My Cheat Sheet to Being a Successful Freelancer

freelancer and freelancing advice

A successful freelancer keeps learning. And I guess the definition of success remains a matter of perspective, but it doesn’t hurt to share some of the tips I’ve gleaned, Googled, and learnt the hard way.

Freelancing is the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love the flexibility, independence and control that I have over the effort I put in and the outcome. But, there are tricky areas, booby traps and landmines. And, when you’re working for yourself, you bear the brunt of any bad decision or mistake. So, here are just a few things that I’ve learnt during my almost-10 years of freelancing:

  1. Don’t undercharge

Yes, you want to get work and you want to undercut others to do it. But, and I learnt this the hard way, it only undermines your abilities as a successful freelancer and means that you’re working your hind-quarters off but struggling to pay the lights. Do your research, connect with other freelancers and recognize the value of your work. You’ll soon get a feel if your rates really are too high. There’s a helpful infographic on how to decide on rates here.

  1. Do it right

If you’re going on your own and you’re going to charge accordingly, you need to make sure you’re offering something of quality. This will mean getting experience (perhaps in a company under the mentorship of someone) and getting your hands dirty before venturing out on your own. This applies to any industry, but I can only speak as a writer. I’ve met so many people that fancy themselves as really hot writers and want to go for it on their own. They contact me (usually trying to get an idea of what their rates should be) with a painful email that is littered with bad grammar and spelling. I’m all for enabling others, but I can’t, with a clear conscience, tell them to shoot for the stars when the product they’re offering is better aimed at the ceiling. Of a basement.

  1. Routine rules

It’s so tempting to stay in your PJs and work from the comfort of bed with series blaring in the background. And I even indulge myself sometimes and do it. But, as a successful freelancer, you need a daily routine that starts with normal clothing, clean teeth, tidy hair and a formal workspace. This gets your mind in the zone and lights a little firecracker under you to promote efficiency.

  1. Be ready to work

Freelancing isn’t an easy alternative to a ‘real job’. It often takes more effort and commitment because there’s no salary if there’s no work. There’s pressure to perform within your home realm, which means that there’s no formal off-time. You’ll probably find yourself venturing back to the computer when the kids have gone to bed or waking up early and sneaking in an hour or two before the usual daily humdrum starts.

  1. Clients are not your boss

So often, I’ve heard freelancers talking about their boss. Your-what-now? You are your boss. The people that pay for your work are your clients. Don’t blur these lines, or you’ll be putting yourself in the firing line for being exploited.

And here are some quick tips when planning to leave your formal job and go on your own:

  • Send an email to all of your appropriate contacts 30 days in advance of your resignation. Tell them of your intention to start freelancing. Be polite and professional, thanking them for their support. Mention that you will take on new projects as a freelancer immediately. This may create some leads.
  • Keep networking. Join groups and forums, reach out to new contacts, and re-establish contact with old ones. Just keep working at it.
  • Ensure that all of your communication and stationery is professional – this includes design and content. Call in favours from friends or invest in a pro, but don’t try to convince prospective clients with sub-par material that looks home-made.
  • Use social media to build your brand. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic tools. Don’t link them to your personal page. Any references of drinking too much / bad-mouthing others is so damaging to your professional reputation. This arena needs to be absolutely professional. Under your professional page, engage with others to build your own audience – comment, like, join, contribute.
  • Have a personal plan of action as well as a business plan to keep you focussed.
  • Keep up with who your competitors are and what they’re offering. This means connecting with them somehow. Network, share and trade with them to keep in the loop. And then keep a step ahead.
  • Treat everyone well. Never give into the temptation to be sarcastic, condescending, flippant or rude. Not even when you’re doing well and don’t need the business. Always treat people kindly. This is not only for your reputation, but also to ensure that, down the line, when business may not be doing so well, you haven’t made a host of enemies that are unwilling to support you.
  • Take time out and do the things you really want to do. Indulge in a morning at the spa or take a day off to watch Formula One. Do something that feeds your soul so that you do not begin to run on empty. Nothing will kill your passion faster.

But, at the end of this long blog post with all my sage wisdom, there’s nothing that’ll top this: Just do your best. Feel your way around the adventure that is freelancing, learn from your mistakes, learn from your successes, and grow.

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