If you’ve decided it’s time to make the move to freelancing, you may be wondering what it takes to succeed as a startup freelancer?
There are numerous aspects to becoming a successful freelancer. For some professionals, they see the landscape, understand what it can offer proving highly lucrative and fulfilling for them quite quickly. For others, freelancing at first can be a bit of a struggle, however freelancers who have dedicated the time to moving out of the startup phase and into a career as a successful freelancer in their chosen field will tell you the hard times are well worth the struggle if you’re willing to be realistic about what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and where you can improve.
With this in mind, we’ve constructed a guide to help startup freelancers make the switch to freelancing from full time employment. In this guide you’ll find out how you can avoid making many of the mistakes freelance newbies tend to make and how to hit the ground running like you’re a “seasoned pro”.
The Part Time Startup Freelancer
Succeeding as a part time freelancer requires a very different set of goals to that of a full time freelancer. This is primarily due to the objectives of a freelancer in this space being quite varied to that of a full time freelance professional. When establishing goals specific to part time freelancing you need to be very clear with what your goals are, and just as rigid in you’re commitment to reaching those lofty heights.
To set your goals as a part time freelancer, firstly you’ll need to establish what the parameters of your newly proposed working conditions are. You need to get real about what you want from freelancing and what you’re prepared to do to get it. For example:
- Are you planning on freelancing on a part time basis to earn a few extra dollars, or are you building up to leave your full time job and focus solely on freelancing?
- What are your financial requirements each week, month? Are you aiming to grow your incoming revenue stream, or simply maintain a set income base?
- How many hours do you have to commit to freelancing part time, and how will this affect your work/life balance?
- When will you reassess your performance? Will it be monthly, weekly?
- How am I going to define what is necessary to achieve my goals?
Once you’ve defined these parameters it’s time for the fun stuff; your goals. As an example set of goals, you may consider the following:
- My financial goal is to earn an extra $500 income per week.
- My passion goal is to complete at least 1 totally creative project per month.
- My earnings goal is to work for a minimum of $75 per hour and work 5 hours less per week.
- If I can earn $5000 per month 3 months in a row, I’ll consider moving to freelancing full time.
Just like a full time freelancer, part time freelancers have a set of fundamental rules they must follow. The goals may vary as with the parameters of the working conditions, but to succeed you must define both of these clearly and stick to them. Next we’ll discuss this for full time freelancers.
The Full Time Startup Freelancer
Moving to full time freelancing from stable employment can be a daunting task for some, for others, they just throw themselves into the job at hand and make it happen. You need to become like person number two. The reality of becoming a successful full time freelancer is simple. Whether you’re a startup freelancer or a freelancer who has been working for years; it’s all about building your income levels, lining up your next job and delivering on your personal and professional goals to the best of your ability. So let’s get it straight right now, you are going to be successful no matter what! There is no other option for you. You’re a full time freelancer!
Like part time freelancers, full time freelancers need to set goals. However these goals need to be a little more specific in nature because there is no backup job to get you through. Although this can be a challenging way of looking at things, this is incredibly powerful and is an amazing motivator for you to become everything you want to be (and isn’t that the reason you decided to become a full time freelancer anyway?).
The difference between freelancing to earn a few extra dollars and freelancing to make a living full time, is that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Therefore, you need to plan to succeed. This includes becoming very good at a number of trades. Whether it’s marketing, accounting, networking, or time management, you’ll need to do it all…and well. The best advice we can give is to develop an overall strategy for success. You should consider the following items as part of that strategy:
- Write a business plan. This will be your guide to getting things done, growing your business, progressive milestones and marketing.
- Break down your goals, and plan what you need to do to achieve them?
- Break down your financials including how many hours you need to work to earn what you need to succeed, not survive, and what ongoing costs you’ll have.
- Consider what training and software you’ll need outside of your skills set to manage a business and yourself in the most cost effective and timely manner.
- Define what you’re going to do if things don’t go to plan. You have to have a contingency plan if the work doesn’t come in.
Taking control of your profession, your expectations, and in general your life can be a challenge at first. However you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel about your life if you can put a tick next to each one of the above items. Freelancing full time is a great way to earn a dollar, but you have to be aware of your surroundings (yes I did just quote Star Wars).
Quality of Work
We’ve all heard the saying. You’re only as good as your last job. This was never truer than as a freelancer. From day one, from your very first job as a startup freelancer all the way through your career, this is the #1 rule you have to live by.
Quality control is everything as a freelance professional and often times the ability to juggle clients and time frames is what hurts your endeavours to maintain a high standard of work. To manage this, you’ll need to manage your time effectively, be very open with your clients, and to always meet deadlines. Failing to embrace these laws of the game will almost certainly damage the quality of your work, because let me tell you, it is a slippery slope when the balance starts to change.
To help out, keep the following in mind:
- Schedule everything, and preferably with a project management software solution. This way you’re constantly in control of your work load.
- Clients hate dishonesty, so don’t keep secrets. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline, be honest and work with the client on this and advise them that the quality of work will drop under their current set of requests. Remember to keep the client constantly updated so as to avoid shock updates to projects outcomes.
- Take the time at the start of a project to break it up into smaller pieces. This can and will set the tone of the project and likelihood of repeat business. By taking a little extra time to plan, you can actually make an awful lot of extra money through repeat business and avoid a lot of stress.
Building a Client Base
Building a freelance client base doesn’t have to mean working for just anyone who walks through the door. Smart freelancers tend to be selective with their freelance clients and choose who they work with. Quite often freelancers build a diverse list of clients that fall into multiple client profiles; and for very good reason. For example, you may want to build a client list comprising the following break-down of clients:
- 30% large project clients with whom you can build an ongoing relationship with which may include lots of follow up jobs.
