How to become a freelancer

It’s a huge step going from working for the man to being in control of your own time and work, so here is some advice on how to become a freelancer.

Start slowly

If you can, become a freelancer while you have at least a part time job. You can take your time, do good work and pick your clients this way instead of taking on every crap project that comes your way for low rates because you’re desperate to pay your rent.

If you’re going to go freelance full time, try and get a few months living expenses in the bank first as a buffer. This will give you some time to get things up and running properly, but you still need to be making enough money to get by quickly if you want this freelance business to be sustainable. Believe me, being critically stressed while trying to be creative is not a good place to be.

Choose your services

It’s tempting to offer everything to everyone at first, but you’re better off focusing on what you’re good at AND what you can make good money doing. If you’re starting off slowly, you can have some confidence in yourself and your abilities and take on great projects that will help you build your freelance career.

This is a business too, so focus on the profitable services and projects to make sure you can keep this going. It’s tempting to just do the fun stuff now you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you want to set aside time to work on fun things or do pro bono work for people that’s fine, but do it in a measured way after you’ve hit your targets to pay your bills and save some money each month.

The Business Model Canvas can help you work out what to offer, who to offer it to and how to reach them.

Build a portfolio

A good way to get your portfolio started is to do a couple of free projects for people you like, who you think will appreciate your work and who will give you a testimonial. Having some projects to show prospective clients makes it so much easier to sell them your time as they can see what you’re capable of.

Charities and other non-profit organisations often appreciate your volunteering your time to do things that could go on your portfolio. Be careful you don’t end up working with highly disorganised people or time vampires on projects that will never see the light of day however.

If you can’t find any people to do work for to build your portfolio, make some things for imaginary companies or brands to demonstrate your skills.

Get organised

Even if you do a few gigs for free, you’ll be taking money from people soon so you may as well set up a business bank account and work out how you’re going to invoice people. I set up a TSB business account in my lunch break from work one day, and as I wasn’t asking for any credit it was easy and painless. It costs me £5 a month after the free startup period. Other banks may offer business banking for free too.

I started off sending invoices made in MS Word, with the filename the client name and invoice number: “0001 – John Smith”. I now use an automated billing system but this lo-fi approach got me up and running.

There are other systems like Harvest, Invoicely etc if you want to go the cloud route from the start. A system that chases overdue invoices automatically will save you a lot of time emailing people.

If you’re doing complicated stuff, a project management system can help. You can probably handle things by email to start with though.

Have at least a simple contract and terms in place when you take on a project and take some money up front to weed out the time wasters. The freelancer subs on Reddit are full of people moaning about being ripped off because they didn’t do this. Do this.

Getting freelance clients

This can be the trickiest part of how to become a freelancer. You first need to find people who need what you can offer, and then you need to sell yourself to them.

Finding clients can tie in to what services you decide to offer. I went for web design as it’s a huge market and people often need upgrades etc over time. Pretty much everyone with a small business is a potential client for me.

If you’re still working a day job and freelancing on the side, when people ask you what you do, try telling them your freelance job first. Many jobs come via word of mouth referrals and this can be a good way of kickstarting things.

Networking can be a good way to meet potential new clients, as well as asking your contacts if they know anyone who needs your services they could introduce you to. Offering referral fees has consistently brought me enough work that I haven’t ever paid to advertise anywhere.

Often overlooked is contacting people you want to work with directly or via your network. Being able to work with businesses or people you have chosen is powerful as you may find your motivation and enjoyment levels higher than working with randoms.

There are paid advertising methods like Facebook ads and Google Adwords but I found they brought low quality enquiries that rarely turned into profitable projects.

Agencies can be a good way of building freelance skills and contacts. You will be working for bosses again, but day rates can be attractive and meeting people in your industry can be very useful.

At the bottom of the pile are freelance marketplaces like freelancer.co.uk, upwork etc. If you’re freelancing in a developed country, you’ll be up against other freelancers in India, the Phillipines etc who can massively undercut you. There are good projects on these sites but the time investment might not be worth it.

Selling yourself might seem a foreign concept if you’ve been working a day job. If you are good at what you do and clear about what you can offer, with a portfolio of similar work, your services should sell themselves.

Stating your prices can be hard at first, but stick with it and don’t negotiate against yourself by offering discounts. I strongly believe that doing that and being unclear about your offering is what hampers many freelancers. Act confidently (even if you don’t feel it) and don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal or if you get a weird feeling about a client.

