1. Finding your target market
Not that long ago it paid to be good at a whole host of odd-jobs, to be a jack-of-all-trades, but in the growing freelance industry it seems to be far easier to market yourself once you nail down a niche within your industry. Make sure what you specialise in is advertised by your brand. This should minimally involve a personal website and a constant social media presence, but it can also pay to go that one step further and start a blog; this allows you to discuss any issues relevant to your work and industry, while presenting a few of your own opinions on what it takes to succeed in this industry. Your website content should reflect your work, fill it with relevant keywords (without sounding artificial), make sure the content you produce is focused on relevant topics, and only showcase work you have produced in these areas in your portfolio. This tight focus will help drive online interest and traffic your way.
Once you have found your niche it can also pay to only take work which falls within the bounds of this newly defined category. It might seem strange, advising a freelancer to say “no” to paying work, but developing a strong brand and reputation often means specialising. You can still refer work on to other freelancers you know, so you don’t have to disappoint prospective clients, and hope those who you refer work on to will do the same for you in the future. Taking on too many commitments may mean that you’re too busy with side-jobs when your ideal client comes calling!
2. Find new projects
Don’t forget to network. Sometimes, when leaving full-time employment, there can be a tendency to leave all that came with it. Leaving the office, leaving the 9-5, but don’t leave the networking. Of course, if you are lucky enough to be a very established freelancer than you may already be inundated with requests and contracts, but even for you there can come a time when the river runs dry.
Networking can be essential for securing regular work, so make sure that you are attending industry events in your area regularly, and keep reaching out to people through social media. This can be as little as following people on Twitter who you think could benefit from your services, but don’t be afraid to join in a few chats either. Speaking to people in your industry and making your own insights known will get your name out there. Simply being ‘known’ by relevant people can be a big help when you’re freelancing.
3. Making sure you get paid
This is usually the main concern among freelancers, how do you make sure a client pays up on time? There are no hard-and-fast rules, but you should try to write-up and sign a contract with your clients before starting any work, where this makes your pricing and timelines clear. Don’t be taken advantage of, too many freelancers end up working for free. In order to ensure that you get all of what you agree upon, one tactic which can be successful is asking for 50 per cent to be paid up front (of course, you should make this arrangement clear in any contracts). If you think a client is hesitant about this, it may be a sign that they would be hesitant to pay you at all.
Once you have the initial 50 per cent and have subsequently completed the work, depending on how well you know the client it can also be a good idea to demand the final 50 per cent before any final files are transferred. Obviously the client will want to see any sample of the final work before paying, but don’t be afraid to hold some back until you are paid. If your clients are happy with how your work looks they shouldn’t have any problem in transferring you the last of the money before you send over the final couple of bits.
4. Keeping organised
As a freelancer, you’ll probably have a lot going on at once. Make sure you take time to think about how long each project will take to complete, and plan out your time accordingly, whether this is time spent behind a desk or meeting with clients. I always find that it helps to use spreadsheets to track your days and meetings, using other tabs to keep track of payments and invoices all in one place. When you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck any more it can be easier to lose track of time and what you need to achieve, staying organised from day one can combat this.
5. Being flexible
Everyone knows the advantages that can come with freelancing and flexible working. You’re your own boss, you decide what tasks to pursue and what time to work from/to. But the ‘flexibility’ in the freelance arrangement can go both ways, depending on who your clients are you may not always have complete creative control over the projects you’re working on.
You depend on your clients and you need to produce a product that they are happy with; they’re the ones paying you after all! If your clients would like things a certain way, you can advise them about what you think would be best, but be prepared to bend to their will. You might think you know your area and industry better than your client, but your role should only be to offer your expertise and guide the client. You have to take into account each client’s individual needs and wants or you will find it difficult to get by freelancing.
6. How to divide your income
Freelancing for the long-haul may seem to be much the same task as freelancing on a short-term basis, but you will need to start paying more attention to your overall finances. Not least, you will have to start dividing your money for the good of your future and for the good of your work. The precise way you make the split will depend on your own situation, but with every payment you should be thinking about putting some money away for tax-payments; using some to reinvest in your business (whether it’s your website, your travel costs, or any new software); putting some into your savings (you should always be thinking about your future!); and then the rest can go towards your general upkeep – everyone needs to live!