Freelancing's a race - and it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. To help you get off to a good start, overcome hurdles and eventually beat the competition, here's a guest post packed full of advice. If you're just starting out as a freelancer, Art Anthony's advice will help you hit the ground running when the starting pistol goes off.
Guest post by Art Anthony
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” – John Green, Paper Towns
Starting out as a freelancer can be scary, and the decision to do so isn’t one you make overnight. In fact, it’s one people generally agonise over for weeks or months and thrash out with their significant other, freelancers they know, the postman and anyone else who will listen. While it’s good to get people’s opinions, there’s one very important thing to remember when it comes to taking the leap –
No-one else can tell you whether or not to do this.
No matter how much you talk about it with other people, it’s your decision to make. And once you’ve made it, that’s when the fun really starts…
Don’t go in blind.
Before you hand your notice in, if you’re in fulltime employment that is, try to put out some feelers as to whether anyone you know might be able to pass you some freelance work when you’re starting out. That goes for everyone from previous employers to contacts on Twitter or LinkedIn. Hopefully it goes without saying that you should do your best to be discreet if you don’t want someone else to break the news to your boss.
A lot of people recommend saving up a ‘nest egg’ equivalent to six months worth of rent and expenses before you go freelance, but this might not be quite as essential as some make out – after all, if someone acquired your company tomorrow and turfed out all the existing employees the majority of people would get a one month severance package at most. Don’t let fear of not having enough money saved up make this decision for you!
When you do hand your notice in, be gracious, polite and thank them for everything the company has done for you. Even if your boss isn’t in a position to use you on a freelance basis they might be able to put you in touch with someone who can or, failing that, provide you with a positive reference or testimonial for your shiny new site.
More on that shiny new site…
Spike Jonze once said that he liked “hiring people based on a feeling - this person gets it - rather than what they've done in the past.” Unfortunately, you’re (probably) not going to be applying to work with Spike Jonze. A great CV, cover letter and/or introduction will only get you so far. Before long, people are going to want to see what you can do.
The best way to do that is to showcase your talent with a slick looking portfolio site. One mistake a lot of people make is that they put their most recent work in their portfolio because…well, because it’s still sat on their desktop. The real trick is to fill your portfolio with work you’re so proud of that you want to talk about it for hours. And then MAKE SURE you list plenty of contact details (email address, LinkedIn, Twitter, phone number…pick your poisons) so you can, hopefully, do just that.
Location, location, location
When you’re starting out as a freelancer you’ll probably, if you’re anything like most people, simply quit your job and then proceed to spend a lot more time at your kitchen table/in your home office/leeching WiFi in your local Starbucks. Don’t be afraid to think bigger! There’s a good chance that your last job kept you within commutable distance of a decent sized city. Do you still need to be there? For better or for worse, freelancers often find themselves having to make a conscious effort to leave the house, let alone their postcode area. If you’ve always dreamed of a country abode, you can probably find a rental out in the sticks for as little as a third of the price that you’d pay in the Big Smoke. But you can’t very well entertain prospective clients in your nice new back garden, now can you?
You need some office space.
And I’m not talking about the late ‘90s movie. Even if you don’t have a cat/dog/child running around, entertaining clients or potential clients at your home is rarely a good idea. There’s always the possibility that you’ll be interrupted by the postman dropping off a package for next door (it really doesn’t take them long to realise that freelancers are home virtually ALL of the time…) or, God forbid, the in-laws dropping by for a surprise visit. Luckily, whether you’re just starting out or in need of a serious boardroom setup, renting a meeting room or a part-time office from companies like Regus is pretty affordable and the gesture itself demonstrates to those you’re working with that you take projects seriously. Always a good thing!