Deliver the work

To be successful, you need to finish the projects you take on and deliver what’s been agreed. This is very important to build your reputation. If you flake out and deliver late or not at all, that person is very unlikely to recommend you. Be reliable.

Summary

In this articles on how to become a freelancer, we’ve covered starting off slowly while working a day job, choosing your services, building a portfolio, getting organised, finding clients and delivering the work. Hopefully by following this guide you can start off your freelance career with as little stress as possible!

“Deep Work” and how it will help your freelance business

In this blog we’ll discuss the concept of ‘Deep Work’, why it’s important to your freelance work and offer some tips on how to actually do this Deep Work.

What is deep work?

Deep Work is a term coined by author Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”. It’s the opposite of being distracted by phones, emails and social media – focusing on one task for a period of time. With multitasking a myth and just meaning doing more than one thing in a less effective way, and the ‘cognitive switching penalty‘ putting us back to square one, deep work is a single focus to produce better results.

Why is deep work important for a freelancer?

As a freelancer our time is valuable. We may be getting paid by the hour or by the task, and either way we need to get on with the important paid tasks as we’re not getting a salary to turn up and sit at a desk as is the case with many jobs. It’s a rare company that accurately monitors productivity and its easy to coast if we’re not feeling like working hard when on a salary. As a freelancer, wasted time is costing you money.

If you’re doing any kind of creative pursuit, getting into the right mindset is vital to do your best work. Settling down for a few hours can mean the difference between a blank page and a great result that your clients are delighted with.

Close the browser, put down your phone, and roll up your fucking sleeves. The creative process takes time, effort, and courage—not Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
https://goodfuckingdesignadvice.com/

How can you do deep work?

Doing Deep Work is a case of focusing solely on what you’re doing. To this end, you will need to remove all other distractions. This could be your phone, email program, TV, kids or whatever else is taking your attention away from your task. This can be scary at first, with worries about people not being able to contact you and that fear of missing out. The more you put time aside to focus on work however, the more you realise that people can (usually) wait and that the world will still be there in a couple of hours.

This concept fits well with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Getting Things Done approach – choosing the most important tasks and getting them finished before allowing distractions and other peoples agendas to dictate your actions.

If it’s too much to focus for an entire morning, start off with say 30 minutes to complete a smaller task. The Pomodoro technique can be helpful with this.

If your job is not online, turning off your internet can help focus you on the task at hand instead of checking social media or emails or browsing random fluff instead of getting on with your work.

I also keep a note taking app open while working so I can dump any stray thoughts into that and deal with them later.

Summary

In this article we’ve discussed what Deep Work is, how it will benefit your freelance work and offered some tips on how to actually achieve this Deep Work in daily life.

This Month in Freelancing: May 2018

It’s been an interesting month to be a freelancer. With the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) coming into effect today, it presents challenges to freelancers and many businesses are struggling to come to terms with what’s required of them.

Meeting the GDPR as a Freelancer

I’ve had to upgrade my billing and support system to come into line with the new rules and allow people to export or delete their accounts. I’ve also had to update my WordPress website software to allow for technical aspects of ensuring people contacting me to agree to my privacy policy, and for people to opt-out of Google Analytics cookies.

Reading up on the new rules, updates to my privacy/cookie policy and sending out one last Mailchimp newsletter (about GDPR..) and then deleting my Mailchimp list have all taken time away from paid work. Thinking through all the systems I use and what data I have stored has led to a good clean out on the project management system and backup system.

Dealing With Client Enquiries Around GDPR

Alongside all the work to make my own business compliant, there has been a surge of enquiries from clients about making their own website GDPR compliant. These are difficult to deal with as I’m not a lawyer and don’t want to take on liability for advising people about the GDPR laws. In many instances it’s been a case of asking them to read up on the rules to make sure they understand how it affects their wider business processes and updating their privacy policies. I’ve then been making small changes to their websites, installing SSL certificates and updating software.

Some clients are looking to outsource the whole GDPR thing and when I’ve not taken that on, they have gone elsewhere. I’ve seen local freelancers and agencies offering to write privacy policies etc which sets off alarm bells in my head. If the clients don’t understand the GDPR enough to get involved, they could be in trouble down the line. The freelancers and agencies are sailing close to the wind as well as they could be liable for any challenges made to their clients.

