Starting out as a freelancer can be a daunting prospect, so any advice that makes it easier to win work, find customers and get paid is always going to be welcome.
Back in April 2018, I published my 5 Big Things I’ve Learned As A Freelancer blog post, to give the self-employed newbie some top tips on making the freelance life work. And, with four years and 300 invoices now under my belt, I’m back with five more hints and tips to make life easier.
So, buckle up and get ready for a few more freelance home truths.
1. It’s tricky getting paid on time
Yes, the perennial problem of getting paid for the work you’ve done!
I’ve mentioned late payment before but it’s still a huge issue for freelancers, with many larger and corporate-level companies still having a somewhat lax approach when it comes to paying their freelancers and short-term contract workers on time.
So, to keep your payments coming in on time:
- Use online invoicing and payment options – emailing an electronic invoice to clients removes the outdated paper trail approach and gets your invoice straight to the person who’s going to pay you. If you include a payment button on the invoice, from PayPal, GoCardless, Stripe or one of the growing number of online payment providers, you’ll get paid quicker.
- Quote a PO number or reference – if your customer uses purchase order (PO) numbers, make sure you quote the relevant reference on your invoice. The easier you make it for the client to match your invoice with the relevant PO, the quicker you’ll get paid.
- Copy the accounts team in on the invoice – Accounts Payable are the people who will actually press send on your payment, so make sure you always CC in the customer’s accounts team on every invoice.
- Chase people regularly – make use of the automated reminders function in your invoicing software to chase those late payers and take the hassle out of it for you, while also keeping the pressure on for bad payers.
2. Don’t take on more work than you can handle
When you work hard as a freelancer, you earn more money – and that’s one of the big attractions of working for yourself, and not being on a salaried (but limited) wage.
But – and it’s a very important but – don’t be tempted to take on every piece of work, simply because it’s being offered to you. If you bite off more than you chew, you’ll end up working late into the night, losing your weekends and (ultimately) crashing and burning.
To keep yourself working, but not overdoing it:
- Work out your capacity for the week – block out mornings, afternoons or whole days, based on the work you’ve taken on for the coming week. Once you’ve filled those slots, don’t take on more work – or tell your client that they’ll have to wait until a later day if they want you to take on this project.
- Only work with the best people – another big plus point of being freelance is that you choose who you work with. So try to work with clients who you like, who are organised and who you trust won’t make unreasonable demands of your time or skills.
- Use a project management tool – managing your time and your projects can be tricky, so use a project management app to help you. I use Trello, which is an incredibly simple way of managing projects online and from your phone.
3. Make sure you have a contract with clients
It would be great if we lived in a world where you could implicitly trust every person, and knew there would never be any accidents, problems or unexpected issues to deal with. But that’s not the reality we live in – so you need to account for some things (occasionally) going wrong.
Having some form of contract, service line agreement (SLA) or agreed partnership with your clients makes a lot of sense – and it’s something I definitely need to tighten up on myself.
To keep yourself secure and reduce your risk:
- Draw up a simple contract – this doesn’t need to be a huge legal document, but it does need to state the nature of your business relationship with the client, outline the agreed services you’ll supply and lay out how, when and what the client will need to pay you.
- Make sure your terms are 100% clear – don’t fill your agreements with tonnes of legal jargon. Just lay out the terms in plain English and be very transparent about things like your payment terms, who owns any intellectual property and any other important stipulations.
- Get business insurance – even the very smallest business can get sued, so it’s advisable to get yourself some specific business insurance to make sure you’re covered.
4. Charge for extra work and overruns
If you’ve done any kind of freelance or contract-based work, you’ll know that projects rarely run exactly to plan.
Briefs get changed by the client, new requests get made and people drag their heels when it comes to reviews, feedback and sign-off. And that means it’s more than likely that, on occasion, you’ll end up doing more work, using up more hours and generally overrunning on the timescales and capacity needed for a job.
To stop you losing out when the client isn’t on the ball try:
- Charging for extra time – if you’ve done more work than you quoted for, you should be paid for it. So make sure to invoice out this extra time, stick to your own terms and get paid for the hard work you’re delivering for clients.
- Making it clear when overruns will be charged – have clear wording around how many review cycles or rounds of edits/changes you are including in your fee. And explain how much you’ll charge for additional work beyond this.
- Including this on every invoice – make sure the formal wording re overruns is included in the small print on every invoice, so there’s no argument about your T&Cs regarding extra work, reviews or unexpected changes.
5. Get out there and talk to people
One of the key downsides of being self-employed is that you’re no longer part of a team – and if you also work from home then it can be quite a solitary and isolated working experience.
Becoming a ‘coffee-shop worker’ and using your local ‘coffice’ (coffee-shop office) as a base to work from is one way to overcome this lack of direct human connection. I’ve found it works well for me and means I’m not sat at home 5 days a week staring at the same walls.
To make the digital nomad approach work:
- Have a portable work set-up – whether that’s a full laptop, an iPad and keyboard or even just working from your smartphone. If you can pack a small set-up into a rucksack then you can literally work wherever there is Wi-Fi.
- Have a regular coffice – you don’t have to be in there 9-5, but doing a regular few hours in the same coffee shop means you start to know people (and they start to know you and see you as a valued regular customer). Don’t forget to actually keep buying drinks and paying your way, though!
- Talk to other coffice workers – increasingly, you see more and more people working from mobile devices in cafes and coffee shops. So if you’re working near someone, have a chat and get to know them. I’ve connected with some great people just by having a quick chat in the coffee queue.
Make freelancing work for you
Freelancing is certainly not for the fainthearted. It does take a lot of self-motivation, drive and hard work to make a living from freelancing, but the ultimate rewards can be high if you get it right.
With some proper thought, organisation and forward-planning, you can create a working life that’s flexible, rewarding and (ultimately) profitable. You’ll never have the same predictable income as a salaried worker, but you will see the rewards of your hard work a lot more quickly than when you were on a pay cheque.
I hope these five new freelancer tips gave you some inspiration – and if you’re still considering whether to take the leap into freelancing, I’d say: do it, try it and see where the self-employed life takes you!