I’ve seen freelancers full of talents, and still getting it hard to earn a living off there creative skills. Why? They think only there professional skills can get the job done. No,
If you’re going to be a successful freelancer you need to be able to manage your own career like any other business. , so your business may look much like a big corporation: there’s no CEO, no shareholders and only one employee. But if you’re going to earn a good living then there are business skills you need to learn and get good at. The better and more efficient you become at managing your business, the more time you’re able to devote to development work, which means you get to spend more time doing what you love (you do love it, right?) and earn more money.
Freelancing Versus Employment – What’s the Difference?
Chances are that if you’re considering going freelance, there’s one main difference that’s encouraging you: the freedom of not having a boss. As a freelancer you can get up when you want to, work in your dressing gown, finish working when you’ve had enough, and only take on the work that really interests you.
Correct? Well, no.
As a freelancer you still have to earn a living. This means having the discipline to put in the hours you need to complete work, hit deadlines and keep your clients happy. It’s also very rare for freelancers, especially new ones, to be able to take on only the kind of work that they enjoy the most. In the early days you’ll be building your reputation and your client base, and you’ll need to take on just about all the work you can get.
Sound pretty miserable? It’s not – read on!
Freelancing has some big differences from being employed, and some similarities too. I’ve worked freelance for about a third of my career, including the past five years, and I can’t imagine ever going back to regular employment. But I have learned some hard lessons along the way, and had to develop some skills that I didn’t need when I was employed.
Pros and cons of freelancing
So let’s bust some myths and identify some pros and cons of freelancing:
- As a freelancer, you won’t have to work nine to five (unless you’re working on site for a client), but you will have to work a similar number of hours to earn a living, very likely longer hours in the early days.
- You won’t have a boss telling you what to do, but you will have clients—and they can be much, much more demanding.
- That boss who made sure you hit your deadlines will be replaced by you—you’ll have to manage your own time and motivate yourself.
- If you work from home you can work in your dressing gown if you want, but beware if you have a Skype chat scheduled with a client!
- You’ll have to find work, and keep on finding work. Even if you get a contract with an agency that can keep you in regular, ongoing work, I’d always recommend having other clients just in case that agency doesn’t need you any more in the future. As you develop, you’ll want to develop your client base, which means marketing.
- There will be times when you don’t have any work coming in and aren’t sure how you’re going to pay the bills this month. You’ll need to anticipate this and have contingency funds in place. The biggest killer for new businesses isn’t income, it’s cashflow.
- If you want to hang onto your clients you’ll need to work on your relationship with them—something an account manager might have done when you were employed. You can’t spend your whole freelancing life in front of a computer screen, sorry!
- Freelancing can be lonely: for the sake of your sanity, you’ll need to make the effort to get out and spend time with like-minded people.
- You’ll have extra costs: equipment, training and conferences, insurance, software, tax and more. All these come out of the money you earn.
- You’ll need a bank account, and you may even need to speak to your bank manager or the bank’s business manager from time to time.
- You’ll need to constantly develop your skills and knowledge of the industry you work in and adapt as things change and move on. Any training you do will be in your own time and you’ll have to pay for it.
Freelancers business basics 1. Selling yourself
In order to land work as a freelancer, you’ll need to be able to close the sale. That doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert salesperson, but you do need to be able to show clients what you can do for them and why they should hire you.
Selling yourself isn’t about being aggressive or pushy, this is really another point that comes back to communication. You’ll need to be able to communicate exactly what you’re offering and how it will meet the needs of your clients.
In order to sell your services, be sure that you’re focusing on the benefits to clients and what’s in it for them.
But most freelancers are doing them the other way around, they are not getting it well at all. Let’s discuss some best practices selling yourself.
1. Be Visible Where Your Audience Is
Your audience is somewhere online and it’s a good idea for you to be there too. You don’t have to always be actively pitching but by being visible, you are becoming known and eventually trusted. This can lead to lots of work opportunities.
