Becoming self-employed is a great way to increase your independence and gain control over your professional life. Once you’re free from the shackles of a permanent contract, you can plan your working week exactly the way you want it – creating an income on your own terms. After all, who says you can’t spend one half the week as an investment banker and the other dressed as a circus clown?
Use these tips for a better chance of becoming a happy freelancer, and to ensure you don’t end up bankrupt, broke, bereft – and banging on the door of the nearest recruitment agency.
1. Work when you feel best
Not all human beings are programmed to work from 9am to 5pm, with an hour’s lunch break at 12.30. As a freelancer, you can work at the times you choose. Some of us are morning people, while others are more productive when everyone else is winding down for the day. Experiment, and find out what works best for you. Planning one’s own schedule is one of the main benefits of working for yourself – but only if you design a working calendar that suits you.
2. Factor in admin time
Without an HR department working for you, it’s now your job to take care of work-related administrative tasks. This includes sending invoices (and often chasing them up too…), declaring earnings for tax, plus all emailing, phone calls, photocopying, posting and scanning. These things take time, but since they do not form part of the actual job, it can sometimes feel like you’re eating into your own time. To get round this, try adding a percentage to your hourly rate when quoting for jobs in order to cover the time you’ll spend on admin.
3. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
I’m writing from experience here; if you are anything less than beautifully polite to the people who give you money, you are going to lose work. Yes, it is annoying when clients are rude, don’t reply to emails, don’t pay up on time, fail to provide things you need in order to do the job, or don’t stick to their word. But they are paying your wages, and there is nothing binding them to you. So even if you’re frustrated, bite your tongue to keep them sweet – and enjoy the repeat business that follows.
4. Working from home? Get out of those PJs
It can be extremely tempting to stay in your dressing gown all day if you don’t need to leave the house. I mean, why put normal clothes on when all you’ve got to do is sit typing, sewing, or thinking up material for your stand-up comedy act? The fact is, having a nice shower and putting on daytime clothes can actually have a positive psychological effect and make you less prone to sluggishness and procrastination.
5. Stay on top of your finances
As a freelancer, you are responsible for keeping tabs on the money coming in. This is so you are paying the right taxes, National Insurance and health insurance. Find out how the system works in your country, and what date you need to declare your earnings. Keep evidence of non-taxable purchases, such as work-related travel fares and rental costs. The more organised you are, the easier it will be for you in the long run. Once you are more established, hopefully you can pay an accountant to sort out your finances for you.
6. Take regular breaks
When you are your own boss, it is sometimes tempting to slave away through tiredness or illness because you want to get as much work done as possible, so you earn money fast and secure yet more business. But you are not a machine, and you therefore need rest! Having regular breaks, be they for coffee-sipping or just so you can stretch out your limbs a bit, can actually mean you get more done. A carefully-planned schedule with reasonable breaks factored in will mean you are only working when you are most productive.
7. Provide a flawless service
It goes without saying that, if you hope to make it as a freelancer, you need to provide a service that people want to use. Gone are the days of hiding your shortcomings in amongst a sea of colleagues. You’re on your own now, so take pride in your work. Always, always turn up on time, always be polite and friendly, and do your 100% best job every single time. This way, clients will be much more inclined to use you again and recommend you to their contacts.
8. Be proactive
Unless you are really lucky, freelance work is very unlikely to land on your doorstep – especially when you first start out. You need to be willing to put yourself out there and show everyone just how available and reliable you are – and why you are better than all the other options they have. This means networking, introducing yourself by emails, promoting yourself on Twitter, LinkedIn, attending trade shows – whatever people do in your industry to make themselves known.
9. Be willing to do less desirable jobs
Yes, freelancing is all about living your working life the way YOU want to. But nobody starts off doing stuff they love for their entire working week. It’s likely you’ll need to supplement your income with a less enjoyable way of earning money. This may mean waitressing three times per week so you can teach yoga the rest of the time, or perhaps there’s stuff you can sell on eBay to support your emerging career in carpentry. Just see it as a means to an end while you build up more gigs doing the things you love.
10. Set your own rates
You are now free to charge what you like for jobs. This you can use to your own advantage. For example, you may want to charging a lower rate in order to attract new business (although remember this is unethical in some industries) – but only do this for as long as you need to. When you are ready, just tell clients: “I’m now securing more work which has enabled me to up my rate.”
Similarly, if you are offered work but for some reason feel reluctant do it, simply add a percentage onto the price you quote rather than saying no. This way, the client puts more value on your service and, if you do end up having to do it, you will at least earn an amount that feels right for you.
11. Be professionally resilient
As a freelancer, often you are employed under a short-term contract, or not contracted at all. This means the ebb and flow of your work can vary enormously. Be prepared for jobs you had in the diary to disappear suddenly, and for clients you were sure would give you more work to never email you again. Remember, a professional bond is not like a romantic relationship. Business is business, and rejection should never be taken personally.
12. Learn to beat procrastination
The dreaded ‘p’ word is the bane of the working lives of millions of freelancers all over the world. Because for many, when an important job needs finishing, just about any other activity somehow seems more appealing. A well-known joke among writers and novelists is that their houses are never cleaner than when a deadline is looming.
Procrastination will get you by the short and curlies if you’re not careful. The best thing you can do is research ways of fighting it. There are hundreds of articles about procrastination online (here’s one to start you off), so do your homework and find the solution that best fits you.
Photo credit: Yogendra Joshi on Flickr (white border was removed from original)