More and more busy working mums are saying goodbye to the restrictions of a full time or flexible job, and hello to the freedom of freelancing. But how have they done it? And exactly how can you go from paid employment with one boss, to a contacts book full of regular freelance clients?
If you dream of launching a new freelance career and are sure you’ve got what it takes top succeed but don’t know how or where to begin, we’ve put together the first 10 steps to help get you off to the best possible start.
1) Make a plan
Unless you’re incredibly lucky (or just exceedingly well-prepared) it’s unlikely you’ll leave permanent employment one day, and begin a busy freelance career the next. The reality for most freelancers is that work builds slowly over time.
So if you have unavoidable financial commitments, it’s wise to plan your freelance careerbefore you make the leap. This means thinking carefully about what you can offer and to whom, and tentatively sounding out future clients before you’re ready to go.
It’s also a very good idea to start saving up before you give up the security of a regular income, so you have a comfortable financial buffer should you need it in the first few months (and there’s a very good chance you will). If you can save up enough to cover six months of basic expenses – fantastic! But even a couple of months of fall back funds will make your new career less heart-in-throat at times.
It’s also a good idea to think carefully about your freelance identity – your business name and logo – and research some cost-effective ways to market yourself (or if you know anyone who may agree to a skills trade with you to get them for free).
2) Find clients
We’re already touched on this, but one thing EVERY freelancer needs is clients. And you won’t get very far in your new career if you don’t know where to find them. So start thinking seriously about who is going to hire your services, and where they are.
The first and easiest pool of potential customers is people you already know – from your current and previous bosses, old colleagues and even past clients who liked your work. Don’t be afraid of getting in touch with them to let them know you’re planning to go freelance, and asking if they may have any projects you can help out on.
Once you’ve got in touch with direct contacts, think about who you may know indirectly. Do any of your friends or family have useful contacts? What about connections on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc?
Speaking of social media, remember to update your profiles with the relevant information to let everyone know you’re going freelance, and exactly what you do. Don’t miss any chance of attracting the attention of a potential client.
3) Get good at networking
If you want to be a successful freelancer, learning how to network may unavoidable. Unless you’re lucky enough to inherit a full set of loyal, regular clients from the start, you’ll need to branch out beyond old work contacts and friends of friends at some point. And that means networking.
And these days, networking has many guises. You can choose to make new connections at face to face events – from local networking groups to larger national events – or virtually through social media platforms like Twitter.
If there aren’t many appropriate networking meetings near you, or it’s not feasible to attend, you may find that social media is your best source of clients. If you’re not already, get good at Twitter. With the right skills, it’s easy to quickly build an engaged following on Twitter, and showcase your expertise or talents. Learn how to schedule well-written tweets with links to your blog or website and you’ll soon find that some of your followers can be converted into new clients.
If you prefer the idea of meeting new clients personally, look for local or national networking clubs to join, and start going to meetings. Or search Eventbrite for relevant events you can attend.
4) Work out how much you’re worth
One of the trickiest aspects of going freelance is deciding what a decent rate of pay is. Obviously you’d like to earn as much as possible, while still being competitive and offering good value.
A good place to start is to take your last full time salary, work out your day rate and add around a third (to take into account the lack of holiday and sick pay, and the time you’ll now spend on admin and finances etc). Generally freelancers earn more than permanent staff, but don’t necessarily work as often (or get paid holidays and bank holidays) – levelling out the pay playing field somewhat.
If it’s not appropriate to base a figure on your past salary, try researching what other freelancers in your field charge. If you know someone you can ask, great (most freelancers are usually quite friendly to each other and happy to help out). If not, try asking Google.
At the end of the day though, you need to find a figure that you’re happy with. If you have a sum that you feel your time is worth, and are happy to work for that amount, then base your quotes on that number. And remember that you may be quicker or slower than another freelancer, so basing your work on someone else’s hourly rate isn’t necessarily the best idea.