For example, if you are a writer who works with real estate agents, it’d be a good idea to be on real estate forums. You may also want to try to write for some of the brands they work with likeHomeLight or Zillow.
Your audience may not contact you directly as a result of this visibility but when you pitch them, they’ll recognize your name. This recognition will result in a bit (or a lot) more trust than other pitches have, which will make your sales process easier.
2. Be the Expert in a Niche
A great way to market yourself is by being an expert in a niche. This works especially well in niches that require specialized knowledge. For example, marketing in the cannabis industry in the United States. Because local and federal laws impact the ways marketing expert to have industry-specific knowledge that most marketers, no matter how good, will lack.
It may feel limiting to choose a niche or two to specialize in. Do it anyway as this “limitation” can make your marketing much easier as you’ll be speaking to a specific audience. You’ll know the right lingo to use and how to speak to their problems (you know, the ones you solve.) Your audience will feel seen and you will have an easier time because you won’t have to convince them you understand their specific problems and can help.
3. Ask for Referrals
Right after a client has given you a glowing review is a great time to ask for referrals. They may not know anyone offhand, but letting them know you loved working with them and would love working with anyone they recommend is smart. It allows you to share some love back and could lead to more work for you, now or in the future.
You should also ask your friends, family, colleagues, and former clients for referrals. If you don’t ask, they may assume you’re too busy for more work and won’t share your information. Some people offer finders fee to the people who refer them new business but you don’t have to do that. If you do decide to offer a finders fee, be sure to pay them out as fast as you say you will. Don’t make people wait for their money.
Remember: asking for referrals is not bugging anyone. It’s not begging for work. It’s letting the people who already love your work help the people they know have a chance at the amazing results you provide
4. Pitch Your Services
Oh, you didn’t really think I’d somehow forget that you need to be pitching on a consistent basis, did you?Consistently pitching is one of the most effective ways to grow your freelance business. If you’d like to be earning more money, you need to be pitching.
I see the impact of pitching immediately. My calendar fills up with calls with potential clients right away and my bank account starts to fill up shortly thereafter. If I stop pitching for some reason, I can see it in my calendar and bank account pretty quickly.
If you want a steady income, you need to be steadily pitching. If you’re not sure how to pitch in a way that gets responses and clients, you can check out The Essential Freelance Pitch Pack we put together just for you.
InIf all of these methods for marketing yourself sound great but you’re not sure how to fit them all together in a way that is actionable on a day-to-day basis, consider the Freelance Marketing Plan & Goal Setting Workbook.
You don’t have to use our workbooks and packs to successfully market yourself. You can absolutely just implement the methods in this article and see a huge increase in your freelance business income.
So which of these seven ways to market your freelance business are you going to implement this week?
Freelance business basics: relationship management
How you manage relationships links together with your marketing. The ideal for any freelancer is to be getting all of your new work from existing clients or via word of mouth: that way you don’t have to go out looking for work and can focus more time on what you’re paid for.
But clients will never recommend you to other people if they don’t like you or get on with you. Your code could be perfect but if you’re not someone people enjoy working with, those referrals will be much less common.
As well as client relationships, you’ll also have relationships with other freelancers, who instead of being like your boss will be akin to colleagues. Nurture these relationships: they’ll keep you from feeling isolated and will impact positively on your professional development.
1. Clear Communication On Both Sides
Having multiple clear lines of communication is vital for both sides of the working relationship. We’ll get on to specifics shortly, but needless to say, the manner in which you converse is just as vital as the tools you use.
The benefits of this goes two ways. On your end, you’re able to get clarity on your questions about the project, and the instructions you receive. For the client, they’ll be able to ascertain your intentions without misunderstandings. This could also build an increased sense of trust. Overall, being open to communicating with clients stands to net you further work and income.
Keeping your requests and responses straightforward is key here, as is concision with your answers. Speaking your client’s language should be a primary concern, so altering your tone and complexity based on their understanding of the project is a good idea.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions yourself – as many as you need to – and don’t feel as though you need all of the answers. A willingness to find a solution carries much more weight with clients.
