Freelancing For Idiots
A freelancer is self-employed person offering services, usually to businesses and often to multiple clients at a time. The type of work freelancers do varies. Nearly every type of service a business would need could be provided by a freelancer, including (but not limited to), marketing, such as social media marketing, copy writing, and publicity, writing, such as articles and blog posts, technological support, such as web programming and design, creative works such as graphic design, and financial support, such as bookkeeping.
According to the Freelancers Union, 55 million Americans--35% of the workforce--have freelance careers, with a combined estimated earnings of $1 trillion a year.
Freelancing is so flexible, you can set your own hours, working full or part-time on the projects of your choice. While clients can offer specifications to the work, a freelancer works similar to an independent contractor, in which he's free to control how the work is completed. This is an important distinction for tax purposes, because the IRS views employees and independent contractors differently.
Further, freelancing allows you to set your own price, which is often higher than what you'd make as an employee doing the same work.
The regularity of freelance work can vary. Many freelancers work for the same set of clients over a long period of time. For example, a freelance writer might have a client that requires an article twice a week ongoing.
Where should you keep your money?
Savings accounts? Money markets? Under the mattress? Here's where you should be keeping your savings.
Save smarter! Others work with clients over shorter periods, usually on specific projects. For example, a freelance web designer might build a website for a client and once the site is done, so is the work relationship.
Advantages of Freelancing
There are several perks to working as a freelancer, including:
Get started quickly...today even. As long as you already know the skill you plan to offer, getting started is simply a matter of finding your first client.
Easy to start. You can start right now, using your network find a client. While you'll want to build a LinkedIn profile and/or a website, you can network within your current career and friend networks to find your first client.
Affordable. Odds are if you have the ability to provide the service, you also have whatever equipment or software you need to deliver it. Eventually you'll want to invest in business building tools, such as a website, but using LinkedIn (which is free) is a great online resume that can help you promote your service.
High demand for help. While the marketplace of freelancers is competitive, the need for quality, reliable freelancers is growing. Many businesses don't have employees and instead have a team of freelancers.
Choose your own schedule. Work when and where you want.
Pick and choose clients. While in the beginning you may take any client that will hire you, as you grow, you can choose not to take on difficult clients. You can even fire them.
Do the work the way you see fit. While you need to deliver what the client asks, how the work is done is up to you.
Disadvantages of Freelancing
Where there's a good, there's usually a bad. Here are some disadvantages to freelancing:
Can take time to build a steady clientele. Getting enough clients to make freelancing something that supports you and your family can take awhile.
Work can be irregular. Many freelancers experience an ebb and flow in their work. You need to plan for lean times, and be ready to work hard to deliver work on-time when work is plentiful.
Managing multiple clients and projects can be a challenge. While some people like the variety of working on several projects at a time, others may find it difficult to keep track of deadlines and pace themselves to deliver quality work on time. Great time management systems and organization is key.
Pay may be low to start out. Especially in today's digital economy, many people expect to pay less for work from a new freelancer. Breaking in with lower costs may be needed, but as quickly as possible, seek to charge what you're worth and find clients willing to pay for quality.
What's the Difference Between a Freelancer and Home-Based Service Business?
There really isn't a difference between freelancing and a home business. Both are self-employed individuals and can work for several clients at a time. Both can set their own schedules and have to abide by the same self-employment tax rules.
With that said, there are a few differences between freelancers and home business owners. A freelancer often works under his own name, where as a home business owner usually creates a business name. Often a home business owner has found way to fill a gap in the market whereas a freelancer works within the established needs of the market.
How to Get Started as a Freelancer
Getting started as a freelancer is as easy as visiting one of the freelance sites to find work, and networking with your current sphere of influence to find your first client. Here's steps to building a freelance career:
1. Decide what you'll offer. Common freelance work includes writing, web design, graphic design, photography, marketing, social media management, bookkeeping and more.
2. Determine your target market. Who needs what you have to offer? Decide if you'll specialize within a specific niche of your service (i.e. copy writing or WordPress web design) or within a specific market (i.e. writing for Realtors or web design for authors). This is the time to decide your brand and unique selling proposition.
