The first few steps on the path to becoming a freelancer can be quite daunting. In this article I will cover some of the most important ideas to remember when venturing out into the world of freelancing, as well as some tips for maintaining your freelancing business once you’ve gotten started. The main topics I will touch on are Starting a Freelance Business, Handling Clients, Self-promotion and Marketing, the Challenges of Freelancing and Work/Life Balance.
Starting a Freelance Business
Have a Business Plan
A business plan outlines what your business is designed to do. In this document you define what your activities are, which market you cater to and what the aims and objectives that your company wants to achieve in future are. To write an effective business plan you should know what you are passionate about, what type of client needs your services and how you want to deliver them. An important thing to bear in mind when writing a business plan is that you need to continually add value to what you’re offering: learn in order to develop your expertise, observe the best practices and look for feedback from clients to identify what they. A brief guide to writing a business plan can be found here.
The best way of alleviating your fears about starting a new chapter as an entrepreneur is to get familiar with the field. Research gives you a better idea of what you need to do to start a business in terms of resources, education or legal framework. In order to judge if a particular field is the right one for you it is worth looking for some real-life examples. You can see not only the reality of the everyday grind, but might even find ways of doing what others are doing better. Some basic tips on doing research are mentioned in this post.
Decide on your Services or Niche
It is essential that you spend enough time brainstorming different ideas before you decide to go independent. Write a list of what you want to do. To achieve success in freelancing you should be clear about what your core product is, the benefits you can bring the client and some complimentary products or services which will help attract attention. For inspiration you can check this list of business ideas which won’t require a hefty investment.
Join Official Associations
Becoming a member of a professional body in your particular field provides you with numerous benefits which can help you to develop and secure your business, find new contacts and have someone to turn in case you need to deal with unknown or complicated issues.You will also be able to access many useful resources at discounted prices or even free of charge. A British association that caters to the needs of freelancers is the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE). By joining you can receive a sick-time insurance policy as a member benefit.
Get Income Insurance
Setting out on the freelance career requires investment. In the beginning, when you are building your brand and trying to secure a steady client base it is worth having something to fall back on financially. Income Insurance is set up to subsidize you temporarily in case you are unable to work due to injury or illness. It usually covers 75% of your income and enables you to maintain your basic living costs during your recovery. There are different income insurance packages on offer. A brief overview can be found here. Another type of insurance you will need a some point is business insurance. This page is a practical guide and will introduce you to several types of insurance currently available in the UK.
Get out of your Comfort Zone
Where are most of the great ideas? Buried underground with their owners who were too apprehensive about giving them a try in real life. There are many reasons why people hesitate to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality. You may be scared that it will not work out and will drain all your resources, worried about the reaction of your family or friends or simply scared of the unknown. In order to achieve great things in life and work, we sometimes need to be willing to take a leap of faith. Some inspiration on how to do so can be found in this article.
In order to succeed you need to surround yourself with people who can inspire you and answer your questions. A good idea is to look at forum sites where you can discuss your idea with successful professionals such as Quora. Another good way to mentally prepare yourself for entrepreneurship is to change you way of thinking. Learn to think more positively. Instead of perceiving challenges as obstacles approach them as lessons which can help you get further in life. Another important thing is the mental picture of what you are trying to achieve. Visualise your goals and the lifestyle you are working towards. Reading about the lives of successful entrepreneurs is also great motivation and you will see how many difficult obstacles can be overcome by people who have grind and self-belief.
Self-promotion and marketing
Build Your Network
Not only is networking great for sharing ideas and knowledge but it can also result in new business opportunities. You can get job referrals, be offered a partnership in a project or recieve requests for your services. Apart from gaining exposure to people attending a networking event you can also build connections with their network too and also have a chance to share details of useful people within your existing network. Networking will help you master the art of meaningful conversation and increase your self-confidence when you start to get noticed. The success of your networking efforts depend largely on your personality. Whereas extroverts are the life of the party and enjoy big and glamorous stages, introverts do better in smaller and more intimate settings where they can focus on people more closely. Introverts tend to be better listeners and generally more inquisitive than their extroverted counterparts.
Consider the Current Situation of your Business
Everyone in the business world has periods of success as well as rough patches. Your need to self-promote will change based on how long you have been in the business. When you’re starting to promote your products it’s a good idea to consider what stage it’s in (product life-cycle). During the introduction phase, where the product is launched to market, the cost of advertising is high. If/when the product enters the growth stage, the product is gaining a positive response and is becoming profitable and the cost of marketing gets lower. The maturity and saturation stage is where your product is a cash-cow which pays for itself. To sustain its popularity, public relations methods are applied in order to maintain a positive reputation and a good relationship with the buyers. In case you have not received acceptance from the market and your product is in decline, you need to start creating more buzz about your product and make it more attractive to the buyer.
