A while back I wrote a blog post about my top tips for would-be or new freelancers. A lot has changed here at AG since then, and in the wider freelance community, and so I thought that now, A few years into my own freelance journey, would be a good time to revisit and reflect.
So, with plenty of experience now under my belt, here are my top tips for freelancing success.
1. Find your niche
In an increasingly digital world, more and more people are moving toward more flexible lifestyles, which often lead to internet-based working. This means that there are now a huge number of freelancers out there, and a vast array of services being offered. While this is great, and there is plenty of work to go around, you will have an easier time of it if you can figure out what it is you can do that not many others can, what is your real USP? The more general the services you’re offering are, the more competition you’ll have, which means work is harder to come by, and rates are lower. Focus on selling your specialist skills, not your more general ones – more people have these, so they are worth less. This is why, for example, a WordPress developer will typically command higher rates than a more general ‘web designer’.
2. Raise your rates
Following on from the previous point, if you’re a specialist, charge like one. Whilst low rates may be attractive to those looking for easy work done cheaply, people may start to question your ability if you’re charging too little. If you’re really good at something, then you are valuable, both in your own eyes and the eyes of those who truly need and appreciate that service. It can feel like a risk to raise your rates, as there will undoubtedly be some people who are put off, but if you’re getting decent rates elsewhere, you can afford to let a few lower budget clients drop away. You’ll only price yourself out of the work that is beneath you anyway, and in doing so you’ll attract higher value clients who see higher prices as an assurance of quality. Which leads us to…
3. Don’t feed the beast
The beast here refers to the vicious cycle of low paid and unproductive work. The kind of work you take in a moment of panic to pay the bills because you’re worried about not getting anything better; but then, something better comes along and you’re tied up with the unchallenging, low paying project you’re now wishing you’d turned down. Have a little faith, and don’t undersell yourself. If something is beneath you, or not paying what it should, wait for something better. Or, even better, go out and look for it, pitch for it, and go after the work you want to be doing, and that pays you what you want to be paid. After all, freelancing is supposed to give you the freedom to do what you want to do, at the price you want to do it. The key here is not to panic at the prospect of no work. If the work you’re getting is paying you properly, you should be able to build up a reserve of both time and money, giving you the flexibility to ignore those horribly tempting but ultimately soul (and potentially career) destroying projects that will just sweep you up into a cycle of endless frustration.
4. Use a contract – USE A CONTRACT!
This is somewhat a no-brainer, but all too often learned through bad experiences. Contracts sound intimidating, but in essence all they really are is a formal acknowledgement of both parties’ agreement on expectations, outcomes and costs. It is far, far better to agree this in advance than to battle it out after you’ve spent 30 hours on something your client then says is wrong. Returning to the point about higher rates, a contract also helps create a professional image, and shows that you take your work seriously, so for the kind of clients you want, a contract will be attractive and reassuring. If a client is reluctant to get a contract in place, this should be a red flag that you may be in danger of ‘feeding the beast’.
5. The client isn’t always wrong
In retail, a lot of people live by the manta, “The customer is always right,” in the freelance services world, technical services in particular, we are often guilty of the opposite belief, of dismissing client concerns as annoying and uninformed, and thinking we know best. After all, that’s why they hired us, right? Well, maybe, but not always. If a project has gone wrong, it’s important to accept accountability and responsibility, where appropriate. If the client had unrealistic expectations, what could you have done to remedy this? Did you explain the service you could provide clearly? Did you have a contract in place? Have you kept the client well-informed of the progress of the project, involved them in key decisions, and alerted them to any problems? Sometimes, clients are wrong, and you are the expert, but they are paying for your expertise, and the outcome you have sold them, if you have mis-sold, misunderstood, or just messed up, accept it and put it right.
I hope the five tips above will go some way towards helping you make the most out of your freelancing career. Remember, the most important thing to never lose sight of is that freelancing is about freedom, you chose this path so that you could choose your own hours, your work environment, the kind of work you want to do, and who you want to work for and with. Keep this front of mind, take on board the tips above, and finally, enjoy yourself!