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Being your own boss isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, my friend. Yes, you can work from your cave in your comfiest Y-fronts and sandals, and you can take a matcha tea break at any time, but like any job, freelancing comes with pros and cons.
Becoming a freelancer often appears tempting. A new fancy title (Founder, CEO, Guru – whatever you so desire), choosing the work you take on, and avoiding the same daily routine naturally has its perks. There are plenty of ‘become a freelancer and get rich quick!’ ‘training’ courses out there too, that sell the great bits of freelancing while skimming over the realities that come with it. Don’t be fooled!
Freelance opportunities are available in a huge number of industries, and the worldwide web has made it easier than ever to get your name out there. However, no amount of previous work experience will prepare you for freelancing if you don’t have those all-important qualities to make it pay big shekels.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone. You need certain personality traits, like tenacity and a thick skin, to help you succeed. If you’re thinking of turning to freelancing, check that you have most of these:
To go freelance, your organisational skills have to be pretty fabulous. The buck will rest entirely on you, so there’ll be no one to delegate to when you realise a two-hour job is going to take five. On top of the work you’ve agreed to, you’ll have to make time to look for new work, chase any money you’re owed and keep the taxman informed. Oh, and you may just want a life on top of this.
People often like the idea of freelancing because they won’t have to work in an office and be sociable with others. So be aware, freelancers need to keep any natural shyness for non-working hours, and be prepared to meet and/or speak with total strangers on a whim. You’ll need to go further than producing great work, delivered on time – some clients will see you as an extension of their office staff, and forming professional friendships gains trust. Asking how Presley’s sports day went is a good place to start.
Be prepared for rejection slips or a total lack of response to work you’ve pitched. It won’t matter if your proposed work is absolute genius – there can be all sorts of reasons for not being chosen. Life can be subjective and you’ve just gotta move on. Take it on the chin and the quicker you get onto the next freelance proposal, the more successful you’ll be in the long run. Freelancers need to accept rejection as nothing more than part of the daily grind. Ho-hum.
Your cosy futon may need to go on the back-burner for a while, especially when you’re getting started. Some jobs will overrun, or a great last-minute opportunity may present itself. With no job security, you’ll need to take on and complete jobs, regardless of the unsociable hours. At first, the feast-and-famine cycle of work can feel overwhelming – but once you start getting repeat customers, this evens out and you can have more of a routine.
Brilliant original ideas need to erupt from you like water from a fountain. Regardless of your chosen field, you’ll be competing with some genius freelancers and your proposals need to stand out from the crowd. Always have a plan B, just in case your first idea hits snags along the way. And preferably, have a plan C up your velvet sleeve too.
Be prepared to shift your life interests around work. Until you’re well-known and get regular work coming in, as a freelancer you can’t afford to turn work down. Whenever the call comes, you’ll need to be ready to hit the ground running, even if this means missing your weekly yoga class. You might even have to forego holidays for a while. Inhale deeply – it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Unless you have a string of trusted contacts when you start out, you’ll be starting off as a complete unknown. You can’t afford to simply put your name out there and wait for your ship to come in. No, you have to row out to meet your boat. Attend events, mingle with other freelancers and potential employers, and approach companies directly for work in areas you can demonstrate your expertise in. Make the most of online opportunities, too: your own basic website is a good start, and you can join freelance groups on Twitter and Facebook to meet like-minded entrepreneurs. These people are your support network: they understand your struggles. They can also be your referral network: web developers need copywriters, social media freelancers need graphic designers. Get involved in conversations!
One often-heard complaint from freelancers is that they have either too much or too little to do. Months of 60-hour working weeks may be followed by long periods without a single scrap of freelance work. You’ll need to stay positive, be patient, and keep working on the next breakthrough. A man who is master of patience is master of everything else.
Freelancing can be a lonely job. In many industries, the work will have to be completed by you, and you alone. If the thought of staying in the house for days on end with only Patchouli the cat for company makes you quiver, freelancing simply may not be for you. You could think about joining a coworking space – but remember, the other freelancers and small businesses are there to work, not chat all day long to help you procrastinate!
Even high-level non-freelance jobs don’t compare to the level of multitasking required by a freelancer. You’ll be boss of your enterprise, the marketing department, customer service rep and accountant, to name but four. Changing roles several times on a daily basis and having to be expert in each can leave some freelancers not knowing who they are anymore.
Have an idea of what clients you want and how you want to go about getting them, but be aware that it may not happen overnight. It may take weeks or even months to find the right clients. Be prepared to play the long game but always keep your goals in sight.
So, you’re confident you have what it takes to go freelance. What to do next? In many ways, going freelance needs the same preparation you would put into starting any new business. Approach it in this way and you’ll put yourself in the best position to succeed.
The appeal of working from home can quickly become stale when you don’t get to leave the house for days at a time. Sort out an official workspace (even if this is your boudoir – we all start somewhere) and purchase any essentials before you begin. Everything should be on permanent stand-by for that first job.
Create a weekly schedule from the off. Even if the first few weeks contain nothing but lists of people to contact and networking events, it all counts towards your freelance work.
Get into a routine. Set your alarm and get ready as if you’re going to work. Sitting in your jammies might seem like a good idea but after a while, it can make you feel inactive and lazy.
If you can, make sure you have a desk and a comfortable chair. Your sofa and a laptop is the cheaper option, sure – but your bad back will complain about it. Remember to protect your digital interests as part of your office, too: use a separate hard drive to regularly back up your files, invest in a universal power supply to protect your desktop computer, and make sure you have comprehensive anti-virus software to protect your (and your clients’) data.
Given the competitive nature of most industries, you’ll need to find a niche so you stand out from the crowd. Research others in your field, decide how you’re going to pitch yourself and create a brand to get noticed. Work out your rates and be flexible. Clients may price jobs in different ways, from hourly rates to total work delivered.
Before starting on your freelancing adventure, you’ll need to take stock of your financial situation. Ensure everything freelance-related is accounted for, from heart-shaped Post-it Notes and travel costs, right down to the Fairtrade coffee you drink whilst working.
You’ll also need to work out how long you can survive without a job coming in. Taking out a personal loan or applying for a credit card with a low APR may be one way you can manage your start-up costs and supercharge your freelancing career.
You should also remember to inform the taxman and let him know your plans.
If you’re just starting out, finding a mentor or role model who also freelances might be just what you need. Ask them, how did you go about freelancing? How did you get your clients? How long does the work last for? Build a rapport with the individual and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. They may even be able to help you with finding work so it’s worth seeing if there is anyone. Have a look on LinkedIn for people you could approach.
Go forth and set up your laptop on the kitchen table. Good luck and may you prosper.
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