I get quite a lot of emails from people out there in the big wide internet world, asking for advice on becoming a Freelancer. Rather then sending out the same emails over and over I have written a simple list of 10 things I have found most helpful in my first 2 years of full time Freelancing.
Being a Freelancer is tough but really rewarding.
You get to work your own hours, pick your own clients (if your lucky hehe), listen to music really loud and have as many tea-breaks as you like throughout the day! My most favorite thing about it however, is that you get out exactly what you put into the job. You don’t have to rely on anybody else, and if you are coming from working in a big company with a lot of people in your team… this is a pretty sweet part of the deal.
Before working for myself, I worked all over my city. Big companies, small start-ups… you name it! I was a bit of a scrag, pimping my design talents all over town. I found no matter where I went, I got let down. Either the people in my team didn’t share my passion, or the bosses in-charge were arrogant and greedy. I was always unhappy.
With the support of my amazing husband, I made the BIG decision to start out on my own and give it my BEST shot for 1 year. To my delight and surprise, my little business became a success after the first 3 months and almost 3 years later I am still going strong! Here are 8 tips for new freelancers, some heart to heart advice for those of you thinking about taking the plunge…
01. Don’t work for free.
I found charging people for my time when I was first starting out really challenging. I felt like, these people were taking a risk using me as their designer. Never work for free, charge what you feel your skills are worth to each client (what ever that price is). Never work for free as it undervalues your talent and sets a precedent for future projects.
If you really feel uncomfortable with it (maybe you don’t have a big portfolio or you just really want the experience) why not try creating your own samples? Or even better, you can volunteer your services to a non-profit organisation. That kind of work looks great on your portfolio and when it comes to asking for testimonials, the non-profit organisations should write you some glowing reviews.
02. Always take a deposit before you begin work.
Ohhhh I have been burned time and time again by this one.
Taking a deposit (I usually go with about 30% of the overall price) sets a precident. The client takes you and the job seriously from the get go. They are more invested in seeing an end to the project which means they usually answer emails and provide feedback faster! I find it also shows what clients are generally like with paying their invoices on time. If you tell them you will start work on their project as soon as they pay 30% of their invoice… and it takes them 2 weeks to pay that deposit… you kinda get an idea of how reliable this client is.
If you find it too confrontational (I used to) to ask for a deposit before work begins, make sure you always hold something back until they pay their full invoice at the end of the project. If you are designing something for them, put a watermark on it. If its a website, send them a screenshot. If its writing, ask them for payment after the draft has been approved.
03. Make sure you charge what your services are worth.
This is something I still struggle with! The internet is flooded with advice on charging what you are worth. Freelancers are told the kind of clients we attract is directly related to our rates, and it is totally true. Unfortunately it’s rare for new freelancers to even know what the going rate is, let alone what shes worth.
It’s so hard to give advice on this, the best I can say is talk to other freelancers in your niche to get an idea of what they charge. Every person is different, and your skills are worth different amounts to different clients. I recently found a great podcast on this subject, check it out!
04. Get social networking yo!
There are SO MANY social networking options out there now. Designers can use things like dribbble, instagram, twitter, facebook, behance (and so many more) to get their name out there and build a solid online reputation. Personally, I find Twitter to be the best for me.. but everybody is different.
Make friends with other freelancers in your field, get talking, give feedback, leave messages, start conversations! Show off your work, ask for constructive criticism, get some dialogue going… I get a lot of work through other freelancer referrals. I often return the favor by recommending people Ive met who I feel might be better suited to a job that has come by way. It creates a community and before you know it, you will never have to go seeking work… it will just find its way to you through word of mouth.
05. Find some good accounting software.
Again, there are A LOT of options for this out there. I use Freshbooks. From here I can send invoices, quotes, track my expenses, manage my time-frames. I can also setup online payments through Paypal. Its free for a month trial, and its like $20pmth after that for a basic setup (which is what I use). There also a really excellent app for iphones (and I’m sure for droid too) which I find super handy to check things on the go.
Which ever software you use, make sure it works for YOU! Most of them come with trial versions or times, so play around and find the one that works with your business the best.
06. Be reliable.
Something I have noticed with 90% of my clients is that they have all been burned by shitty service or results from other design companies. They have lost a lot of money on empty promises and they are hesitant to trust. I can completely understand where they are coming from because I used to work for some of them dodgy companies and it’s heartbreaking watching these businesses get screwed over by poor service.
Be better and your clients will come back.
Be better and your clients will refer you.
Be better and your clients will trust you.
If you say you will have something by a certain time, make sure you stick to it… and if for some reason you cant, CALL your client and explain why. They usually understand and will appreciate the honesty.
07. Learn how to manage your time.
Ohh this is a tough one and I could easily write a whole article on this one topic. For now though, I will split this into 2 parts:
- Get a good Work / Life balance.
As a freelancer you make you own work times and schedule… yet many of us end up working longer hours then we mean to and find that we are tied to our desks. Whats the point in freelancing if you dont love what you are doing every day? Don’t give up your life to work. Make sure you set yourself time to relax, kick back, enjoy a beer… Alot of freelancers I know find it helps to take scheduled dance / exercise classes… not me but I guess the point is to make sure you get out there and be around people. Make sure your work doesn’t over take your life.
- Be realistic about your work hours.
You will find it very hard to say no to work in the beginning, which can lead to problems with juggling your time between projects. Make sure you set time limits for your tasks and stick to them! There are LOADS of apps and websites to help with time management… have a google and find one that works for you if you feel you need it.
08. Be happy and don’t stop trying!
When it all comes down to it, you probably chose the freelancing life to get rid of drama and stress, so make sure you don’t lose sight of that. No matter what the job, make sure what you are doing makes you smile at the end of the day. Yes, things are going to get stressful at times. Yes, you ARE going to run into the odd pain-in-the-arse client.
Don’t let the little things weigh you down. Freelancers who succeed are the ones who never give up. They keep trying and take every rejection (and believe me… there will be rejection) as a sign that they need to try harder. It may take a bunch of rejections or even hundreds before you get that first freelancing assignment so be prepared and BELIEVE in yourself.
This is a post that could go on and on and on and you get the point. I’m going to leave it here but if any of you have any more questions on this subject, leave a comment below and let’s get some conversations happening!