Best Freelancing Tips for Beginners

If you are brand new to the freelancing lifestyle or just flirting with the idea, here are some top tips to consider, as you implement your strategy to leave the 9-5 rat race and become part of the gig economy.

Don’t expect a straight line to success; initially you will be juggling several balls, so expect to circle back. You will establish some processes quite easily while others will require hard graft, but a freelancer is always evolving to stay at the top of their game.

The Transition

Don’t quit your day job! (Not just yet, okay?) You are about to embark on an exciting career path but the shift is radical; there is a considerable set-up process. It makes sense to have an income as you climb the steep learning curve. Work smarter not harder is your new mantra.

Save. Please start syphoning some contingency cash. While you establish yourself as a freelancer you will most likely oscillate between feast and famine. Your backup stash will prevent you from making knee-jerk or compromised decisions in regards to the work you commit to. Take a glance at 99designs 5 personal finance tips every freelancer should know.

Define your niche. First of all, ensure there is a market for your skills then specialise at something within that industry. It sets you apart and makes you the go-to person for that job. Consider web design as an example: a very popular freelance gig, but there is a discernible shift towards accessing the internet via mobile phones, so specialise in mobile design.

Research

The great thing about research, besides education, is that it will create your strategy. As you start to read books, listen to podcasts, familiarise yourself with tools for project management, time-tracking and invoicing, take a few online courses or sign up to freelance job platforms, you will gain an understanding of what is essential and what is next-level when creating a successful freelance strategy. Initially it will feel like you’re “Jack of all trades” however, soon you’ll be Master of a great sum.

Freelancer Portfolio

How you present yourself and your work is crucial. Your online presence is your book cover and yes, people are judging you by it. There is a profound amount of competition and you need to stand out. Cliché yes, but you need to think about how you position yourself within your market. Who you are, what you do, your niche, your value, examples of your work, your education, track record, testimonials, your social media presence, who inspires you, your goals, aspirations and victories are all part of your brand. It’s time to embrace balanced self-promotion.

Take a look at your peers (competition) and identify what you like about their websites, profiles and social media. What works? What doesn’t? I position most questions under the umbrella of more//less//different? You need to be able to articulate crucial details about your work and your process.

Consider creating process and promotional PDFs, if your website is “in development.” Clients will want to have an understanding of how you work, plus where your time and their money goes. There are some very elegant and easy one-page site builders to get you started such as Squarespace, Carrd and One Page Love.

Last but not least, continue to stay abreast of your skill set and keep your online presence current. If you don’t care about your brand, neither will your clients.

Rate Yourself

Most freelance jobs tend towards the creative so this is going to hurt or at the very least induce drowsiness, but getting your head around the numbers is vital.

Value Yourself! Make an informed and intelligent decision about what you are worth. Don’t undervalue yourself, but don’t price yourself out of the market either. It is a little tricky finding that sweet spot so be prepared to be flexible till you find it, but ultimately people will pay for quality, reliability and professionalism.

Your Rate – Do you bill hourly or per project? Do you provide a daily rate or even have a package plan? You also need to factor in overheads, taxes, superannuation and insurance. Remember, what appears to be a grand hourly rate is often halved once everything else has been factored in. Do your homework. You could start with HomeWorkingClub’s article Freelance Rates: How Much Should You Charge?

Upfront Deposits – Professionals seldom have issues with deposits and understand your need to protect yourself. If they are unprepared to pay a deposit, this may be a warning sign. It is up to you whether you decide half up front and half on completion. Maybe you negotiate milestone payments when using a freelance platform such as Freelancer, although the practice is widespread. 

Always remember the feast or famine pendulum, projecting future earnings on past earnings is a precarious model for freelancers. Continue to syphon some cash, it’s the smart move.

Business Licence

You will need a licence to legally operate as a freelancer, to ensure all business transactions are tracked for tax purposes. In Australia you need to apply for an ABN (Australian Business Number.) In America you get an LLC (Limited Liability Company.) In New Zealand you can apply for NZBN (New Zealand Business Number.) As you’ve noticed, this takes on different formats within each country.

Clients

The most productive and harmonious client relationship is when you can align your goals with your client’s goals. This is not always straightforward. You need to value your work and ideally find people who also value their business. You will become familiar with the adage, “race to the bottom” in which several freelancers underbid for a job in order to secure the work, but it sets a dangerous precedent which is unsustainable. Cheap does not necessarily indicate value and if a client is not prepared to invest in good work and you are unable to provide good work for a low rate, then you get trapped in a downward spiral. Your reputation suffers.

You are not obligated to work with every client that comes your way. That does seem counterintuitive when you are establishing yourself but you will become more discerning with experience. Nor should you rely on a single client. As much as you have nurtured a productive relationship with them, you may even feel like part of the team, being reliant on a single client can leave you open to unforeseen circumstances.

Find clients who recognise quality work and then invest in them: check in regularly, ask for feedback and make sure they are happy. This is your opportunity to go above and beyond for them by establishing a great rapport and aligning yourself with their brand. Ultimately, this will result in a superior portfolio and valuable testimonials.

When you’re first starting out word of mouth is going to be your best bet. Compose an email and send it out to your existing network. If they know you, they understand your passion and will be inclined to support you where possible. The Muse created the Perfect Email to Send to Your Network When You’re Promoting Your New Side Gig.

Consider seeking clients via social media, specifically LinkedIn and don’t ignore freelance job forums such as Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, OzLance, CloudPeeps or PeoplePerHour etc. There are pros and cons for these sites, but you will learn something from each of them and that’s a step in the right direction.

Get comfortable with marketing yourself, in fact get good at it; this is your path now, you will always be on the lookout for new business and you need to be able to sell yourself in a succinct and savvy fashion.

Freelance Tools

As the global freelance economy expands, so too does the number of sophisticated freelancing tools. From project management and organisational tools, to proposal and contract writing templates and of course time-tracking and invoicing apps, there are some very beneficial technologies available that make life easy and support you professionally. 

Explore in more detail some of the popular freelance project management tools, invoicing tools and time-tracking tools.

Digital Nomads

This may not seem like an immediate priority when getting started as a freelancer, however the work-life balance that is so often sought is rooted in working from anywhere in the world as a Digital Nomad. There are several international cities that are now hubs to this lifestyle and even host freelance conferences to support, educate, generate and inspire this work-life balance. Johor Bahru (Malaysia to Singapore) Chiang Mai and Koh Samui (Thailand), Tallinn (Estonia) and Santiago (Chile) are considered the Digital Nomad hotspots right now.

Let’s be honest if you are brand new to freelancing, not many of us as getting on a plane but you can stay connected to your freelance community through social media groups, online course communities such as Udemy, attend local meetups and networking events, just make sure you leave the house every so often, even if it’s a solo adventure to the local café. Freelancing can be an isolating experience, especially if all your activity is under the one roof.

Join A Community

There are many communities to join that can assist you in networking or just to use for researching. Why not start on the front page of the internet (A.K.A Reddit) and join the FREELANCING or DIGITAL NOMADS groups. Want another suggestion? Head over to Nomad List. These are great resources and there are many many more out there. Pro-tip: Google is your friend!

Did you find an awesome community? Let us know on Twitter – @FreelancingAU

You’re the Boss!

If you are truly motivated by the coveted freelance work-life balance you will embrace every aspect of establishing yourself as a freelancer. It’s not easy and it’s not a straight line. Understand that initially you will have to “pay your dues” and expect to circle back on aspects of your process to refine and reconsider them. This is an exciting, challenging and rewarding path: you are in charge now.

Boss