It’s kinda been my worst kept secret: for the last few years, I’ve been freelancing full-time. I’ve done freelance work on and off since I graduated university, but was shoved into it on a more full-time basis when I was laid off from my job when we lost a major funder (The joys and excitement of working for non-profits!). At first it was pretty scary. Let’s be honest. It’s still pretty scary. But it’s also been heaps of fun and I have learned and continue to learn a lot about surviving as a freelancer.
Whether you’re thinking of dipping a toe into the freelance pool or diving straight in, here’s a few things I’ve learned about working as a freelancer:
Put yourself out there: Freelancing isn’t generally an ‘if you build it, they will come’ type deal. You’ve got to get out there and tell people what you’re doing. I’m not saying you have to commission a sandwich board to wear around the city or to family functions, but having an elevator speech in mind when the ‘What do you do?’ question comes up is handy. There’s a slew of tools that can help you do this, too. Business cards, a website and social media accounts are also a good way to start putting yourself out there.
Be honest & realistic: Especially when you’re getting started as a freelancer, it’s easy to want to promise your clients the moon in order to secure new business. But you absolutely must be honest and realistic with your clients and with yourself. You want to be sure you’re making promises you can deliver on. You don’t want to risk breaking your back and hurting your reputation by not meeting expectations. Be honest and realistic about what you can do and the timelines you need to get the work done.
Be available & accessible: This probably goes without saying, but when you’re starting out freelancing, you want to be as flexible with your availability as possible. I’m not saying stress yourself out like one of Miranda Priestly’s assistants, but you are going to want to put in some extra time and energy. When I started out, I had some pretty strange hours. I’d be working away on a Sunday until well after midnight. I’d take meetings with potential clients whenever, wherever, you might as well have called me Shakira. You also want to make sure you’re accessible, so provide clients with a reliable way to be in touch with you, whether it’s email, text, mobile phone number– or all of the above.
Build your network: Start growing your networks! And I’m not talking your social media networks, but those apply, too. While it’s one of the biggest clichés out there, there’s a reason why it’s cliché; it is kind of a thing. Building your network, both on and offline, is a great way to build a list of potential clients and let them get to know you. You’ll want to build a network with other freelancers, too. Don’t look at them as competition; other freelancers are a great resource and can open you up to the opportunities of collaborative projects.
Grow some balls: While it’s super fun working for yourself (Though honestly, you’re working for your clients, but ANYWAY), there are some parts of the job that can be awkward, unpleasant and just plain hard (That’s what she said). Sometimes you’re going to have to have some awkward conversations, sometimes you’re going to have to push back when a client is being difficult or not paying on time. You’ve got to be prepared to tackle these things head on in order to be a successful freelancer.
Be patient: Just like anything that takes hard work, establishing yourself as a freelancer is going to take some time. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen over night. Keep at it, put in the hard work and you’ll see results.