3. Create an online portfolio. Start at LinkedIn, a social network all about career networking. Build a profile that promotes the benefits you have to offer. Consider setting up a website, which will offer you more customization and flexibility than LinkedIn.
4. Set your prices. Make sure you charge enough to cover your overhead, time to do the work, as well as to earn a living.
5. Start reaching out to find clients. Use your network to help you connect with potential clients. Consider using a freelance site, such as Freelancer.com or Upwork (formally eLance and Odesk) to find work. While they may pay less than you want, it can be a great way to get experience, testimonials and referrals.
Freelancing is a fast and affordable way to get started working as your own boss from home. With that said, there are pros and cons, and success comes from those who plan their business and deliver high quality work.
On Job Boards- Sites like UpWork , CloudPeeps , and Mediabistro post freelancing jobs in a variety of fields often related to editorial, marketing, and social media. Business News Daily compiled an awesome list of the best freelancing sites to look for work including FlexJobs and Guru . And of course, The Muse features flexible and remote postings as well.
If you’re a full-time freelance writer , the site freelance writing jobs posts a roundup of opportunities each weekday and conducted a survey that’s a good reminder you can also find freelancing projects on more generalized sites like Craigslist and Indeed . The Mix from Hearst pays writers for personal essays they choose to publish, and getting a byline on a site like Cosmopolitan , Elle , or Seventeen is great for credibility.
Through Your Website and Social Media Profiles- Along with looking for opportunities, you also want to make sure that clients can find you—and that when they do, they’re impressed by what they see. Your first stop is a killer personal website, and The Muse has many helpful articles on using Squarespace. (I know: I poured over them when I decided I was ready to migrate from a Blogger site.) The Fun Activity You Can Do Now to Supercharge Your Career Next Year is a must-read for professionals who are looking for new ways to optimize their site and visually show clients how much they’ve accomplished.
Along with reviewing your website, prospective clients are likely to check out your social media profiles as well. To get yours up to speed, read up on optimizing your Instagram presence , revising your LinkedIn profile in 30 minutes , and following basic Twitter rules .
Updating these won’t just increase your credibility; they’ll provide potential clients multiple ways to get in touch with you. Even if you have a top-notch LinkedIn profile or thousands of Twitter followers—if you only have one or the other, you’re isolating a client who doesn’t use the platform you’re active on. So, while you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin, you do want to come up with a strategy for how you’ll manage your brand on a daily, monthly, and weekly basis.
That said, it remains up to you what you make public. Maybe you want Instagram or Facebook to be a place where you share photos with just family and friends—and that’s totally OK. Review your privacy settings to confirm who you’re sharing updates with (and even if they’re rock solid, I’d still advise against posting inflammatory content). If a business contact tries to friend you on one of these sites, send him or her a LinkedIn invite instead, and indicate that’s a much better way to stay in touch.
Via Your Network- Some people, especially when they’re starting out, want to keep their work under wraps. They don’t want their family and friends to think they expect them to spend money on their new venture—which is valid, and probably much appreciated. But at the same time, remember that your contacts will come across people and projects that could benefit from a freelancer. And who better than you—someone who’s talented and who they already know and trust? This email template is a great place to start. It lets others know exactly what you’re up to you (and offers to return the favor).
And don’t forget: It could be that your connection was tasked with finding someone, and by alerting him to your new gig, you’re actually making his life easier.
Running Your Business
Whatever your clients pay you for is only one part of your job description. As a full-time freelancer, you’re also your own head of HR, a client relations specialist, a marketing manager, and an admin assistant, who occasionally pulls shifts as an accountant and a CTO.
There are two key things to remember here: The first is that you can’t just pretend you don’t have to do any of these responsibilities: You will need to meet deadlines, write persuasive emails, sign contracts, and pay taxes. But, thankfully, the second is that you don’t have to do it all alone.