I’ve also seen some enterprising individuals selling “GDPR compliance toolkits” for a few hundred quid, who knows what they actually contain and how legally accurate they are…

This has been a test of my resolve to only offer what I’m qualified and comfortable in offering as a freelancer. Saying ‘No’ is difficult but it’s important to me to focus on what I’m good at and to not get involved in tricky legal related issues that could have serious implications for me and the client both.

Other freelance challenges this month

I’ve had a dose of Imposter Syndrome this month about my design skills, which has made producing new design work tricky. By feeding the creative part of my brain and looking at lots of inspiration I’ve got back on track – as well as benefiting from some advice that said “Have a f*cking concept”.

Being asked to do free work and people wanting things RIGHT NOW keeps cropping up, and while I can push back to protect my time and focus on scheduled work this often leaves me feeling drained and negative. Some NLP coaching from Joe at Prometheus has helped with this.

I’ve also heard from a friend who has started working from home and that’s given me an idea for a blog about the social aspects of freelancing or home-working. Keeping regular social contact is important and co-working can help with that, as well as stopping us going feral and sitting around in our pyjamas all day.

Finding Freelance Work – Marketplaces, your network and referrals

When you’re first starting off, you will need to find the best ways of finding freelance work for your industry. There are various ways of finding new projects to work on and this will be a quick rundown of the different ways to do so.

Freelance Marketplaces

There are websites like freelancer.co.uk, upwork and various niche marketplaces for web design, marketing, 3D design etc. You can often add yourself as a service provider and people can find you by keyword search, or you can search jobs posted to some sites and pitch for those projects.

While this can be a quick way to get started, there are a few downsides.

  1. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you won’t have any reviews on these sites and may find it hard to get new projects.
  2. You will be up against people working in countries with lower cost of living. This difference in costs means that if you’re in a Western country, you will be getting undercut by people in India, Thailand etc. While some people might say they are cheap because they aren’t very good, that’s often not the case and the difference in currency means people can employ excellent freelancers from other countries at a fraction of what we might charge.
  3. The platform will take a cut of your profits and may not pay you straight away. This can be damaging to your cashflow and you may end up working hard and getting paid much later. Ideally you’ll be taking deposits for work so you’re getting paid part of the fee up front and this might not be possible if you’re working through a freelance platform.

Your Network

Depending on what you do and how you’d like to work, either contracting or working from home, you might now people who work for companies or agencies that need some help when they get busy. Don’t be shy – let your professional contacts know you’re available for freelance work and a rough idea of your day rate.

Here are some good tips from Sophie de Albuquerque on how to build your network as a freelancer

Referrals

This is the number one way I have built up my freelance web design work. Offering a referral fee encourages people to pass your details on to their contacts. As long as you take on work you can effectively deliver, your network of referrers will grow over time and you might not need to do any kind of marketing!

Summary

We’ve looked at three main ways of finding freelance work in this article – Freelance marketplaces, your network and referrals. I’ve found referrals to be the most effective way of building my freelance business without having to do other forms of marketing.

Freelancing With Confidence

It’s scary setting up on our own as freelancers and trying to attract clients. Certainly in the early stages this can lead to us offering all kinds of services to all kinds of clients in an effort to appear successful. This is not a great strategy though as we can end of a jack of all trades and master of none, with no focus to our services or client base.

Picking Services and Clients

It takes confidence to focus on particular services for a small group of clients, but this allows us to get better at this smaller range of services. Saying ‘no’ is hard, especially at first while trying to build a client base, but we need to find our confidence and stick to what works for us. Now it’s our business we can decide for ourselves and don’t have to offer everything people ask for.

Acting Confidently

Confidence also comes through in our marketing and the way we speak to people. Don’t be afraid to decline work if the budget is not enough, the project doesn’t interest you or you just don’t like the person. Working for low rates for people you are not eager to help is a recipe for unhappiness. It carries an opportunity cost too – as you will then not be available if a better paid job or work for a client you really like comes along. Life’s too short to be doing things you don’t truly want to do and that’s probably why you’re self employed in the first place.

Acting confidently is reassuring to clients. They don’t want to hear dithering and you being unsure you can deliver – they want to feel sure you can help. This might take some practice and faith at first, but as you start to successfully work with clients it will start to come naturally.

Summary

Have confidence in your skills and that there are lots of potential clients out there for you. Choose your services and your clients. Reassure your clients by acting confidently.