Freelancing 101 – The inside track on how to successfully work independently

Self-doubt, undervaluing yourself, and working for “exposure”. These are just a few of the difficulties that working freelance can bring. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing more people than ever to start working this way, but it isn’t always easy. We’ve been speaking to some of the members in the Business Barn who have worked freelance over the years to get the inside info on how to do it successfully.

There are plenty of online resources that offer step by step guides on how to set up as a freelance worker but in this post, we’re talking about how you can work more efficiently, expand your network and win the right projects.

Build a network and take care of it

“You never know who people know”. This is Frankie B. Francis’s of FBF Communications’ motto. Short, sweet but most importantly, true. People are connected to people who are connected to other people, so if you impress one, you could be impressing others which is extremely important when you’re working for yourself.

A key way to have an edge as a freelancer is widening your skillset and making sure people know about it. “Through a conversation with a client one day, I mentioned I had another set of skills too and 2 years later I’m head not only their head of PR but also chief copywriter writing international documents, whitepapers, website content, blogs etc.”, says Frankie. Engage with the people your working for and see what else you can do for them.

As you build stronger relationships with your clients, look into their network to expand yours says Frankie, who has grown her client base by looking at the partners of people she already worked with. Don’t forget about anyone, clients feel valued when you listen to them, “I’m a firm believer in celebrating people’s milestones. So if a client wins an award, gets married or has a birthday, FBF will always send them something small to celebrate. It shows them that you have an interest personally and it’s nice to be nice.”

Be part of the community

Feelings of self-doubt are always going to try and creep in, particularly when you’re getting started in something new where work can be slow, and things don’t always go your way. According to Business Barn member Al Power, “the main thing is to keep positive; it’s going to take time to gain trust in the industry but bear with it. Realise that you have to put the hard work in to build a reputation and then the work will come.”

It’s also easy to lose belief in yourself when you work alone so try to get involved in as many communities as you can. We’ve included a list of websites for freelancers at the end of this post but also get your name out there with associations in your industry such as the National Union of Journalists or the Public Relations Institute.

Losing belief isn’t the only problem that comes with working by yourself. Loneliness can creep in too if you are a full-time freelancer and don’t have another job where you’re interacting with colleagues. Perhaps think about joining a co-working space if this is a position you’ve found yourself in before. Not only will you have company, it’s also an opportunity to make connections, grow your network further and perhaps find new clients as many of the Business Barn members including both Frankie and Al have done.

Work efficiently

Going to industry events can be helpful as well but be selective about which ones you attend and be organised. Don’t be a passive attendee, “have an agenda, look up attendees, see if you share mutual connections on LinkedIn, reach out and say hello prior to the event. Have a role at it if you can, be it as a speaker, manning a sales desk, or simply shadowing a greeter at the door, the more people you meet, the more benefits it will bring” suggests Frankie.

However, you can’t always just take whatever work you can get, “turn away business that doesn’t offer value for money. If you feel you will be over servicing and that you will be underpaid for the job, turn it down and spend that time more wisely, looking elsewhere for other jobs”, continues Frankie.

Sometimes you’ll hear lines like “we have no budget, but this will be great exposure for you”. ‘Paying by exposure’ might be worth it if you’re just starting off and you need to expand your portfolio but at the end of the day, you also have bills to pay. This is an issue that’s dealt with really well in Marloes De Vries’ blog post “Working for Free”. You can give it a read here for some great advice on the topic.

When you are getting paid though, it’s important to be upfront about it and let your client know what you’re charging from the beginning says Al. Naturally, you’ll be trying to pick clients that are trust-worthy, but you never know, so depending on the job, you might want to ask for a down payment at the start. “I usually ask for 50% upfront, then 50% on completion for clients I’ve not worked with before. That way, at least the client has paid half of the fee, so they’re less likely to bail, and if they do, you’re only down half the money. It does happen so just try to learn from it and move on”. Another thing to remember is keeping money aside for your taxes and tracking your expenses, hold onto receipts and stay organised.

A trap many freelancers fall into is overpromising. It’s fine to take on a project if you know you’ll be able to do it but if you’re being asked to do something that you’ve never done before, don’t take it on just because you’re afraid of losing the job. Be honest with your clients about your skillset. It’s also important to be realistic about your time frame, better to deliver early than have to extend the schedule, so if the client is flexible, allow yourself a little longer than you think you’ll need.

The Business Barn is a co-working space the North Kildare area with members from Maynooth, Leixlip, Celbridge, Straffan, Lucan and Dunboyne. You can check out the range of options we offer here.

Freelancing Websites:

For general writing, marketing, graphic, brand, product, architectural design, etc.

Abodoo.com

Workana

Upwork.com

Freelancer.ie

Guru.com

For Designers:

Behance

Dribble

For Simple Tasks

MechanicalTurk

For Software, IT and business

Toptal.com

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