It’s hard not to say no to deciding what remote projects to take on, determining the pay and creating set hours. It’s true that the idea of being a freelancer is attractive, but at the same time, it requires a lot of responsibility. Freelancers run their own small business and are responsible for finding clients, getting hired for the job, and delivering work on time. Not everyone likes the idea of not having a regular paycheck, but working as a full-time freelancer has a lot of perks. Develop the management and marketing skills to go along with your set of skills and everything should fall into place. Read on to learn about some actionable tips you should apply to start a successful freelance career.
If you’re still on the fence about stepping out into the freelance world, it’s essential to get organized. Lifehack reminds us that it’s important to get your ducks in a row now as opposed to later. The last thing you want to do is start freelancing only to realize later that it wasn’t a good fit for you.
Before you quit your day job and dive into the world of freelancing, it’s important to gather together all the tools that you’ll need to succeed.
For most freelancing careers, like copywriting or graphic design, you’ll need to have an impressive portfolio if you want to convince clients to hire you. Start going through your previous work and select the pieces that you think best represent your skills to be part of your portfolio.
Then start investing in any equipment or technology that you need to complete your job, and decide where exactly you’ll work. Having a dedicated area to work (even if it’s a local coffee shop) can make a big difference for your productivity.
You’ll also want to cultivate a professional image online by having a LinkedIn profile and your own website, ideally with a blog that you update regularly.
Have a Contract for Every Project
It’s common for freelancers not to have a contract for every project, but that’s precisely what James Sowers says to avoid. Instead, he mentions how important it is to have a contract because not only will it provide a sense of guidelines for the client and freelancer; it will give you something to glance over if at some point the project gets questioned.
If you’re just beginning to learn how to freelance, let me help you avoid making one of the most common mistakes I see.
Use a contract for EVERY client project.
But, don’t get bogged down in finding the perfect contract.
Starting off with a template is okay, as long as you remember to keep making improvements along the way.
Too many freelancers get caught up in the details of contracts, and it’s ultimately wasting a lot of time that should be spent making money.
All you need for the time being is a general agreement that covers some basic, yet important terms that both you and the client need to agree upon.
In its simplest form, your contract terms should cover:
The work that you produce is original and not plagiarized.
The client’s proprietary information stays confidential.
Your payments terms. (How much you’ll get paid and when during the process.)
That once the client accepts the completed work, they accept full responsibility for any further processes in which the work is used (e.g. printing, putting the logo to use, etc.)
You and the client have the right to terminate the services, and what that entails for you both.
Set up an Accounting System
Accounting is important when you’re a freelancer and also remember that you’ll be in charge of setting aside money for taxes. The easier it is to keep track of your invoices and expenses, the better. Research which sites might be a good fit for you and your business and stick to a system that will streamline everything and make life simpler. The Balance Careers has some excellent tips on where to start:
Once you have work you will need to create an accounting system that tracks your invoices, and when you have been paid. You should also keep track of your expenses so that you can deduct them at the end of the year. This can save you on your taxes, and a good system will help you when it comes to tax time. You also need to set up a system so you can manage your irregular income. This means saving for leaner months, and making a solid financial plan so you can still reach your financial goals. Once you have worked for a year or two, you should be able to identify the times of year when you are busy and times when the work slows down, until you do this, you should budget carefully and save as much as possible.
Similar to making sure you have an accounting system in place, it’s also important to get paid and have a payment schedule in place. You can’t pay your bills without being paid! Forbes says the solution to that is setting up milestone payments. That way both you and your client will know when it’s time for payment.
It’s impossible to manage your money if you don’t have any. Unfortunately, the nature of the freelance world makes it hard to determine when money will come across your desk or hit your PayPal account.
You can get some of that control back with milestone payments. Whenever you take on a project, set up milestones. Your client will have to agree to pay each milestone payment before you move forward with the project.
Of course, you won’t need to set milestones up for small projects, but you will need to do so with large projects. That way, you can keep cash coming into your business.
This doesn’t just help you with your cash flow issue. It also helps you avoid non-payment and collections problems.
The Web is Your Best Friend
Sure, word-of-mouth is a great way to reach new clients potentially, but don’t forget how powerful the web is. You have at your fingertips social media not only in the form of Facebook but LinkedIn and email marketing. The Freelancer's Union blog says to use them both to your advantage.
While word-of-mouth is the strongest form of marketing, it’s also an unpredictable roller coaster ride. A real marketing strategy creates a streamlined approach to consistently generate relevant, quality leads — so you don’t have to worry about when your next potential client will arrive at your doorstep. For starters, dive into LinkedIn and email marketing.
It’s Okay to Say No
Saying no may be something most freelancers aren’t used to, but if you’re trying to keep your head above water and you know you can’t take on anything else James Sowers states that it’s important to be honest. Whether it’s saying no to a new job opportunity or not being able to deliver a project in a short period, express to a client that even though you can’t provide exactly when they want it doesn’t mean you won’t do your best to get it to them as soon as possible. Communicate effectively and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask for.
Saying no is hard, especially if you’re like me:
Generous and want people to feel happy working with you.
You don’t want to disappoint anyone, so you offer to help any way you can, not really considering the strenuous load it’ll put on you.
No matter what you do, you’ll disappoint someone.
Whether it be the client because you’re unable to deliver halfway through the project, your family because you’re working long hours, or yourself because you’re so stressed with the work you’ve chosen to take on.
So you must get comfortable with turning down work if it’s ultimately not for you or your availability.
To help determine if you should take on a project, ask yourself these questions:
Do I specialize in the work that’s needed by this client?
Why am I taking this project on? Is it a commitment I should be making?
Why am I adding that project to my plate?
The worst thing about taking on everything that comes your way is that your plate may end up full, but with all of the wrong commitments.
Yes, it’s important to make clients happy, but don’t be afraid to make compromises when appropriate. A client shouldn’t be demanding of your time, nor should you make unreasonable demands. There’s a way to compromise, and Honkiat blog perfectly demonstrates this below:
There’s no point getting up at 3 a.m. to discuss a project with a client, you and the client must discuss the project at a time which falls somewhere accessible by both of you. If it’s 8 a.m. your time, and 5 p.m. the client’s time, then this is still a workable time frame. A mutual compromise on timezone management is the best way to get things done in this scenario.
However if this all just seems too hard for you, focusing your marketing efforts on a handful of timezones that fall around yours can also work. By servicing a distinct array of countries which form the majority of your client base, this is not only more comfortable for you, but helpful due to the familiarity your clients are likely to have with your portfolio of previous work.
I recommend this option if you feel you need to get your feet wet, or want to build a strong semi-local client base.