Fast forward to 50 years from now and the majority of the working world may be telecommuting (if their positions haven’t been already filled by robots). Progressives are already preparing for the inevitable by ditching their day jobs in favor of a global office they can access right from home. While forging a career path from scratch is a noble pursuit, it’s not without its struggles. Trust me, I’ve been chain-free for some years now and although it goes against every grain inside this comfort-craving Cancer, I’m happy to report that the pros still outweigh the cons. It helps to have a mentor to guide you down the road less traveled, so let me spill some secrets (or not-so secrets, as there are a plethora of articles and blogs dedicated to the subject – study up, kids!) I’ve learned from experience.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for newbie freelancers:
1. Don’t undersell yourself.
Being a freelancer means you don’t have an employer to worry about stuff like gear and ink and wear and tear on your laptop. Before you even lay down that letter of resignation, keep in mind that you are no longer just the creative. Now you’re the Boss Lady (or Dude). Take that paycheck, figure out how much you’re putting into your IRA, coughing up for health insurance and taxes (remember those two may change drastically once you go solo). Got it? OK, then think about how much you’ll need to set aside for office supplies, how much it would cost to replace all your fun, techie devices, software, subscriptions, etc. etc. etc. You get the picture. Now you’ll need to factor all of those new expenses into your rates. Don’t know your rates? Figure it out. Create a rate sheet and try to stick to it. You’ll be tempted to adjust your rates during negotiations, so it may be helpful for you to consider discounts for friends, family, nonprofits, etc. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in a situation where you can’t afford the essentials.
2. Qualify your clients.
You’ll learn quickly that your time is valuable and it’s a commodity that everyone will want to take from you but not one everyone can afford. Save yourself the hassle of spinning your wheels creating proposals and doling out free advice for potential clients that don’t value you. Instead, offer a paid evaluation that helps both you and your potential client determine if moving forward together is a commitment you both can make.
3. Set a realistic schedule.
You may dream of reclining poolside with your laptop, sunglasses perched on your nose, an ice cold beverage within reach. While you’ll definitely have more flexibility than you would anchored to a 9-to-5, remember that you’re still working – and not just on your assignments. In the beginning, you’ll be working to grow your business and/or clientele. You’ll be setting budgets and doing super mundane things like tracking hours and expenses in spreadsheets and getting your social media game up-to-snuff (#hardwork #totaltimesuck #dealwithit). Don’t waste that precious, precious time. Set a realistic schedule (that includes breaks!) and discipline yourself to keep it. Doing so will also help provide a much-needed sense of normality when your regular routine goes the way of the Dodo
4. Brand yourself.
In the beginning, you may feel tempted to take any and every job offer that falls into your lap – whether or not it’s in your actual wheelhouse. Ideally, you’ve already built up a client list from your full-time days. Not everyone is so lucky, though. It’s okay to be hungry for a bit – taking random side jobs – especially if you’re just getting started and trying to find your niche. Pretty quickly, however, you’re going to need to pin-point exactly what makes you stand out from all the other freelancers in your field. Be specific. Then, build your brand around your special skill(s). Once your brand is established you can move on to marketing yourself.
5. Build relationships.
Notice I didn’t type “network.” Building relationships doesn’t mean going to a few mixers with other thirsty people looking for the same clientele you’re trying to reach. It means get beyond all the B.S. and really get to know people. You’d be surprised what gold you can glean from others. Besides, you never know when that dog walker you’ve been texting decides to expand his business and needs a website built, a logo designed, or a headshot taken. So get out of the house, fellow freelancer, and go therefore into the real world. Meet new people, chat up old people, whatever you do – just don’t isolate. You’ll need those friends when you’ve spent a week straight in your flat working on projects!