Aged 17. I was thrusted into freelancing, a lack of opportunities on the UK job market making it the most feasible option out there. At a continent where every other industry seems to be shrinking, it was one of the few growing.
I freelanced for five years alongside my studies, copywriting for countless companies across the globe. This gave me enough experience to get me in the position I’m in now: working in-house copywriting for an online accountancy firm.
The experience was a steep learning curve, and so I made a lot of mistakes during the early days. Aside from my minimal skills in the writing department, I was pretty naive when it came to the business side of things.
So, looking back on my freelancing days, here’s four things freelancers can learn from my mistakes:
1. Ensure you’ve got a web presence
When I first started out, all I had as web presence was an email address and a 100-word advert on a UK freelancers site, nothing at all in the way of a blog or website to attract clients and showcase the writing I had done.
This made it a little tougher to snare clients, as they had little idea what product they might be getting. Looking back, I’m surprised I ever did get that first client!
I got away with it back then, but I doubt I would now. The freelancing environment’s become much more competitive, and so it’s even more important to cultivate an online presence by establishing some sort of brand. It’s also fairly cheap too, with WordPress offering a free platform from which to set up your own blog and showcase your portfolio.
Elsewhere, a social media presence is also important: Google+, Twitter and Facebook all offer platforms where you can track down and interact with potential clients, whilst simultaneously showcasing your work. Read up on SEO too, as this is vital in getting your website noticed.
2. Know your worth
Integral to making freelancing a long-lasting and lucrative career option is selling your service or product for the right price. Overvalue and you’ll lose clients; undervalue and you’ll lose potential revenue.
Now, knowing what to charge isn’t easy, especially in the early days. When I first started I had no idea and probably undervalued myself sometimes, considering the sheer amount of work I put in and what little return I received.
Something I wish I’d known about was the ‘Freelance Switch hourly rate calculator’ as this can help give you a clear idea about how to price yourself. Instead, I researched what fellow freelancers were charging and tried to price myself similar to them. In retrospect this was foolish, as their selling positions were probably completely different to mine.
Largely, knowing what to charge will get easier the longer you freelance, but in the early stages of your freelancing career, try to see what resources can help you.
3. Know your legalese
Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous operators looking to take advantage of the freelance community. I’m still chasing payments from my freelancing days.
That’s why it’s so important have some legal knowledge either through your own research or the expertise of a professional attorney. A little legal nous can help ensure that your client agreements are fair, protecting your interests adequately and helping to ensure that you get paid should a client disappear.
Some legal knowledge pays off, quite literally, and it’s something I wish I got to grips with at the very start of my freelancing. It might have saved me a lot of time, effort and money.
4. And finally, organise everything
Something I was guilty of as a freelancer was disorganisation, much to the detriment of projects, client relationships and my own mental well-being.
As a freelancer, you’re effectively running your own small business and as such, there’s a multitude of tasks you’ll need to do on a daily basis. Even more so if you take on a big project that demands a lot of time, effort and resources.
Over and above just doing the work you’ll need to handle your accounts, marketing and all the other administrative tasks involved in freelancing. If you’re disorganized all this can be doubly demanding and you can be left late filing projects, heaping more stress upon yourself.
This is why it’s important organise everything. Since coming to work in-house I’ve learnt to structure my days and keep track of projects and tasks using software like Basecamp and Trello. Both are useful organisational tools that can be used to collaborate with clients and make your time-management more effective.
Elsewhere, establish a filing system for every facet of your finances, with different sections for things like invoices and bank statements. This will make tax returns and the like much simpler.
By organising everything, you’ll make your life as a freelancer much easier.
Hopefully these tips have been of some help. As you can probably tell, I wasn’t cut out for freelancing full-time, hence why I now work in-house.
That said, the five years spent freelancing around my studies were invaluable and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the skills and business acumen to survive as a freelancer. It’s a career choice that could prove lucrative in a whole number of ways.