Getting Started As A Freelancer

Are you sure you want to?

Freelancing generally means working long hours and only getting paid when you’ve completed the work. You’ll most likely lurch from having plenty of work but no money, through just enough work and just enough money to no work and no money. Rarely do you have too much money and no work…

This is caused by the simple process of being a one-man business. All businesses should spend time on marketing and promotion, but as a freelancer when you’re busy working there’s then less time for promotional activities, which means that work has a tendency to dry up. Feast and famine…

So, if you’re sure you really want to be a freelancer, then make sure you’ve got a financial buffer to carry you through at least 6 months of no income. When the money is flowing in, make sure you put some aside for the lean times.

If you’re not working on a freelance project you should be working on promotion. Be prepared to work 24/7.

The plus side to freelancing? You’re the boss. You decide how to structure your day, and what you’ll wear when you’re working. More control generally means less stress. If you worry about money, or have a family to support I’d suggest you think twice before going freelance.

Being Alone

If you are a freelancer who works at home, as many of us do, then you will have to learn the art of Being Alone. Many of you will come from a corporate background, with colleagues, network games, and late night pizza deliveries to overcome working into the wee hours of the morning on that latest deadline. In an office environment the late hours and applied pressure can even serve to enhance the creative experience as your focus becomes the same as the that of the team. Camaraderie is the Borg, and it is welcomed under pressure. You are one and the same with the Hive Mind; your are special; apart; exceptional.

Being Alone is different. If you have any people around you when the pressure is on; most likely it will be those you share your household with; most likely they will be outwith your world, and understand nothing of the processes that, to your erstwhile corporate colleagues, were written law. Do not even attempt to seek sympathy from these new work mates. They do not understand you; and do not expect them to. As friends, they will drop in at any time of the day and expect you to set up a mug of coffee and a chat for them. As Family, they will expect you to be available come five PM for dinner, dishes, or telly. They are as alien to you, in this new freelance world you inhabit, as you are to them. You love them dearly; but you want to kill them often.

Dealing with Being Alone is probably the most important thing about being a freelancer. Here are some tips :

  • Do not believe that you are a wizard. In the corporate world, your colleagues, of the same ilk, will build you up. In the non-corporate world, your loved ones will bring you down.
  • Find ways to contact fellow aliens. Email forums and 12 point programmes are good outlets ;)
  • Get up as early as you can. Being freelance means that you can sleep till mid-day and work till mid-night, but you need to see the daylight to be energised.
  • Forgive them; for they know not what they do. When friends, or family, pop in during that all-important design or coding session for the cup of coffee and a chat, do not send them away. Remember that, whatever you choose to do in life, your path is short.
  • Whether you are a techie or a designer, by your very nature you are creative. Creative people have angst. In the music industry; particularly if you are twenty-seven, this can often be fatal. Do not try to be an island unto yourself. Find friends who will not judge you, and be silly whenever you need to be.

That, basically, is the art of Being Alone. If you can master it, you can be a freelancer my son :)

Finding Freelance Work

There are a lot of web sites claiming to offer freelancer’s projects and they all make it sound so easy. Usually you’re competing on price and you’re probably competing globally. Freelancers in the UK are generally unable to compete on price globally due to our cost of living. It’s probably best to try and work locally rather than globally.

General consensus of opinion amongst the freelancers on the mailing list is that most of their freelance work comes from existing clients, and other freelancers that they have interacted with on the mailing list.

So, networking (in the human sense) is something you should work hard at. I’m not suggesting MLM here, sites like LinkedIn and Ecademy make a big deal about the power of their networks, but I’ve yet to hear anecdotal evidence from UK freelancers of their ongoing success. The best networks are ones you create yourself by helping others.

Look for people struggling in areas where you are expert, offer free advice, show your “expertness” over time they will trust your skills and use you to solve their problems, generally they will pay you at this point.

Expert or Jack of All Trades?

I’d advise strongly against trying to offer services in all areas that you are competent in. Focus instead on the areas that you are expert in, and promote those. The other competencies will be useful, but unlikely to be good money earners for you and it’s too easy to get stuck with work that takes up too much time for too little money and pushes you outside your area of expertise. Stuff that you’re expert at will take you less time and therefore earn you more money.

The time to learn new skills is when you’re not working, or when you’ve won a large well paid project with a long timescale and no pressing deadlines!

What should I charge

Short answer? Whatever the market will stand.

Long answer will depend on several factors and there are useful formula for working out your daily or hourly rate, which generally comes down to at least twice what you would have earned as a salaried employee.

Pricing a project is a fine art; too little income and you’ll resent it, too high a price and you’ll likely not win the project. Simple rule of thumb is to estimate the number of hours you think it will take, double it and apply your hourly rate. That’s your wish figure.

Next estimate what the market will stand, that’s your target figure. Then look at how many bills you have to pay, if the project is exciting, who the client is, who the competition is etc. The figure you think of next is the lowest figure you could afford to work for.

If you win a project at a pitch figure that is close or over your wish figure, then you’re doing well and you should save some of the money… Usually you’ll be working nearer the bottom of the range than the top.

Always try and arrange staged payments for the work you do… a percentage before you start, a percentage when you deliver the first drafts of work and a percentage after completion; on long projects arrange more interim percentage payments.

Legal Issues

Go get advice from a lawyer.

Always work for others with some form of contract between you. At the very minimum make sure you’ve both agreed on exactly what the work is and what you’ll be paid and when you’ll be paid and you’ve got a hard copy of that agreement.

Good luck.

If you are still keen after reading all that

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