Owning a freelance business is a dream come true for many people. It gives you complete control of your life and your own schedule. It is ideal for those with family obligations that make a “normal” work schedule difficult. Freelancing can be ideal, but it is business ownership, so you must work hard to create success. In addition to your projects, you also need to market your business, and handle administrative tasks, all while maintaining your health and home. Achieving this balance is challenging, but it is easier if you focus on a few important things.
There are all sorts of reasons to want to go freelance. You want to be in charge of your daily schedule, your income and every area of your life. Of course, becoming a successful freelancer is really difficult, as it takes time to build a solid client base. It all starts, however, with that very first job. It all starts with one person saying yes to what you have to offer. So how do you do get that first paycheck? Here are a few techniques to help you reach this goal.
There are a million awesome things about freelancing. You are your own boss. You set your hours. If the weather’s nice, you can stop and take the dog out for a jaunt in the park. You get to do what you love, every day, and nobody else takes credit for your hard work. Having built your own business gives you an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
It’s not all butterflies and roses and three-hour lunch breaks, though. I’ve found that some of the biggest—and least expected—challenges I face as a freelancer have been problems of perspective, of priorities, of wondering if this really is a legitimate career. In other words, the “mental” side of freelancing.
Below are three things I’ve struggled with, along with some solutions that work for me. If you have anything to add, either a problem or a solution, please leave a comment!
Work wherever you want — one of the priceless benefits of freelancing
The Priceless Lifestyle
Freelancing is not just about the money or the potential to make money. Actually, it’s mostly not about the money. It’s about the fantastic, liberating lifestyle that accompanies it. It’s the magnificent freedom to…
- Do the work that I love
- Work when I want
- Work where I want
- Work with who I want
- Be my own boss
- Have no limits
We freelancers often have an unsteady, unpredictable flow of work to do for clients. One month might be painfully slow and the next crazy busy. If you’re going through a time when you don’t have much client work to do, here are 5 highly productive tasks you can do to improve your knowledge & skills and to attract new projects from new and existing clients.
Freelancing: A Secure Form of Employment?
My freelance income distribution from 2011 -- as you can see, I had 3 clients who comprised more than half of my income, which increased my financial risk
One of the facts of life that freelancers face is that we often need to deal with an unsteady cash flow. Freelancers have good times and bad times financially and our earnings reflect those situations. Most people are scared off by this unpredictability, which prevents them from even considering freelancing. (After all, your rent, student loans, and car payment will be the same every month regardless of how much you earn in that period, so shouldn’t your income also be the same every month too?) Compared to being employed by a single company and receiving a steady paycheck month after month, freelancing – at first glance – seems like the opposite of a “steady job.” However, being a freelancer can actually provide more job security than having a single employer. Here’s how…
Should you concentrate on a particular niche or have a more generalized knowledge base and skill set?
One of the most common questions beginning freelancers ask themselves is, “should I be really good at one thing or pretty good at many things?” The answer is – you guessed it – it depends. There are advantages and disadvantages to both specializing in one area and having more general knowledge in several areas. Here are the main pro/con arguments.
Laziness Doesn’t Have to Be Bad
She may be lazy, but she's also being more productive than you
“Lazy” is probably one of the last words a typical freelancer might use to describe him or herself. Indeed, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful as a freelancer if laziness is your motto. However, laziness isn’t all bad. In fact, laziness – if used properly – can lead to higher efficiency, better productivity, more free time, and less overall frustration.
My successful advertising strategy budget: $0
My website-like Craigslist ad for web design & development
That’s right: zero. Yet, I have so many potential clients contacting me that I simply don’t have enough time or energy to help them all, so I end up turning down business. How is this possible?
largest only 2 sources of clients are referrals from existing clients and Craigslist – both free, but very powerful, advertising techniques. In the past, I’ve advertised in local publications such as newsletters and newspapers but ended up wasting my money paying for those ads because I didn’t get any leads. These days, most people go to Craigslist – not the classifieds in the newspaper – to find what they’re looking for, including freelancers. I’ve been advertising exclusively on Craigslist for years now, and I’ve been very happy with the results.
As you probably know, posting an ad on Craigslist is free in nearly every situation. This is great. However, Craigslist is also absolutely littered with boring, mediocre posts for very average and subpar web designers & developers and other types of freelancers. The challenge for you as the freelancer will be “standing out” of the crowd. Luckily, this actually isn’t very difficult – at least on Craigslist – provided you have some design skills and an understanding of basic HTML.
Watch this fantastically useful and entertaining lecture about preventing yourself from being screwed by clients by creating bulletproof contracts so you can focus on actual freelancing instead of legal stuff!
The Beginning (ca. 2004-2006)
This is the kind of thing that initially motivated me... (a PowerBook G4 at the time)
I’ve always been a techno nerd, gadget geek, and somewhat of an Apple fanboy (less so now than when I was younger). Unfortunately, for a 14 year old kid with no job, I didn’t have a means of affording and playing with cool new computer equipment or electronics. A small allowance, birthday gifts, and Christmas gifts were my only “income” generators.
To change this, I decided to start a small neighborhood business helping people with their Macs (naturally, because I was obsessed with Apple and knew a lot about Macs). I asked my parents if I could put a small advertisement in a small, local newsletter and they agreed to help me pay for that ad. My starting hourly rate was a very respectable $10.
Over the next year or two, I slowly and irregularly began acquiring clients, mostly friends and acquaintances of my parents. My legs, bike, and scooter were my modes of transportation. I troubleshooted and fixed computers, printers, and networking issues and taught clients how to perform tasks on their Macs, as well as answer any random tech-related questions they had.
Around this time, I also became very interested in web design and taught myself HTML, CSS, and Photoshop. This interest and these skills would become very useful later.
Opening Up Doors (ca. 2006-2008)
1. Underestimating time & project costs
Skip the frustration by learning from my biggest mistakes as a freelancer
Underestimating time and project costs is easily the biggest mistake I’ve made, and also the biggest mistake freelancers make in general. Why? Because it’s extremely difficult to calculate how long a project will take when you haven’t completed a similar project in the past to use as a reference.
I’ve found that the largest “unknown” factor that consumes much more time than I expected is communication with clients and making countless revisions and minor changes to a project.
I believe the only truly effective way to produce more accurate estimates is to carefully track time on projects now so that in the future, when you have projects similar in scope, you have some real, hard data to use for calculating the estimates.
2. Accepting equity (shares) in startup companies as compensation instead of hourly compensation