Meet Balach Hussain, a product management consultant, founder and podcaster based in Berlin! He’s been a CodeControl member since April 2022 for four months, and he recently joined us for an amazing Ask Me Anything session to share his freelancing experience with us. He gave us valuable tips about important freelancer qualities, networking, time management, mindfulness, and dealing with the failure of a project.
✨ Hi Balach, can you describe to us the moment when you told yourself you would be a freelancer?
Good question! I’ve thought about it a couple of times during my career, but I was lucky to have jobs that were interesting enough, so I kept them going. But last year was a moment where I was about to quit one of my jobs, and then somebody got in touch about a potential freelance project and I thought, why not? We talked, and I thought, this could actually be a thing, giving me a bit more control over my time and earnings. That job didn’t work out. But soon after, somebody else got in touch and I got started as a freelancer. Originally I thought I would do it just for that one gig, but now it makes sense.
✨ Was there any moment during this process of deciding to quit your job and freelance, where you questioned whether it was the right idea? Can you tell us more about any doubts that you had?
I believe I had the same doubts that probably anyone else would have had. I asked myself: What happens after this project ends? As a freelancer, you mostly have a notice period of two weeks, a month or less with a job. As an employee in Germany, it’s often three months. I realized I had to line up something new after that job. I had doubts whether I was going to be able to achieve continuity. But I was excited enough by the perspective of learning and working with different teams to get over that doubt.
✨ When changing teams, how did you manage to understand new people and find a common language with them? Do you have any tips for that?
As a freelancer, you often get hired when a company really needs you urgently. When you join, you can get busy super fast, much faster than in a normal job. The question of how you build a relationship and get to know the people while getting to work fast, is very important. I think that if I don’t know the people, I will probably not be able to do my best job. Knowing people gets things done faster, because we work in a collaborative industry. I always take extra time to talk to as many people as I can. If there’s a company event, I will try to make time for that. Even if my normal day doesn’t bring me in contact with everyone, I will make contact on my own initiative.
✨ Is this something that applies to all freelancers, or is it particularly important for product managers as yourself? And what other skills do you think are important for PMs?
Being a PM is a lot about communication. Of course, you also have clear, concrete things to do, but a lot of it is about relating everything to other people, so they get on the same page. That’s where the work actually happens. If they don’t understand it, nothing gets done. So it helps to talk to these people and get to know them, not just in work meetings. But even if you’re for example a backend developer working in a niche language, it makes sense to connect. You will maybe come across the people in other companies, maybe they will give you references. If you’re an introvert and this is hard for you, a job is the best possible scenario. You are contracted to work with these people anyway, so talk to them. I had to develop this skill myself, because I realized how important relationships are.
✨ You have a lot of projects going on, with your podcasts and your own company. How do you have time to work as a freelancer, where you also manage projects and teams? Do you have tools or hacks to keep yourself on track?
Around the same time that I got into Product Management, I also got into mindfulness. It was something that helped me focus my attention. I did a regular training for one year and a half, and then it started to integrate into the rest of my life. I learned to deal with stress and to recover faster. That way I was able to free a lot of energy and put that into learning. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for anybody. Even if you don’t go to the spiritual side, you can use it as an exercise. Plus, if you do things that energize you, you can do so much more, and it doesn’t exhaust you.
✨ How do you manage your time, how do you plan your day?
I have about four calendars now, and I connect them with all my Google Calendars on my phone. So I see everything that is happening on all these different levels. I also have a little Kanban board where I have things to be done, in progress, and done. I take a look at it every morning, I see what really is important for that day, and I make space for that. If you want to organize your day, find your tool, whatever that is. Find a way to know what is important for that day. If you know that, you will most likely get it done.
✨ Have you ever had to have a conversation with a boss or a client where they were unhappy with the project outcomes, and you had to explain it to them? How did that go?
Yes, there have been projects that didn’t come to fruition, or the result was not as grandiose as we expected. Having those conversations also allows you to move on. Just be as honest as you can. Never think that it reflects on any one person, because nothing gets done by one person anyway. There are always several factors, so it’s a really good exercise to go through that and see what those factors were, so you don’t repeat them.
✨ What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your fellow CodeControlers?
Serve before you earn. Create disproportionate value. I think it’s something that we all need to think about. I’m part of this network, right? It’s not just my reputation, it’s the reputation of the network. It’s future references, it has an impact on future earnings. You don’t have to destroy your life for a project, but see if you can create more value. Serve before you earn, and the earnings will always be ten times more in the future.
✨ Thank you, Balach!
Check out the full video here to get insights from Balach about being a founder, book and talk recommendations, and to learn more about his podcasts.
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