So you’ve decided to embark on a career in freelance? Congratulations! Today, freelancing is a booming career path that allows you the chance to experience multiple jobs and clients in short order, work from wherever you’d like, and be your own boss.
But while it may look glorious from the outside, you have to remember that freelancing is still your job. If you’re not prepared, any job has the potential to sour quickly.
In the freelance world, you’ll experience many highs and a few lows on your way to the top. Keep these points in mind so your early days of freelancing provide you with the right foundation for long-term success.
Do Have a Plan
You’re probably thinking this is an obvious place to start for anyone, and you’re right. What you might be surprised to find out, however, is that lots of freelancers don’t actually have all the basics covered when starting out. From providing the correct contact information to building a portfolio to how you’ll brand yourself online — all are part of the initial plan.
Even if it seems like a no-brainer, include it in your plan. Leave no stone unturned, and you’ll be better prepared down the line.
Don’t Forget That You’re the Boss… and Employee
The idea of being the boss is exciting and empowering. Unfortunately, some new freelancers forget to fully factor in what it’s like to be your own boss and employee at the same time. It might be more fun to watch an extra hour of TV or catch some Pokemon in the park, but the work comes first. Otherwise, your freelance dreams can go bust rather quickly.
Manage your time properly by being the boss and the employee. It’s a delicate balance, but one that could make or break your business.
Do Have Your Website and Portfolio Set Up
Branding yourself is key to all facets of business life, but it’s especially essential during your early freelance days when you’re building up a new brand and client base. Consider your portfolio and/or website as your electronic business cards — they need to make a lasting impression with clients.
Depending on your craft, sites like Behance and Contently can be excellent ways to do so. When building your website, Wordpress and Squarespace are just two affordable options that allow you to build a custom site with relative ease. Once you’re setup, remember to keep things updated. You want clients to see your latest and greatest work.
Do Have All Your Tools in Place
Modern tech is a hotbed of apps and options to integrate into your freelance life. From financial management to apps that specialize in enhancing your attention span, freelancers have a wealth of affordable options.
Best of all, once you determine which apps and tools make your freelance operation function, you can find out how to count those paid subscriptions as tax deductible expenses for your business. Now that’s a win-win.
Don’t Neglect Quarterly Taxes
Speaking of taxes and deductions, as a freelancer, you should be filing your taxes every quarter. Unlike a full-time employee, your taxes aren’t factored into your pay. If you forget to set aside the right amount, Uncle Sam might want to collect a hefty sum from you eventually.
You can minimize these risks by setting aside a savings account for your taxes (there are some great apps that eliminate the guesswork for you), speaking with a tax professional, and doing the research yourself to know exactly how much you need to set aside for state and federal tax seasons.
Do Remember to Take a Break
The early bird gets the worm, but you’re human and sometimes you should take a moment for yourself.
While freelancers are notoriously hard workers, sometimes we get spent. It happens. That’s why you need to allow yourself some time to recharge every once in awhile — so you don’t burn out. Whether it’s a few days away or a remote day at the beach, mix it up a bit.
After you hit those deadlines, send out your invoices and follow up emails, give yourself a break. See what happens to your energy levels afterward.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
As a freelancer, you are a business. In fact, you are your business. No matter how hard you try, things won’t always go your way. A trap that some freelancers fall into is beating themselves up too much when the times get tough. Don’t let it happen to you.
If you make a mistake, learn from your errors and push on. That’s it. Don’t dwell or beat yourself up too much. These things happen and good freelancers know that a losing moment can turn into a win with just a little determination.
Do Remember to Network
Networking is one of the most crucial aspects of freelancing. Whether you’re attending events or interacting on social media, there are several options when it comes to getting your name out there.
If you live in a large city, the Freelancers Union, coworking spaces, and other professional focused organizations should have events. Regardless of where you live, tap into the local communities that apply to you, sign up for newsletters, and check their event pages. Get out there and let the world know about what you have to offer.
Don’t Forget to Get Paid
Another point that seems obvious, but there will come a time when you find yourself running into a client that’s behind on your payment.
You don’t need to go all ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ on them, but it is advised that you subtly remind late clients that your hard work needs its compensation. Be fair and clear with them. They should be understanding, and your bank account will thank you for your efforts.
Unfortunately, sometimes they just won’t pay you. That’s when it’s important to remember this next point.
Do Insist On a Contract
Most of the people you come across while freelancing will be nice and a pleasure to work with. For the choice few that go the other way, you’ll be happy you had a contract before ever starting work. Contracts don’t ensure you’ll get proper compensation and care, but it certainly gives both sides the power to address any issues that may arise. They also create a clear guideline for mutual understanding.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a contract if a client doesn’t present one. You can find customizable contracts with a quick Google search, or by purchasing one off reputable legal sites like LegalZoom.
Don’t Forget Your Worth
Some freelancers swear to never take a job that doesn’t pay; others see the benefits in the occasional free work. Regardless where you stand on the issue, you have to know your worth.
If a project’s compensation doesn’t match up to the time or effort it will take you, suggest a fair rate. Sometimes you’ll get it, other times you won’t. With the confidence of knowing how much you deserve, you not only give yourself a better chance of getting top dollar — you also let the client know they hired a skilled, confident freelancer for their project.
Start Freelance Business: Check.
Launching your own new business as a freelancer is an adventure, and it can be overwhelming at times. Just take a breath, follow your passion (and this checklist), and you’ll be well on your way to running the most successful little freelance business on the block.
Andrew Ward is the Partnership Manager for AND CO, the app made for freelancers by freelancers. He's previously freelanced as a journalist, content writer, and online marketer. Andrew has written for AOL, Vibe, and other notable publications - and still aspires to sell his zombie screenplay one day.