My old laptop took a few minutes to process files when I was exporting from Illustrator. No big deal I thought, I only export from Illustrator a few times a day. I continued to think that for far too long, until it dawned on me that I was spending close to an hour waiting for files to finish processing every single day. When you work for someone else, you get used to doing things inefficiently – waiting for files to process, taking the stairs instead of the lift, hanging out by the printer while it churns out your reports. When you’re running your own business, you can’t afford to do that stuff anymore.
You might balk at the idea of spending hundreds of pounds on a laptop or some other piece of hardware but if, like in my case, it can save you hours every week, you owe it to yourself to do it. It’s a lot less painful once you start thinking of it as an investment for the business and realise you can claim it as an expense!
Leveraging old networks
There’s something dirty about the word leveraging. It implies something underhanded and, coincidentally enough, that’s how far too many people go about networking. Have you ever been in a bar and watched a sleazy guy approach a single lady, blissfully unaware of the fact that he’s a) being incredibly obvious and b) about to get shot down? This is how a lot of people network.
Having already tapped up your current contacts for work, batch emailing all of your old contacts asking how they’re doing, only to drop the fact that you’re starting out as a freelancer and on the lookout for work into your next email when they reply is not subtle. It also won’t get you much work…or many friends.
Broadcasting ‘I CAN HAZ JOB?!’ on social media might get you a few retweets, but it’s no way to have a one to one conversation with somebody you hardly know. If the thought of batch emailing even crosses your mind, you’re probably emailing too many people. Think (hard) about whether anyone you know might be in a position to pass you work, get in touch to ask what they’ve been up to and don’t start talking about your own plans until they ask.
If you’re completely changing your career path, it may be that your existing contacts are of no use helping you find new work. This isn’t the end of the world; people start fresh all the time and, contrary to what some people would have you believe, it’s not all about who you know. If you are starting out from scratch, we’ve got a few tips for you…
How to find new clients!
Once you’re all set up with your new laptop in your home office, your beautiful new website set as your homepage naturally, it’s very tempting just to sit there and wait for the phone to ring. It won’t. At least, not right away! A huge factor in being successful when you’re starting out is whether or not you’re willing to hustle.
From attending local networking events and seeking out the best agencies to register with to combing through Twitter and job boards for relevant vacancies, you ideally need to be reaching out to anyone and everyone who might be able to pass you some work. Once you’ve got some freelance projects under your belt and developed a reputation as someone affordable, efficient and easy to work with, that’s when word will spread and the phone will start to ring!
Finding clients, along with doing your own accounts, arranging meetings and possibly even making your own tea, is one of those things that can come as a shock to the system if you’ve been in full-time employment for a while. Fortunately, like most things, it gets easier with practice. You’ll soon learn which of your past projects have the wow factor it takes to get prospective clients to sit up and take notice of what you’re saying.
All work and no play makes Jack/Jill a dull boy/girl.
Try not to forget what led you to starting out as a freelancer in the first place. Chances are that it was so you didn’t have to spend 8 hours in a cubicle every day week in, week out, going the extra mile without so much as a thank you for it. Take days off, go outside and enjoy the sunshine, and don’t be afraid to say no to work you know you’re going to hate.
It sounds clichéd, but freelancing really is one of the most rewarding decisions you’ll ever make. Note that I say rewarding, not best – there are times when you’ll find yourself frustrated by demanding clients, stressed out about late payers and tired of hustling to the extent that you may want to throw in the towel and re-enter the full-time workforce. Before you do anything hasty, take a deep breath and remember why you left it in the first place.
For those of you who are already self-employed, hopefully this article has reminded you why you took the leap. For those still thinking about starting out as a freelancer, we hope that this post has some tips you might find helpful and we wish you all the luck in the world!
Want to know more about Art Anthony?
He's not your average copywriter, that's for sure. He's something of a mountain man and a bit of a naturalist (not to be confused with naturist...). In fact, he gave up the grind in the big city to go live between the Peaks and the Dales, where he does copywriting, email marketing and ghostwriting as Copywriting Is Art. Go check him out.
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