7 Tips for Taking the Leap to Full Time Freelancing
Freelancing full time sounds like a great idea. Indeed, there are a lot of positives: you have a great boss, you make your own timetable, and you can work exactly when and where you want.
However, there are many things most freelancers wish they’d known when they started out, and many pitfalls to be avoided. In this article I’ll share seven strategies so that you can be a bit more prepared for your foray into freelancing.
1. Be Credible
If you’re lucky enough to already be a well-known writer in your field when you go freelance, it will help enormously in the early days. It’s very hard to go freelance without some sort of backing – good qualifications, recommendations from previous clients, and some sort of portfolio of work.
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Experience is really critical to success, but what if you don’t have this? Some people start out by working for free, which I personally don’t believe in, not least because it devalues the entire profession you’re in.
So how do you go about gaining credibility? If you really don’t think you can get paid, offer to work for a non-profit to start a portfolio. Or start small and local and work your way up, improving your fees as you win new clients. Sometimes this is better achieved by starting freelance work while you are still holding down an office job, as only the very fortunate will have sufficient funds or backing to be able to exist on low or no income.
2. Be Prepared for Loneliness
There are a lot of things people aren’t prepared for when they go freelance, not least that it’s a lonely business. Suddenly the hustle and bustle of the office is gone – you have no one to bounce your ideas off, no gossip, no camaraderie. The lack of feedback can leave people feeling aimless and deflated, so you’ll need to be prepared.
One way to counter this is to join online forums that relate to your field or specialty, for example a specific subreddit on Reddit such as /r/freelance.
You could try coworking, and rent an office space so that you still have that office feel while working for yourself.
My particular vice is the odd ten minutes spent on Facebook, where at least I feel I connect with the world – providing you have the self-discipline to keep this, or other social media, to short bursts.
3. Be Disciplined
Above all, you will need self-discipline. It can be hard to focus and work for the full 9 to 5 or beyond, particularly if you’re short of work. There is no-one to monitor your progress or hold you accountable apart from yourself, and it is horribly easy to waste a morning reading the paper (or on Facebook).
The opposite can also be true, particularly if you have workaholic tendencies – you can find yourself working on past the point of tiredness.
I would suggest, particularly initially, that you make yourself a little office space at home if you’re not going to rent an office. Make it as much like a proper office as you can, however small the actual area. This will help you to mentally separate your working day from your leisure time.
While specialising definitely pays, it’s worth looking to other topics areas and pitching to clients outside of your comfort zone. You ideally want to be in a position where you can write, copy-edit, proofread, blog or even write press releases.
Plan across as wide a spread of possibilities as you can, because the more flexible you are, the more chance you have of surviving long term.
5. Be Good to Your Clients
While many clients are wonderful, every freelance journalist’s forum is littered with moans – about clients who don’t pay; who go back on their word; who are unreasonable; and sometimes, if the tales of woe are true, downright deranged.
Whatever the situation, be as professional as you possibly can be, and keep detailed records of all your important dealings and agreements. Most importantly, make sure everything is nailed down – your expectations, your client’s expectations, payments and payment schedules. If there is a formal contract, read it thoroughly before you commit.
Make sure you know how clients want invoices presented, and follow their wishes to the letter – this can help to prevent delays in payment. Make sure you include sufficient detail, for example the project name, the price per hour/day/1,000 words or however you work, along with your name and contact details. You can use a comprehensive system like Hiveage, or a simple tool like our free invoice template to prepare elegant invoices with these details.
6. Prepare for When Things Go Wrong
You will need to prepare, because things will go wrong – not can, but will. However solid your clients, however regular your contracts, things change over time.
There is a lot of online discussion about what’s best: a few good regular clients who pay well, or a lot of smaller ones. A lot of people favour the former but actually, from bitter experience, I would say more clients works better (within reason).
Clients come and go: this is one of the sad but inevitable facts of freelance work. By all means seek out solid, large contracts (who wouldn’t?) but do try to supplement them with a range of others. It may make life (and your accounts) more complicated, but it will cushion you against the terrible shock of losing someone you rely on.
7. Make Sure You Get Paid
This is a thorny subject, much discussed in freelancer forums. Making it easy for clients obviously helps: most people can now pay by bank transfer, and other possibilities include PayPal, MoneyBookers and AlertPay. One suggestion would also be to include a due date on the invoice, although you’ll find that most clients will have their own schedules of payment.
What happens when clients don’t pay? As a rule, if someone is late in paying I will email them politely at the end of the month, and follow up if necessary. Beyond that, you may need to move to official letters.
In the UK you can go to a solicitor and obtain a Letter Before Action very cheaply (or even write one yourself). A Late Payment Demand letter will also enable you to claim late payment interest and compensation. If a client is persistently bad at paying it may be time to have a good, hard look at their reliability and viability.
Another route might be to join a union such as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK, (or the Freelancers Union in the US). The NUJ does charge a small monthly fee, but if you get in trouble it provides free legal help, and you can also get really useful information on the going rate for freelancers in various positions.
To sum up, if you have decided to go freelance full time, you need to:
- Be credible.
- Be prepared for loneliness.
- Be disciplined.
- Be good to your clients.
- Prepare for when things go wrong.
- Make sure you get paid.
Oh, and if you’re UK-based, don’t forget to tell the Inland Revenue that you’re becoming a sole trader!
How did you prepare to go freelance? What do you wish you’d known beforehand? Let us know in the comments section below!
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