Create your Brand Identity
By definition brand identity stands for the visible elements of a brand (colour pattern, logo design, symbol, physical premises, staff uniforms etc.) that together single out the brand in the consumer’s eyes. Nowadays, with so much exposure, and the ability to get online easily, the importance of a strong brand identity and its promotion are more important than ever. It’s certainly worth your money to hire a skillful designer who can create an eye-catching and memorable identity. If your aim is to have an online business, you may need to find a social media consultant as well.
Create your Brand Essence
A simple way of describing brand essence is a vision for your business. It’s important to know what you stand for, especially because this knowledge will help you to distinguish yourself from your competition. The essence of a brand communicates the core concepts of a company and what it stands for – their way of doing business, approaching customers and delivering products. Brand essence is a type of statement which can usually be found in the introductory section of various platforms used to promote a company.
Try Personal Branding
What do you want people to associate you with when they think of your name? Is there a certain subject matter in which you want to be perceived as an expert? Are there general qualities you want linked to your brand? An example of how a strong brand leads to successful career can be seen with Michael Port, a professional development specialist. On his website he writes:
“I’ve been called an “uncommonly honest author” by the Boston Globe and a “marketing guru” by The Wall Street Journal, which I think is cool because I may be the only former professional actor to also be a New York Times bestselling business author.~
Work on a Good Promotional Strategy
When trying to figure out the best method to spread the word about your services or products, you should consider factors such as your target market, the size of your business, the type of clients you can reach and the type of media which will be most cost-efficient to use for your promotional efforts. Some ideas for different types of promotional strategies can be found here.
Start promoting yourself as an expert in your field by offering your opinion to the uninformed. Create your own blog and write guest posts for other websites to market yourself as an authority online. Offline, you can present yourself as an expert by teaching a class at a local college or library, writing an informative article for a local newsletter or speaking at conferences, conventions and trade shows. Contribute to expert forums (eg quora, wikihow, wikipedia etc) and make a link to your portfolio.
Choose your Target Market
Consider who will need your services the most and what kind of client you would like to work with. It’s useful to divide your potential clientele into specific groups, also known as segments.
Factors to consider when you want to define a segment include geographical location, age, sex, decision making patterns, context or cultural background. More information about market segmentation is included in this article.
Look for Clients in the Right Places
Especially in the beginning of a freelancing career, you will need to constantly reach out to people to do business. Professional networking events give you an opportunity to meet many individuals from various fields who may need help with their projects or know of other people that might be interested. It’s also worth checking niche job boards where opportunities specific your area of expertise are advertised. In case you are too busy to go out of the office and prefer to chat to someone in the comfort of your home there are also online networking events available.
Pick the Right Clients
There are clients who can make or break your business. There are numerous warning signs to watch out for in a client’s attitude and behaviour. Clients who are disorganized, unresponsive to your initial messages or constantly change requirements after you’ve agreed on them are potentially very harmful to your business and not worth retaining. Good clients tend to know what they want and will often seek you out. They also provide information on time and generally show that they care. These kinds of clients typically provide referrals and good reviews.
Research the Clients Needs
Design a first-contact questionnaire that you can use when a client initially contacts you. In order to succeed in a competition with other bidders, not only do you need to sell your services but you also need to get to know the client well and in a short period of time. The questionnaire should help you to learn the basics about a client, their target audience and project goals. You can find some ideas about what kind of questions you could use in this article.
Have a Workflow Process in Place
A workflow process is a summary of procedures which outlines steps that need to be done in order to complete a task. A basic workflow process in the customer service field could look like this: handling receipt of a query, evaluating the scenario, addressing the problem and delivering the fixed product to the client. Workflow processes are often presented in a form of a graphic. In case you want to design a workflow process this way there are various types of software available to help you.
Write Effective Proposals
Writing client proposals is an essential skill for every freelancer. It’s essentially a roadmap which defines the roles each party has in a project, goals that you are working towards and what benefits the client can expect. Usually a proposal has about 500 words – equal to one A4 page. The topics covered in a proposal include: your background information, an outline of how you can help the client achieve their goals, a timeline, cost and your contact details. Choose a simple layout and avoid language which may sound over-confident or untrustworthy. Most importantly, make sure you dedicate enough time to researching your clients and their industry so that you understand what they are looking for.
Handle Problems Professionally
The first step in avoiding any serious issues is to establish clear rules during your preliminary discussions for how the work will be executed. Note down enough detail about the client’s project to gain a good understanding of their goals and expectations and be sure to specify the roles and responsibilities of each party. Finally, define a revision policy in which you clearly state the conditions and the number of revisions included in the basic price. This will help you define clear terms and conditions for your business.
Challenges of Freelancing
Knowing your Worth
Usually, less experienced writers have a tendency to undervalue their work. Starting off cheaply makes sense to some extent, but after a while it can not only break your budget, but also damage your reputation. What many freelancers do not realise is that freelancing and your day job are not on the same level budget-wise. There are useful tools which can make it easier for freelancers to set their hourly or project rates correctly.
Managing your Time Effectively
Having a well-organised schedule will allow you to stay on top of your workload, and most importantly, encourage you to do the necessary amount of work to cover your expenses. Some helpful time management tools are available for free at Remember the Milk. You should also observe which times of the day you tend to be more productive, and adapt your schedule accordingly (if possible).
