5 big things I’ve learned as a freelancer

Becoming a freelancer takes real confidence.

When you decide to leave your cosy salaried job to become self-employed, that means taking a giant leap of faith – and keeping your fingers crossed that you can actually make a living from your new venture.

So if you’re getting itchy feet in your current employee role, and you’re seriously considering going freelance, what are the main areas you need to get right?

Freelancer writing freelance work

My freelance journey…

When you work for yourself, you tend to focus on the NOW, rather than looking back at the PAST. But April 2018 has marked a couple of milestones in my journey as a self-employed freelance content writer and consultant.

  • A year of self-employment – it’s one year since I became self-employed on a full-time basis. I’d dabbled in freelancing 2 days per week for a couple of years, but finally took the plunge to leave salaried employment in April last year. And I’ve now been through that first 12-month cycle of being entirely financially dependent on my own income.
  • 200 pieces of work invoiced – on 1 April, I raised the 200th client invoice in my Xero online accounting software. That’s two hundred pieces of content I’ve completed for clients, and two hundred times I’ve earned a living from my writing services.

So what have I learned about freelancing in this time?

Here are 5 things I’ve learned that make freelancing easier, more financially stable and more secure as a career path.

Freelance writer

1. Be clear about what you do

This may seem blindingly obvious, but it’s important to sit down and decide exactly what your freelance business does (and who your customers are likely to be).

Whether you’re a designer, an accountant or an interior designer, it’s vital to think about what you’re offering – and that means outlining the key services you plan to offer, and how you’re going to market these services to your audience.

To get your business up and running:

  • Define your unique selling point – decide on the services, industries and niche you’re planning to focus on, and how you’ll stand out in that market.
  • Get yourself a website – and explain in the clearest possible terms how you can help your intended customers, and how they can get in touch with you.

2. Make sure you get your pricing right

To be successful as a freelancer it’s vital that you bring in enough cash to provide a living wage. Central to this is making sure you set the right prices for your services – and can find enough customers willing to pay this price for your valuable services.

To make your pricing work in the long-term:

  • Research prices in your market – see what other freelancers are charging for similar services, and know the market rate so you have a benchmark.
  • Be open and honest about pricing – talk about price from the outset of any engagement, and make pricing as transparent as possible (no hidden extras!).
  • Offer discounts where it adds value – if a client wants regular, ongoing work then offering a small discount on price may swing the deal. That keeps the client happy and gives you a more stable income.

3. Work with the most valuable clients

When you’re first starting out as self-employed, the natural tendency is to take on as many clients, and as much work, as you can do. But, in reality, taking on every client that comes your way may not be the best thing for the long-term health of your new business – or for your own personal health, stress levels and work/life balance!

To build up the most valuable client base:

  • Work with people you like – follow your gut feeling, and choose to work with people where there’s a genuine connection and a good working relationship.
  • Review how profitable each client is – periodically, check that you’re getting the revenues and value you need from each client on your books.
  • Ditch the time-consuming clients – and make a habit of weeding out the less valuable clients, so you can focus your efforts on the people who actually bring in the money and pay your bills for you.

4. Get on top of your finances

Accounts, budgets and tax returns may sound like the most boring things on the planet, but if you don’t take care of your finances, you’ll soon end up in big trouble.

Ultimately, you’re running a business here – and every business needs enough cashflow to trade, and enough profits to provide a living. So getting your head around the basic financial elements is vital and will definitely pay dividends in the long run.

To stay in control of your money:

  • Get yourself some cloud accounting software – so you can do your bookkeeping, record your expenses and easily complete your annual tax return. Xero, QuickBooks and FreeAgent are all good options (and avoid free software if you can justify the cost).
  • Set a budget and manage cashflow – calculate how much money you need each month, and set a budget so you know whether you’re bringing that planned revenue in.
  • Make it easy to get paid – think about using the simplest payment methods (GoCardless, iZettle, Square etc.) so you reduce the changes of late payment.

5. Connect with other freelancers

One of the biggest changes for people making the ‘corporate to freelance’ journey is the lone nature of being a freelancer. You’re no longer part of a team, and don’t have the same level of support, advice and social interaction that you do in an office job.

If you’ve chosen the solopreneur career route it’s important to build a new network. Find the people to connect with so you can create a ‘virtual office vibe’ – before you start going batty and having your water-cooler moment chats with the cat/goldfish.

  • Follow people in your industry – and use your various social media accounts to connect with clients, ex-colleagues and other freelancers who work in your chosen sector or niche.
  • Get talking to people – if you’re working around other freelancers, remote workers or laptop warriors, then strike up a conversation. I’ve made good friends and contacts just by talking to people at the next table – and it gets you connecting to real people.

freelance work

Go freelance! Take that leap of faith

So, would I recommend becoming a freelancer? It’s definitely not for everyone, and you do need real motivation, organisation and business sense to make it work.

But if you’re bored of the rat race and want to get back control of your own career, I’d heartily recommend giving freelancing a try. With a portfolio of regular customers, the support of a good network of people and a little bit of financial common sense, you can become your own boss and make yourself a lot happier.

Think carefully, plan out your business idea and ensure you can bring in the income you need. But, most of all, just take that leap of faith and go for it!

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