Oh freelancing. Working on the couch, in sweatpants, or no pants at all for that matter, waking up whenever you want, avoiding the daily commute, setting your own hours – yep, it’s kind of a dream.
Of course, there’s also the whole part where you have no income stability, no employer-paid benefits, lack of co-workers and a team atmosphere, and the need to be self-motivated at all times.
All in all though, it’s pretty damn sweet and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I left my 9-5 at the end of April 2017, and I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. I had been freelancing on the side in some capacity for YEARS, and still felt like I was taking this massive leap into the unknown. I didn’t sleep for 3 nights straight before my last day at work and I could barely eat. People would say they were excited for me and asked if I was, and I’d say “Sure,” accompanied by a nervous laugh. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The first two weeks were pure panic. I had a few leads but not a lot of work. And then something glorious started happening… I closed all the deals I had out and booked up with more work than I could handle. And in my first month as a full-time freelancer, I surpassed my monthly income from my previous job. I couldn’t believe it.
Fast-forward to today and I haven’t regretted my decision one bit. I get to work with some of the coolest clients and brands, I get to enjoy all of the wonderful benefits of self-employment (my personal favourites are flexibility and being able to travel whenever I want), I’ve learned to navigate my way around the challenges, I’ve added someone else onto my team, and I’ve even been featured by Forbes. Pinch me.
Whether freelancing is something you want to start on the side in order to test demand or bring in extra income, or if you’re craving to be self-employed full-time and are thinking about taking the leap, this article is for you. Read on for 7 things I would highly recommend you do before becoming a freelancer.
Become really f-ing good at what you do
I was lucky in a sense that I wanted to work for myself in areas that I already had a ton of experience in. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like “Oh, I think I want to work for myself, and this is the service I’ll offer even though I have no prior experience it in”.
Confidence and mindset are key when you are freelancing. And you know what will give you that? Being awesome at what you do. So hop to it.
Take courses, read blog articles, practice, practice, practice, and then…
Get results you can show
I see a lot of people try to freelance without any experience, which means they have no previous clients, which means they have no case studies or previous work to show potential clients.
The best way around this in my opinion? Take on a client or two FOR FREE to start. This can just be a relatively small project, or if you’re offering monthly services, perhaps it’s just offering one month for free.
Then work your ass off to get them results.
Then get a testimonial.
Then start charging every new client and those same clients from now on, because you now have proof of what you can do and the value you bring.
Got it? K good.
Don’t set your rates too low
This comes after you’ve already got some work/experience to show for yourself of course.
What would be considered “too low” is going to be different for everyone and dependent on experience, service offered, and market. But for those of you out there charging $300/month to manage social media, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.
Let me ask you this: Did you start freelancing to become a slave? Or did you do it to have more control over your time, your earning potential, and to grow your career by being a respected, results-oriented professional?
Keep in mind that a lot of your time is now going to be spent on tasks that aren’t considered “billable”. Sourcing new business, potential client calls, emails, bookkeeping, advertising, your own social media, networking, etc – these are all going to eat up a ton of your time that you’re not being paid for. I know that personally, I spend at least 30% of my time on these things. Which means that if I’m working 40 hours a week, there are only 24 hours I’m charging for.
Your clients don’t have to pay to train you, they don’t have to pay for sick days, vacation days, benefits, nadda. It also costs an employer approximately 20% of a mid-range employee’s annual salary to replace that employee. There are A LOT of benefits to a client to use a freelancer and not an employee.
The two reasons above alone should give you an understanding of why it’s not smart to simply take the annual salary of a position and divide it up to come up with your hourly rate.
Learn how to build relationships
To some people, relationship building comes naturally. Damn them. The rest of us? Well, we have to take time to actually learn how to do it.
Here’s why you can’t slack here: People want to work with people they know and like.
Sure you may be the best graphic designer in town, but if your people skills suck, nobody’s going to enjoy the process of working with you. With most clients, it’s as much about the process and ease of working together as it is about the results.
One of my favourite books when it comes to relationship building and the sales process is the class How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The book is written in language that is a bit outdated at times, but the principles are all there.
Start Building Your Personal Brand
This was one of the smartest things I did. Building my personal brand on Instagram allowed me to have an audience at my fingertips with the press of a button, and this is where most of my clients still come from today.
Social media is insanely powerful. I’d recommend starting out by choosing just ONE platform to focus on to start to build authority. My top choices for today? Instagram and LinkedIn. If your personal brand doesn’t lend itself well to Instagram, start focusing on LinkedIn. The platform has changed a lot over the past few years and the people who take it seriously are really benefitting from it.
Save Some Money
Taking the leap into full-time self-employment is scary enough as it is – you don’t need to be stressed out about making next month’s bills right off the bat. I’d highly recommend having enough for at least 3 months’ worth of expenses saved up to ensure that you feel at least a little bit of security during your transition.
Going into freelance life without any money also makes you more vulnerable to desperation tactics such as setting your rates way too low and taking on clients who are nightmares to work with.
If saving is proving really difficult, another way to look at it is to ask yourself what you’re willing to give up. Can you move or get a roommate? Can you get rid of your cable? Can you eat every meal at home? When you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Join Online Communities
I’m part of a few different Facebook groups that are exclusively for people in my field and/or are self-employed. Even though the support and community are still digital/online, I do find that being in these groups has really helped me to feel a sense of belonging. These Facebook groups also serve as a great place to ask for help when you need it, and I’ve even found new clients from within them!
I’d recommend searching for Facebook groups that are local to your area, and perhaps some that aren’t. For example, I’m part of the Vancity Business Babes facebook group and it’s become such a crucial community for any woman in Vancouver, BC who works for herself or wants to in some capacity. I’m also part of a bunch of groups that are not location-specific, but instead are very specific to a certain service I offer.
There’s so much more I could say on this topic, but it would definitely be a novel. That being said, if you’re looking for 1-on-1 mentoring in this area be sure to reach out to me as it is something I offer.