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15 January 2018
Thinking of cutting the cord on your full-time job? To outsiders, freelancing seems like a dreamy situation: you get to work whenever you want, wherever you want (no annual leave limit!), and say sayonara to bosses and office politics. While it is as flexible and freeing as you think, it also comes with its own set of challenges. A heads up is always nice, so before you quit, arm yourself with these freelancing tips.
As a freelancer, when you don’t work, you don’t get paid. If you want to maintain your lifestyle – prosecco and Showpo purchases included – spend some time setting yourself up. Start by moonlighting as a freelancer, and building up your contact list. Tell everyone you’re making the switch, and ask them to keep you in mind for future projects. You can even offer to do some work on spec. That way, when you do venture out on your own, you’ll already have a client base to tap into, and some funds saved up.
We all have different talents – what’s yours? Rather than trying to do everything, specialise. The best freelancers know their subject area, and are always keen to learn more. If you’re a writer, write about what your friends would consider you an ‘expert’ on, whether that’s travel, fashion or finance. If you’re a designer, create a portfolio that showcases the work you’re most proud of, such as websites or eBooks. When you’re starting out, chances are you will have to take on not-so-thrilling jobs, but that’s part of the process.
Sounds superficial, but it’s not. If your workspace is dark, noisy or uninspiring, you’ll resent it. Claim a corner of the house, and doll it up with slick furniture, stationery and plants. Or mix it up! Head to a local café, or sign up to a co-working space for more of a social scene – and to avoid pouncing on your boyfriend (not in the fun way) when he comes home because you haven’t spoken to a soul all day. When the sun is shining, lap up the luxury of working while sunbaking. Freelancing comes with flexibility, so take advantage of it!
The beauty of freelancing is that you get to decide how to work. While this is a fabulous work perk, a little structure is important for productivity. Figure out when you’re most alert, and schedule your day around that. If you’re a morning person who prefers to begin work at 7am, go to Pilates at 4pm, and be tucked up by 9pm, that’s great. If your brain works better in the afternoon, start your day with admin and a leisurely walk, before buckling down to do those ‘thinking’ tasks in the afternoon and evening. As long as you get the job done, your clients won’t care what hours you work.
Know your worth, girl! Don’t fall into the trap of undercharging, because your clients will get used to that and be *shocked* when you lift your rate to reflect the quality of your work. This is a common problem, but you can prevent it by offering a slightly reduced rate at first, and bumping it up as you gain experience. While raising your rate sounds daunting, it’s easier than you think. Test the waters by sending rate reviews to a couple of clients. People will pay good money for good work, so as long as you have the skills and track record to back yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t earn more. On that note, decide how you’ll be paid beforehand (e.g. per hour), and get it in writing.
You’re running your own business, so you need to promote yourself. Carry a business card, and say yes to more events, whether they’re networking mixers, seminars, launches or happy hours. You never know where you’ll meet your next client. On the digital side, keep your website and social media up-to-date. Clients stalk, too! Make their job easier by having a portfolio on your website, and a public LinkedIn profile.
When month end is looming or Mercury is in retrograde, you may need to change your plans to accommodate clients. Sometimes, a project ends up being bigger than anticipated, and clients appreciate a freelancer who can shuffle things around. But the best freelancers prioritise, and know their limits.
When a client is bombarding you with extra requests, look at your clients as a whole. If – and only if – your highest-paying, most regular clients are okay, agree to do that work ASAP. And if there’s a client who grinds your gears every day, ask yourself: are they more trouble than they’re worth? To be a successful freelancer, you need to maintain your energy, cashflow and reputation, and you can’t do that if you’re dealing with an impossible client. Step away if you can, or actively seek out new clients (more on this soon!).
Being your own boss is empowering. There’s no doubt about that. That being said, running a business involves a lot of admin. You have to draft proposals, schedule meetings, pitch to clients, answer enquiries and send out invoices (the most satisfying part). Also, no-one is going to be on your back about starting, completing and reviewing a project to meet a deadline.
That’s where time management comes in. Maybe you set aside a half day to focus on new clients, or get that admin out of the way in the morning so you can move onto the work you’re actually paid for. Maybe you only check emails twice a day. Whatever works.
There are two ideal freelance scenarios. The first is having clients who give you regular work. The second is having your next project already lined up. To land in either of these, be proactive. When you’re mapping out your week, dedicate a few hours to approaching new clients. Set up meetings, and prepare for them like you would a job interview, because that’s what they are.
As for scoring clients who offer work on the reg, prove yourself by delivering high-quality work on time, every time, and letting them know that you’re available to take on more. Clients are busy running their businesses, and they don’t want to run through a roll call of freelancers. They just want one they can count on – hopefully, that’s you!
Words by Katia Iervasi.
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