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How to become successful as a freelancer

Written 17 August, 2018, 4 minutes to read

Quitting your job to become your own boss is a dream shared by many. The idea of working from your sofa, choosing the projects you want to work on and creating your own schedule sounds too good to be true. And, sadly, for many aspiring freelancers it often is.

While trying your hand is one thing, actually becoming successful as a freelancer is a whole other ball game. If you’re serious about going freelance – and don’t just have a heavy case of the Monday blues – here’s how to make it work.

Put yourself out there

You’ve quit your job, you’ve cleared a work space at the table, you’ve bought some comfy pants… now you can get on with all the work that’s going to just come flooding in, right? Wrong.

Well, wrong unless you’ve already put yourself out there. Freelancing by nature is fraught with uncertainty – even the best freelancers have gaps of inactivity. But generally, the more renown you are, the easier it is to secure work. And to get to that level, you have to put yourself out there… big time.

Before you even hand in your notice, contact everyone you know who might be in the market for your work. Tell them:

  1. When you’re leaving your job
  2. What you’ll be doing
  3. That you are ready to take on projects immediately.

This might mean working super hard for the next few weeks, but you need the contacts, you need the experience and, most importantly, you need the references. Network, go for coffee with other freelancers, join relevant professional associations, get in people’s faces.

It takes time to build up a regular flow of work, so be patient. As long as you put in serious effort to get your name out there (and, of course, actually do a good job) you’ll start seeing results.

Develop your brand

You might not consider yourself a “brand person”, but with freelancing you are your brand. When you sell your skills you also have to sell yourself – especially since so much of freelancing depends on good working relationships and personal appeal.

Start by developing your online presence to make yourself findable:

  1. Set up your own website – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
  2. Update your LinkedIn profile, adding anything that’s related to your freelancing.
  3. Do the same thing on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Google+… and any other platform that might be relevant.

Then establish yourself as an expert in your field. Are there any upcoming industry events where you can speak? If you’re not up for public speaking, go anyway – network and hand out business cards like your life depends on it. To become a successful freelancer you need to be confident in your abilities, and these activities strengthen that more than you might realize.

Know your worth

Knowing your worth is essential to succeeding as a freelancer because it allows you charge better rates, turn down jobs you’ve got no interest in, and produce work of a higher standard – which is, obviously, hugely beneficial when trying to secure repeat business. Figuring out this worth is two-fold:

Firstly, you need to figure out your rate – a notoriously tricky thing to do when starting out. Do your research: consider what the market offers and what your skill level is. Don’t just base your rate on your most recent salary, breaking it down into hourly or daily rates. Your rate needs be able to cover:

  1. all the office job benefits you’ll be missing out on – like sick days, holidays, pensions and job security.
  2. all the billable time that goes into your work (including "hidden" tasks like client communication).

Be sensitive to the the local freelance market rate where your client is based; when you work with clients from different countries, you're unlikely to have one blanket hourly rate.

Secondly, you need to actually place enough value on yourself. While it can be tempting to say yes to every project that comes your way, remember that you have a life too. Overbooking yourself isn’t good for you or your clients; the work you produce when stressed just won’t be as good. So make sure you have enough free time in your schedule. If you use all your downtime to research projects, reply to emails or call clients, you know you’ve overbooked yourself.

Be realistic (and don’t panic)

So, you’ve created a website, updated your LinkedIn, figured out your rates and put the word out… but you’re still not getting a ton of job offers. As with anything worthwhile, being successful as a freelancer takes time. Word-of-mouth referrals are freelancing gold, so the more jobs you take on, the easier it will get to secure more work. But it does still take time.

You need to be resilient, remaining persistent in the face of rejection and apathy. Keep faith in yourself and your abilities, don’t lose heart and don’t panic. Remember that starting out is the hardest part of freelancing – and if it was easy then everyone would be doing it.

When the work does come in, know that it won’t be consistent. Freelance works ebbs and flows constantly – you might be flat out for three months and then suddenly find yourself sitting at home twiddling your thumbs. As a result, your income will be episodic, so base your financial plans around the quieter points rather than the busiest times – this means saving for those dry spells!

Try to embrace the lack of consistency; it’s all part and parcel of the unpredictable world of being a freelancer. And enjoy your downtime when you have it, putting your feet up, fixing a drink and relaxing – this, after all, will always beat being back in an office!

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