Freelancing is great. There are many reasons why anyone working in the creative field, whether we’re talking about design, web, art or writing, should freelance. Being your own boss, picking your own schedule and working from home are a blast. But it’s not easy, especially at the beginning. Things will go wrong and, unless you are blessed with supernatural luck, you most probably will want to pull out all your hair at some point.
Before leaving your 9-5 job and calling yourself a freelancer, you should be well prepared in order to ensure your success.
Save money for a rainy day
Do it. As much as you can. Saving is not easy but you will later thank yourself if you do. When you start freelancing, chances are you will not have passive income right from the beginning. You will need to work hard for your money and, sometimes, even your best efforts won’t pay off. There will be down times when finding clients will be hard. You should be ready for those times. If you can put a few months’ rent aside so that when job slows down you won’t panic and become all stressed out.
Marketing 101: Building your portfolio
When you begin working as a freelancer, you should already have your online portfolio up and running. By a portfolio, I mean a website where your clients will be able to find information about you, the services you offer, your contact information as well as the work you’ve done before. A portfolio is one of the greatest tools you’ll have to promote yourself and your work. When prospects will enter the site, they’ll need to know within a few seconds what you do and why you are great at it. In other words: why should they hire YOU and not someone else?
Some professionals have made it without a portfolio. How they did it? They had a very strong network and a stable client base already. Word of mouth is also a powerful ally you shouldn’t overlook but unlike your portfolio, you have little control over what is being said. You can influence your clients by providing an amazing service and amazing work but you will never know everything that is being said about you.
Getting out there
Building a portfolio is great, but if you stop there, nothing will happen. You need to make sure everyone you know is aware it’s out there. So the next best thing you can do is spread the word; contact your ex-coworkers, your clients, your prospects, your friends, your family… everyone. Tell them once more about your services, your work and what makes you awesome. Remember that most of them aren’t in your shoes and don’t know much about your field. You’ll have to explain them and make it clear why you’re the best.
Having business cards is a must. Being able to hand in something when you meet someone new is a great plus as they will be less likely to forget you. Make sure your business cards have your name, services and contact information on them.
Finally, getting out there also means attending events related to your field and being active in your community. Remember what I said about word of mouth being a great ally? By meeting other professionals in your area you will be able to spread the word around and more likely to be contacted for new projects.
Speaking of meeting new people, finding new clients is something that you will have to do. You might be lucky enough to have a great client base already but you will sometimes face calm periods when work may be lacking. There are many strategies you can employ: cold calling, email or direct mail marketing, face to face meetings, etc. Concoct your own marketing recipe and apply it. Don’t be scared of getting out there and show what you’re worth. The only thing stopping you is yourself.
Once you find clients, do your best to keep them. Handle them with care, be understanding and flexible. They will like you for it. Put your foot down when needed and tell them what they can expect before working with you. If you make it clear from the beginning, there is no reason why your relationship with a client should go south, unless of course you encounter an abusive type; that’s when contracts become handy.
One of the greatest things of being a freelancer is that you can refuse to work for someone. The other side of the coin is that you have to cultivate the relationships with your good clients. Freelancing isn’t just waiting for work to arrive to your desk, completing the task and turning off your computer; it’s doing follow-ups and always being ready to help your clients when they need you. Customer service really is at the heart of a successful business.
Sharing 101: Blogging and social media
Sharing is caring. Blogging will not only bring traffic to your site, it will also make you stand out as a professional. If you are freelancing, it’s usually because you have something great to offer and you’re successful enough to pay your bills, rent and food. It’s an accomplishment in itself. If you can, create a blog and talk about your field, your passions and share your knowledge with the rest of the community. If you do a good job and dedicate some time to it, people will start seeing you as a mentor and come to you for advice and services. Plus you will be helping others. Can it get any better than that?
Social media is also a crucial aspect of sharing. The more you contribute, the more you will be noticed there as well. If you registered your own business, create a page in Facebook and invite your friends and clients to like it. If you don’t already have an account already, register on Twitter and follow the people who inspire you and motivate you. Other places where you can share your work include DeviantART, Tumblr, Flickr, Forrst, Subjot and Dribbble, to name only a few.
Creating and sharing is a simple enough formula to remember for any starting freelancer. If you decide to follow that path, make sure it’s what you want and that it will make you happy. Freelancing is a great challenge but you have to be committed in order to succeed. It’s a lifelong process and nothing is ever guaranteed.
Can you take a leap of faith?