Five important tips every freelancer should know

Fancy being a freelancer? Or already working freelance? Read five important pieces of advice to help you make a success of your freelance career.

Freelancing used to be something people did between ‘real’ jobs, but this attitude has changed considerably in recent years. Today, around 87% of UK  college graduates consider freelancing as an attractive career option, and 29% plan to freelance for at least five years.

Freelancing is an attractive option for mothers

This isn’t surprising. Many freelancers make as much or more money as people in regular employment, without the commitment of being tied to a 9-5 job. Indeed, polls show that the 1.4 million or so freelancers in the UK enjoy more freedom and better work-life balance – making freelancing an attractive option for people who want or need to stay at home, especially mums.

Many of these mothers are well educated, and enjoyed successful careers before they had children. Freelancing enables them to monetise their skills, doing work they love on their terms from home.

However, freelancing also has its disadvantages. You only make money when the projects come in, so no work, no pay. The means you need to make an effort to market yourself. You also may have to deal with difficult people, and risk not getting paid.

Five important tips every freelancer should know

To help you manage these risks and make a success of freelancing, here are five important tips you need to know.

1) You need to promote yourself

Freelancing is a type of service, and just like any other service business, you need clients. You have to promote yourself online and offline so people can find you.

Graphic designer Frosti Gnarr points out, “No one is just going to call you out of the blue. You need to tell people that you are out there.” Self-promotion is a vital process in your freelancing career, because without clients you have no career.

The more you promote yourself, the more easily potential clients can find you. So get out and network as much as you can, always with a business card and elevator pitch at the ready.

If it’s tricky for you to get out and meet potential new clients, spread the word about what you do online as much as you can. Get a simple but professional-looking website, and get active on social media. Check out job boards, and list in any directories relevant to your specialism.

Any chance you get, write a full online profile, and include examples of work and testimonials from happy clients. if you’ve worked for well known brands (even if it was just a tiny job), include their logos too.

It can also help to establish yourself as an expert in your niche. So join online groups and forums and comment on industry blogs. Even better – write your own articles and submit them to blogs and websites that your ideal customer visits.

And don’t forget your existing professional network. make the most of LinkedIn by completing your profile, and reach out to your extended network on there, letting them know what you do and that you’re available for work. Don’t be shy about asking people to recommend you to their contacts too; the more people are aware of what you do, the more potential new clients you can reach.

Read more self-promotion advice:

2) You need to keep your clients happy

Making yourself visible is important, but establishing a good reputation is just as vital, so ensure you always deliver good work and meet deadlines.

As graphic designer Christopher Haines explains, “”If you miss a deadline, the chances are your client won’t become a repeat client in the future. But if you deliver quality work, on time, every time, that client will want to work with you again and might even recommend you to others.”

Establish a good relationship with your clients, and keep it that way – referrals and reviews can make or break a freelance career. Most of the time this isn’t too hard; most clients are reasonable and a pleasure to work with. But every freelancer occasionally comes across a difficult client.

A difficult client may give you unclear briefs, not know what they want, or be completely unreasonable in what they expect you to do. They may ask you to work in a way that goes against best practice, or your own personal style or skill set. Or they just may be unpleasant to work for.

In these situations, it’s important to handle the client carefully. Try to extricate yourself from the job and part on good terms if you can – the last thing you want is an unhappy ex-client (however unfair their criticism of you) badmouthing you to other potential clients.

If a client is otherwise pleasant to deal with, but asks you to do something that you know isn’t right for their business or won’t work, the best approach is to politely advise them why their request isn’t the best, and give them an alternative suggestion. If they still insist on pressing on, follow their instructions (it’s their money and their business, after all).

At the end of the day, as a freelancer you are there to serve your clients’ wishes. And as such you will sometimes need to put aside your own opinions and experience and carry out work that you don’t believe in. If a certain type of project or client does make you unhappy, the freedom you DO have is to decide not to work for them again if you wish.

Read more advice on handling tricky clients:

3) You need to charge the right price

You can charge any rate you like for your work. It is your business, after all.

However, you are not the only freelancer offering your service.  Among the 1.4 million British freelancers, and many more in other countries, the chances are there are plenty of people that do the same thing you do.

If you charge more than your competitors and you can offer nothing substantive to justify the premium, you won’t have clients queueing up to hire you. You may have regular customers already, but the chances are they won’t stay with you for long if you are too expensive.

On the other hand, charging too little can make you seem like an amateur. As top blogger Lorraine Reguly advises, “Undervaluing yourself is the biggest mistake newbie freelancers make.” You will only attract clients that don’t care about quality work. It may keep you in beer and skittles, but it will not give you any professional satisfaction, and you will be wasting your time.

Freelance writer Kaye Phillips was happy to accept the rock bottom prices offered on some online job boards at first, because she wanted the work. However, after a while she began to feel overworked and unhappy. So she found a new source of work (in her case, BestEssays), and now feels more more job satisfaction.

So keep your rates reasonable, and keep everybody, including yourself, in business – and happy.

Read more advice on setting freelance rates:

4) You need to get paid (and pay taxes)

American newspaper columnist and humorist Robert Benchley says, “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” Freelancers are independent contractors, and as such you have no protection against non-paying clients.

If you work directly with clients, it’s a good idea to ask for a deposit (50% is common) before starting work. You can also use an online payment system such as Escrow, PayPal or Google Checkout that offers protection to both buyers and sellers.

It’s also wise to set up a simple bookkeeping and invoicing system for yourself. Make sure you invoice promptly, include all the right information on your invoices, and check and chase payments as soon as they’re due. Also familiarise yourself with your legal rights around late payments.

Don’t just be concerned about getting paid – you should also be prepared to pay your dues. Remember, you are a business, and you have responsibilities. Get advice from an accountant familiar with freelance work, and find out the best way to structure your freelance business, and the kind of financial records you should be keeping.

Make sure you’re aware of your tax liabilities too, and put by enough from every payment to ensure you don’t get a nasty shock when your tax bill arrives.

Read more advice on getting paid for your work:

5) You need to keep at it

You need to do many things to make a success of freelancing, and it can take time and effort before you see any progress. It can be discouraging at times, but don’t give up. You need to persist and keep your motivation up if you want to get anywhere.

Freelance copywriter Ariel Rule says, “If you want to be a freelance writer, then you need to have tough skin. If you can’t take the bad moments, if you can’t handle mean or even vicious comments on your work — then this line of work is not for you.” If you can roll with the punches and just keep going no matter what, you will eventually get to where you want to be.

Freelancing is a great way for stay-at-home mums to earn money on their terms, doing what they love (and are good at). It can even be the start of a lucrative career. Just remember that there are no shortcuts to success; you need to work hard and commit to it. Keep the above tips in mind, and should be able to make the most of freelancing.

Paige Donahue is an editor and blogger from Pennsylvania. She is not afraid of the challenges that the future may bring and is always ready to take it head on. You can connect with her via Twitter and Google+