2. Quality Resources the Client Finds Useful
It’s tempting to only think about the tools you’re using to deliver a project. After all, these types of technical details may not be something your client cares about. However, you should also think about introducing solutions that can make your client’s life easier.
We’re not talking about bringing something complex and developer-heavy to the table. Instead, you could help the client become more efficient with a few choice apps, sites, or other tools. This will show the client you care about their project long-term, and could also net you more work related to further training.
For example, they may appreciate a free way to optimize their images, or implement a better way of working within their team. In the latter’s case, apps such as Asanaand Front are great for collaboration, and may not be on the client’s radar.
Of course, this element will depend on your client’s needs and project. However, you should keep your eyes out for potentially suitable solutions that can enhance the client’s long-term work, and make them more efficient. Taking into account their technical expertise is also important.
3. A Way to View Projects Collectively
Finally, there’s always plenty of back and forth when working on a project – especially if the client is new, and the relationship is still burgeoning. As such, having a quick and painless way to ‘check in’on the current status of a project is important.
In short, the client should be able to get an update on how things stand at any point. Your concern should be to give them almost instant feedback, which lets you tweak and optimize the work you’ve done so far without delays.
This is one area you’ll want to be the most flexible when it comes to the client’s needs. After all, they’re paying for the project. This means taking a hit on your own requirements (usually a quiet working environment and an uninterrupted process!)
As for actual solutions, writers will value platforms with powerful sharing options such as Google Docs, while the aforementioned Asana is great for disparate teams needing both brief and ‘micro’ overviews. However, visual creatives such as web designers and photographers will likely want to introduce staging sites and proofing options respectively.
Freelancers business basics: contracts and charges.
Contracts protect your clients
It would be wrong to think that contracts should only be put in place to protect the freelancer. All of our business relationships are two-way affairs, and that’s exactly how contracts work.
I’ve heard many stories where a client hired the services of a freelancer and ended up high and dry because the project was left unfinished, or the end result was completely different from what they expected and ultimately served no purpose for them.
The whole situation is made even worse if the client also loses money in the process. It could mean they are unable to hire someone else to complete the project and it leaves a bad taste in their mouths about working with freelancers.
Contracts protect you
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been extremely lucky with all my clients, but not everyone is. Non-payment is the biggest issue faced by many freelancers and without a watertight contract there’s little recourse for them.
Late payments are also a problem, especially when you are living on a carefully-calculated budget and have bills to pay on specific dates. Your service providers expect you to pay them as per your contract and that’s why you should expect the same from your clients.
Some freelancers also find that when they eventually do get paid the amount isn’t what they were expecting. Their clients have seemingly made adjustments, and the lack of a binding contract has enabled them to do so.
Contracts boost your credibility
We all like to think of ourselves as consummate professionals. So why would you even consider entering into a new client relationship without a contract?
By starting every new project off on the right foot with a contract in place, you are automatically showing your client that you take your responsibilities seriously and that you mean business. It affords a sense of reassurance and sets a professional tone for your relationship going forward.
While a contract might not be able to prevent bad things from happening or relationships going sour, it will stand you in a stronger position should the worst happen.
As a final point, it’s always best practise to get any contracts that you are considering using checked over by a legal professional to ensure they cover every aspect you need them to. As contracts get edited to suit different purposes, they sometimes lose their enforceability, which is something that can’t be fixed after the event.
Have you ever had any problems with clients, which may have been okay if you’d have had a contract in place? I’d love to hear about your experiences…
Freelancers business basics 4: accounting
The problem is, without accurate books, you won’t have an accurate view of your financial standing. Accounting provides a snapshot of your company’s financial viability and records that are outdated or inaccurate provide a “snapshot” that is out of focus.
Yes, bookkeeping is inherently dull, but the results of bookkeeping—they’re thrilling. There’s a thrill at the end of the month when balanced books show an actual profit or at the end of year when you’ve stayed within your budget or at tax season when you add up all your write-offs and you’re actually getting cash back instead of owing. This kind of invaluable financial data can only come from accurate books.
