. So, you better have a good project management tool in place. Trello is one of our favorites because it includes boards, lists, and cards to organize tasks, prioritize work, and facilitate team collaboration.
  2. Slack: This real-time communication and collaboration tool lets you chat with colleagues individually or create different groups to make sure that your entire team stays in the loop at all times.
  3. Miro: This digital whiteboard and visual collaboration platform helps with brainstorming, wireframing, user journey mapping, and collaborative design
  4. Google Workspace: From Google Docs, Sheets, Analytics, or Trends you’ll likely spend a ton of time within Google’s expansive suite of business tools.
  5. Jira - A platform by Atlassian that lest you plan, track, and manage development projects. We also are big fans of Linear.
  6. WorkMade - When it comes to running the back end of your freelancing business, WorkMade is a must-have for invoicing clients, getting paid, and managing your cash flow.

We hope that you’ve found this survival guide valuable when it comes to starting or growing your career as a freelance product manager! 

If you’re pursuing a career as a freelancer, or are already a successful freelancer, then you’ll want to learn more about how WorkMade can help you get paid, file your taxes, and find tax write-offs.

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