5) Say yes when you can
In the beginning, you may get offered jobs that don’t seem that attractive. You may not like the work, the project might be too small or junior for your liking, or the client not exactly right. But, barring any instincts that tell you to run screaming or an already-full workload, it’s generally a good idea to say yes to most jobs that come your way.
While that particular project in itself may not be terribly appealing or well-paid, you never know where it may lead to. Your client may love what you do so much, they offer you a much bigger, more exciting project later on. Or they may recommend you to a colleague.
It’s always important as a freelancer to remember that if you say no to a project, that client will need to find someone else to help them instead. And it may just be that next time a job comes in, and every time after that, they call that freelancer first – and you could miss out on a LOT of work. So, as a default, it’s always wise to try and say yes to as much work as reasonably possible.
6) Keep track of what you’re asked to do
In our experience, most clients are honest and fair. But difficult freelance clients do exist, and it’s wise to take sensible precautions with every job you do, just in case you encounter problems later on. So make sure you keep a paper trail of any instructions given to you by clients, as well as all quotes they accept. So if, for any reason, a client queries an invoice, you can prove that you are owed the money.
To this end, ensure that you keep any emails with instructions or quotes in them, and if they were given or accepted verbally, follow up with a quick email confirming the agreement and asking the client to acknowledge you understand everything.
7) Get to grips with admin
Much as you may HATE paperwork and accounts, unless you can afford a PA from day one, they’re a necessary freelance evil. The trick is to stay on top of your admin and not let it pile up. So try to set aside an hour or so a week, and half a day a month just to keep everything up to date.
Make sure you keep track of jobs as they come in, the amount you’ve quoted and the work or hours you have completed. Then each month, invoice for work to date – again keeping a record of the date and amount of your invoice.
Once you’ve sent out each month’s invoices, check for payments received, and chase any late payers. If you have regular bad payers, it may be a good idea to spend time crafting a standard email you can send out to chase payments (although in our experience, a firm but polite phone call asking for an exact payment date usually works better).
And remember to keep track of any expenses too. Try to dedicate a specific place (even just an A4 envelope) to collect all your expense receipts as you receive them. Then once a week, make a note of how much you’ve spent and what they’re for. That way you won’t be faced with trying to decipher a heart-sinkingly large pile of mystery receipts at the end of your business or tax year.
8) Hire an accountant
One the big advantages of being freelance is that you have more options to structure your finances and be clever about money. And an accountant can not only help point you in the right direction, but take away all your tax and national insurance headaches.
A good accountant will make sure your freelance business is structured properly (whether you’re a sole trader or limited company) and that you’re taking advantage of every possible tax break, while staying within the law.
You can opt for a local accountant, or choose a cloud accountancy firm like Crunch. Both will help you take proper care of your finances, and offer help and advice at the end of the phone when you need it.
9) Invest in good equipment
While a good workman never blames his tools, you don’t want to be crossing your fingers every time you save a document, or waiting ten minutes for a file to download. To do a good job as a freelancer you need to have the right equipment, and you have to be able to trust it’s in good working order.
So service any current equipment you have, and invest in anything new you may need. Think about both hardware (a good computer, mobile and printer are basics for most freelance businesses) and any software needs (what online tools or apps will help make running your business easier?). The good news is that as a freelancer, you can offset the expenses against tax!
10) Find other freelancers you can trust
There will be times when, with all the will in the world, you can’t take on a freelance project. You may be too busy, planning a holiday for that time, or just unable to manage the client’s needs. However, you still want to keep your client happy (and loyal).
For this reason it’s good to find other freelancers who do similar work to you that you trust. So you can ensure that you have a reliable person to send your client to if you need – helping you to look good with your client, and hopefully protecting their loyalty to you.
Another benefit to having one, two or more freelancers you know and trust, is that they too can pass projects they can’t work on your way too, spreading the benefit of your network to you all.
About the Author: Hannah Martin
Hannah Martin is an award-winning copywriter with 18 years’ experience working for some of the world’s biggest advertising agencies and brands (as well as a few small ones). She is also co-founder and Editorial Director of Talented Ladies Club, a magazine-style website with inspiration and advice for working, freelance and business mums.