You put your time into the things you value most. If you truly value your business, you will put your time into your books and you will see financial growth because of it.
Use a software
Many accounting products offer a free tier for freelancers, so take advantage of that! Don’t try to track all of your numbers in a spreadsheet. I mean, if you haven’t been recording any numbers then sure, start with a spreadsheet. But know that there are smarter, easier, and way prettier options out there.
Cloud-based applications are the norm today and they are incredibly secure and easy to organize. These software products can be accessed any time of day, from any platform and receive automatic updates.
You could also consider a desktop software, but when you compare platforms (like QuickBooks Online vs Desktop) it’s clear that most online options have the power of a desktop alternative, with the accessibility of the cloud. To me, it’s a no-brainer, especially for freelancers who are often on-the-go.
Start right away
The most grievous mistake business owners (even the most experienced business owners) make with accounting is procrastination. As soon as you start freelancing, start bookkeeping.
If you’re just learning the ins and outs of your business responsibilities, and you’re a few months behind on your books, that’s okay. You can start fixing your accounting mess right now, today! It will take hard work, but soon you’ll get in the habit of updating your books regularly, saving you time in the long-run.
Set aside a little time every week (or at least every month) to mind your books. A few minutes every Friday is a lot better than a few hours—or even days—come April.
Besides, the longer you wait to categorize transactions, the less likely it is that you’ll actually remember what those transactions were for. Then you’ll have to dig through old records and receipts, wasting even more precious time that could be invested in the business tasks you love.
Just grit your teeth and start fixing your books. Your business will thank you.
Interpret your report
I started by saying I wouldn’t bore you with the jargon, but there are a few basic accounting terms that will be useful for you to know.
The accounting equation, which I mentioned above (assets=liabilities+owner’s equity), is represented on your “Balance Sheet.” What matters most on this report is that the accounting equation is, well, balanced. The total of your assets needs to equal the total of your liabilities and equity combined. If these numbers are not identical, you will have inaccurate books and file a faulty tax return.
Profits and losses are accounting terms that business owners tend to be pretty familiar with. Your “Income Report” shows your total sales and expenses over a period of time, resulting in your gross profit. Your net income, or “bottom line,” is what you pay taxes on. It’s the heart and soul of your business.
It’s also important for freelancers to understand that profit does not necessarily equal cash on hand. Your “Cash Flow Statement” combines data from the Income Report and Balance Sheet in order to give you a summary of your cash position.
These three reports are of the greatest value to freelancers. And the beauty is, if you’ve kept accurate books, most accounting products will produce the reports for you. You don’t have to do any complicated math to view your financial standing. You just have to categorize transactions; let your software do the heavy lifting.
Freelancers business basics #5: marketing
I have to admit that marketing is the aspect of self employment that I dread the most. I’m not a natural salesperson and nor are many of the freelancers I know. But without it, you won’t get work.
Marketing for a freelancer isn’t about advertising campaigns or email lists. It’s much more subtle than that. Marketing activities include:
Leverage social media
Social media sites where potential clients hang out are a goldmine. I’ve found clients on Slack, in Facebook groups, and by participating in relevant Twitter chats. In addition to creating content to share on social media, find people you can help by searching for “looking for freelance X (with “X” being whatever it is you do: ie photographer, designer etc.).”
Attend networking events
Attending networking events and meeting potential clients or collaborators. Use meetup.comto identify groups in your area, go to conferences and hackdays. Use all of these as an opportunity to make contacts and talk about what you can do.
Join forums & communities related to your niche
If you want to be visible where your audience is, join communities related to your niche. Don’t promote your services right away, instead engage with the community and provide value. After a while you’ll become known as an expert and you can start marketing your services.
Reach out to your friends, family, and former coworkers. Let them know that you’re a freelancer and ask if they (or anyone they know) could use your services. You can contact them directly, on social media, or even using email.
Ideally, you’ll use a mix of tactics to make sure potential clients know that you’re available to help them with your freelance services.