Along with consulting the helpful resources below, consider what you can tasks you can delegate, outsource, or barter for. Don’t be afraid to learn a skill related to the business-side of your work, but if you feel in over your head, remember that part of running your own business sometimes means hiring an expert to keep you on track.
Financial Advice- Even if you think you’re squared away, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the basics covered. Mint.com wrote an overview of financial considerations for freelancers. 99designs also has a helpful primer, which includes the five accounts all freelancers need .
As someone’s who’s self-employed, you’re going to want to the low-down on taxes . (Here is the official IRS info as well.) LearnVest advises finding an expert to prepare your taxes. Personally, I do my own taxes on TurboTax (the home and business version), but I always email a brilliant friend who’s an accountant if I have a tricky question. Be honest with yourself about what you do (and don’t) have the bandwidth and ability to take on. Another monetary consideration is keeping competitive rates. Contently prepared this infographic for writers, and there are similar resources for people interested in setting rates for design (look here and here ), as well as formulas for working back from your desired salary . For more on pricing, consult this article from Freelancers Union .
Useful Apps- You can also rely on apps to help with the business aspects of your, well, business. Fast Company pulled together a list that includes apps ranging from those to minimize distractions to ones that assist with signing contracts. Forbes contributor Steve Olenski narrowed it down to just three he couldn’t live without (Spoiler: He picks PocketSuite , Evernote , and GoToMeeting .) If you’re a more-is-more type person, check out this roundup of 44 apps that’ll make you more productive. And of course, don’t forget about options to help you manage your schedule! It doesn’t matter how strong your creative work is if you blow through deadlines and miss check-in calls. Muse writer Kayla Matthews explains what kind of schedule (and scheduling app) you should be using based on your projects.
Courses- Articles and apps are great, but they’re not your only option. Watching tutorials—especially when you’re ramping up your client base and have time—can help you feel more confident and prepared. If you search on Udemy , you can find a class for just about anything, ranging from negotiation to accounting intros to HTML 101—all those pesky things freelancers have to do for themselves. Muse writer Laurie Pickard shared her picks for online classes that cover similar topics as you’d see in an MBA course .
And you can also go offline. By signing up for a local class or conference, you’ll be learning new skills and meeting new people who you can tell about your budding business—which is a double win.
Finding Inspiration for the Long Haul
Many freelancers love that they get to pursue their career in a way that speaks to them. But over time, no matter how engaged you are with your work, that excitement may dull. You might find yourself in a creative rut, unsure how to stay relevant and keep your ideas from feeling stale.
One way to keep your perspective sharp is to stay immersed yourself in what you do. Stay apprised of developments in your field and in the freelancing community in general. Here are some people and sites to follow:
Influencers on Social Media- Social media provides unpecedented access to leaders in your industry and allows you stay up-to-date on general trends in freelancing. To cover your bases, Muse Twitter expert Lily Herman curated a list of 75 Twitter accounts of experts who dole out career, financial, and productivity advice and tips. Contently pulled together a group specifically for freelancers. I’d also suggest following founder of CloudPeeps Kate Kendall , One Woman Shop for advice for solopreneurs, SkillCrush for tech-focused advice, and The Freelancer , Contently’s publication. On LinkedIn, FlexJobs suggests following these groups . Also, you can sort Pulse articles by category. Be sure to follow the Freelance and Self-Employment channel. Finally, if you’re more of a newsletter person, check out this list from CloudPeeps.
TED Talks- Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity is less than 20 minutes, and it’s my personal favorite when I’m feeling uninspired. Here are five more to help you on a day when your ideas are feeling kind of stale. Another way to get your fix is the TED Radio Hour podcast . If you’re feeling too close to your work, listening to experts speak on an unrelated subject can be just the break you need to return with a fresh perspective.
Connect with Other Freelancers- One of the biggest challenges over time is the reality of working for and by yourself. You don’t have co-workers who you can chat—and commiserate—with or a boss you can turn to for guidance.
But while you may not be surrounded by people working for the same company; there’s a huge community of people working through the same issues. They’ve also struggled with when to break up with a client (and how to do it ), with raising rates , and wondering if you should go back to a traditional job .