- 30% repeat clients which are predominantly smaller jobs which constantly keep the books turning over.
- 10% passion projects which are highly enjoyable, but may or may not be the most financially sound options.
- 20% clients whom you see as developing clients (maybe startups) who you charge out at a lower rate of which you can develop their business for bigger things.
- 10% clients whom you have to take because let’s face it, you can’t always have dream clients or strategically golden opportunities.
By creating a balanced client base and project type base you’ll find that this increases the likelihood of becoming a successful freelancer. Instead of primarily taking on passion projects which often pay low, don’t earn repeat business and take longer to complete, developing a diverse range of clients and project types is a strongly recommended strategy for freelancers no matter what stage of their career they’re at.
Networking in person and via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter is a must for maintaining existing clients and attracting new blood. By staying in touch with “what the people are talking about”, you’re able to begin to find niches in your target market which you can capitalize on over time. By discovering the missing links in what people need you can become the answer to their problem, and that means a healthy pay day. When you’re suddenly the only person able to offer a service, it also means you can charge a healthy premium for that service and really begin to carve out a competitive edge.
To help with this, we recommend at least once a month (depending on your workload) attending an industry event in your city. If there’s a big conference happening that’s not too expensive to get to, consider the value proposition and if it stacks up get prepared to sell yourself and your skills interstate.
When selling yourself at networking events and online, remember it’s all about building relationships, not telling everyone how good you are (or how cheap). Building trust is the key to gaining new clientèle, earning referrals, and maintaining repeat business over time. But remember, ask the clients about what they want to achieve, it show’s an interest in their goals and gets them to open up about what they would like to do better.
Marketing your freelance services is an essential and ongoing part of being a freelance professional. Successful freelancers from the very start of their freelance career see marketing as an investment in themselves and are constantly active marketers. The key to marketing success as a freelancer is knowing your limits. You need to market actively, but not too much so you detract from actually getting your work done. Remember there’s no marketing department to back you up, so you may want to consider the following to help you get your name out there:
- Research where the majority of your target clients are. This may be social networks, networking events, or online in the search engines.
- Figure out what your marketing message is?
- Develop a budget for your marketing. This must contain how much time you can spend each week undertaking marketing related activities.
- Consider outsourcing a freelancer to do this work for you. Maybe a virtual assistant could handle this on an ongoing basis?
- Ensure your audience has a place to go to view your wares. Ideally a website or blog, and make sure you build your email marketing list from here.
- Search engines are an invaluable tool. Consider some SEO to increase traffic to your website or blog.
If you can clearly define your target audience and constantly be in their faces for a rate which earns you more dollars than you’re spending; then your strategy is a worthwhile one. If not, take a step back and research what may be working for others in your niche.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of managing your time and meeting deadlines, so we won’t go back through that. What is worth mentioning is managing your time so you’re happier in your daily life.
So I ask you this question. If you can honestly state that you’d be happier sitting at home on your PC for 12 hours a day with no social interaction as oppose to finding balance in your life, you’d have to be kidding yourself right? Time management for a freelancer means taking time to do other things outside of work. This may be exercise, taking a lunch with friends or walking the dog. Whatever makes you happy outside of the office cubicle, but you have to break it up. Isolation is no friend to a freelancer so you have to be mindful of this.
As a freelancer you have an opportunity from the moment you declare yourself a startup freelancer to make a choice. This choice is very simple. Be just as unhappy as you were working full time for someone else, or embrace life and add some diversity to the menu. This may not be your exact choice, but there’s a strong likelihood you’re facing a similar variation, or soon will, so try and make the right choice.
Managing your cash flow is vital element to freelancing success. Ensuring that all expenses and incomings are easily accessible should be a priority for any startup freelancer. One of the last things you want to do is lose half a day searching through a pile of receipts and invoices when you could be working on client projects that pay.
To help out, consider the following:
- Sign up for a financial management system. We like cloud based ones because you can access them anywhere any time. All you’ll need is an Internet connection.
- Ensure you become vigilant with entering all financials into your financial system. Doing this as you go is much easier than dealing with a large pile of receipts and accounting which often creeps into personal time.
- Ensure your clients are happy with your invoicing practices. If you’re getting negative feedback consider adjusting your how you transact.
- Keep the books legitimate. Just because you’re doing jobs all over the place doesn’t mean they don’t all get recorded. The numbers never lie.
Ensuring you have a contract between yourself and your client that both parties are in agreement with is one of the most important factors when freelancing. By covering your bases, you’re ensuring nobody gets hurt; including your client.
Implementing good legal practice is just common sense these days. Remember after all your hard work, all it takes is one unhappy customer to put you into financial difficulty and your whole world can change dramatically, and nobody wants that. Taking some time to speak with a legal professional or at very least download some approved document templates or legal resources will go a long way to protecting your intellectual property, avoid damages and maintain solid working relationships.
Sometimes this is the hardest pill to swallow. If you’re freelancing and only making half of what you need to on a regular basis then you need to take a good hard look at your performance. You need to survey whether freelancing is right for you, and you need to look at the effect it’s having on the ones around you that you care about and depend on you.
Freelancing is a wonderful way to spend your professional life. You get to be your own boss, work with a diverse range of clients, choose passion projects, and do what you love. However that’s when it’s working for you. If you’re not doing what it takes to stay in the game, it can be quite the opposite. The good news is, it’s totally up to you.
It’s good to remind yourself that you wouldn’t be considering freelancing if you didn’t believe you had a shot at generating enough new work on an ongoing basis, had the skills to support that work and didn’t love what you do for a living. There’s a lot of belief there, so take this opportunity with both hands and make the best of your skills, improve where you need to and you’ll undoubtedly become a top freelance professional.