Focus on Key Customers
In terms of client base the 80:20 rule usually applies – 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. To make the most of the loyal and well-paying clientele, give important customers more personalised service and more than adequate attention. Give them reasons to come back by sending them customised newsletters, special offers relevant to them or educational emails pitching your services. Tools like Toddle can help if you need to speed things up.
Let Go of you Perfectionism
Successful people develop perfectionist tendencies at an early age and as a kid, it’s easy to maintain these tendencies. But if you still have this attitude as an adult, your life can become pretty complicated. According to the executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, the author of The Office Survival Guide, when you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive. The healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.
Set up a Diary
Having a diary can help with your day-to-day operations enormously. It enables you to schedule business meetings, distribute shared resources (eg. rooms, equipment and vehicles),
record daily commitments, work through tasks systematically by identifying high priority tasks, have an overview of completed tasks and keep records accurate. You can choose from a great variety of diary systems nowadays. Commonly used types are: appointment book, desk diary, appointment software, personal digital assistant (PDA) or wallchart.
Physical clutter in your surroundings can affect your attention and often leads to worsened performance and increased stress. It can be a heavy burden for your senses, impairing your ability to think creatively. If you want to improve your focus while working, turn off your cell phone and tidy up your desk. For some tips on how to do that you can have a look at this useful article.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
If you want to succeed, you simply cannot surround yourself with people who suck the life out of you with negative attitudes and endless complaints. Those who gossip behind your back, display selfish behaviour or can’t make any decisions on their own will not only destroy you as a professional, but can seriously affect your emotional balance too. This post gives you some examples of ‘toxic’ people you certainly don’t want to co-operate with. You can find some tips on how handle toxic clients here
Manage Communication Effectively
When you finally manage to get your career off the ground and achieve the first few successful deals, the number of emails receive can easily top 200 per day. Add to that the clients that want to meet you personally or communicate with you via phone or video conference and you’re talking about a serious amount of time and effort to keep communication efficient and smooth. To stay productive (and maintain your sanity), set up a system of sorting out important messages from the rest – effective prioritizing is key. A good start is to study your mailbox. How many messages have you received today? This week? How many did you reply to? Were all priority messages dealt with? Once that is done, learn to filter messages: create folders, use a marking/labelling system. There will probably be some emails that you do not need. If so, unsubscribe from useless email alerts and/or create email rules which will route them to the appropriate folder. Try to read everything one time only, delete spam or “nice-to-know” messages, and most importantly, consider if you need to send many emails yourself.
Build Downtime into your Daily Plan
When planning your week, do not forget to schedule some time for yourself, your family and your friends. Engage in some leisure activities that help you forget the daily grind and recharge. Looking forward to fun times during the week will ease pressure off your mind and gives you something to look forward to and adds extra motivation to manage your time well.
Schedule Breaks and Rewards
Having regular breaks is important to relieve the stress that accumulates during the course of a work day. Solopreneurs often have to deal with heavy workloads, tight deadlines and long hours sitting at a desk. This not only affects your mental capacity and performance, but your physical health too. Breaks will contribute to your eye health, especially if your job is based on computer work. If you want to avoid computer vision syndrome, rest your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use. Get away from your desk or go for a walk. Breaks will also ease tension across your back, neck, shoulders and arms which is caused by sitting still for too long. Upper-back and shoulder/arm stretches are some of the most important/relieving, but be sure to get up and stretch your legs as well.
Find Time to Exercise
It’s well-known that exercise can keep you healthy and boost your energy levels. It also reduces body weight, as well as the risk of many heart and cardiovascular diseases and improves your mental health. During physical activity, the body releases serotonin that helps to keep you in a good mood and curbs feelings of anxiety and depression. Popular exercises that can help to keep up your general health include walking, running, weight lifting, swimming, jogging and yoga.
Poor diets often weaken a person’s ability to concentrate because the brain is not getting what it needs to perform optimally. It also has a negative impact on your emotional balance and makes you prone to being irritable. Healthy eating includes consuming high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water, while minimizing processed foods, saturated fats and alcohol (although the occasional dark beer or glass of red wine has been shown to have some health benefits). Foods that are a must in your daily diet include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, brown rice and alternatives to white sugar such as stevia or honey.
Get a Personal Notebook
It’s usually during your leisure time when you suddenly think of an interesting or important work-related idea. Having a little idea-book that you carry around with you will enable you to capture all the best thoughts and ideas and you will be able to clear your mind and relax, knowing that you can revisit them when you resume working.
Learn a Relaxation Technique
Mindfulness exercises allow you to handle your thoughts better and focus. Mindfulness is meant to identify, tolerate and reduce difficult, painful and even frightening thoughts, feelings and sensations. As a result of these “mindful” activities, you can gain mastery over your thoughts and feelings. The most fundamental reason to do these mindful exercises is to become aware of the here and now, and enjoy the present moment.