14 Tips for New Freelancers: How to Succeed as a Self-Employed Professional
Are you a new freelancer, or are you thinking of entering the world of self-employment?
If so, you’ve probably done a lot of research on what it takes to make it in this industry. You might have even read about some of the potential challenges that come with being your own boss.
But don’t worry—even though it can be tough, running your own business is incredibly rewarding. The key is to give yourself a strong foundation as you begin this exciting new chapter in your life.
Here are 14 tips to help you get started on the right foot and make the most of your freelance career.
As a new freelancer, it’s important to know what you’re working on when you need to have a task finished, and what your upcoming deadlines are.
The easiest way to do this is by using a planner. I use the Panda Planner to keep track of my weekly tasks and deadlines. It’s important that you keep track of all the projects you’re working on for yourself and for clients. I like this planner because it also has space for writing down your goals as well as daily gratitude exercises.
Another great way to stay organized is by using a to-do list app such as TickTick or Todoist.
You can easily create tasks, set their due dates, and check off completed items-and if something gets pushed back or rescheduled, these apps will automatically adjust the dates of your other assignments accordingly. The best part is that they sync with your computer and mobile devices so you’ll always know what you need to get done no matter where you are.
Set Aside a Separate Office Space
Having a separate space to work allows you to get into the right mindset. Set aside a desk in a quiet room, or invest in your own office space. No matter what kind of workspace you choose, make sure it’s comfortable, organized, and well-lit.
Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash
Also, make sure that your coworkers understand that this is an important part of your daily routine. If they see you sitting at a desk, clicking away on a keyboard, they know you shouldn’t be interrupted. Family members can also benefit from knowing when you’re unavailable, so they don’t interrupt with questions about dinner plans or other non-work topics.
If your goal is to become a successful, self-employed professional in the long term, you will need to get experience first. That sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re trying to branch out and start your own business.
You might think, “I want to be a freelance graphic designer!” But then, if you don’t have any actual work experience as a graphic designer (just an interest), you might end up floundering because your work isn’t very good.
This is why I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to be self-employed find an employer or client who will take them on for free or at a discounted rate for their first year or so of freelancing.
Don’t worry about the money; worry about getting the experience. Think of it as investing in yourself: If you can show prospective clients that you’ve got real-world experience in what they need, it’ll make them more likely to hire you!
Set your short-term goals
Setting goals are important. However, they can be misleading if you set the bar too high. That’s why it is important to set realistic and achievable goals. For example, don’t aim for 100 freelance jobs in your first month if you didn’t have any the last year. Also, don’t over-commit; I know you want to impress that prospective client but make sure you can deliver what you promised within a reasonable time frame.
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash
Your goals should also be flexible; things will change from day to day and as a new freelancer, you need to adapt quickly to these changes. If one of your short-term goals is not reached by the deadline, do not get discouraged by that setback because all is not lost: one of your goals might take longer than expected, or it may require a change in approach.
Freelancing has setbacks too, but you shouldn’t let this deter you from pursuing your dreams and ultimately achieving success as a self-employed professional. Setting realistic short-term goals will help you reach your long-term goals.
Build a network of other freelancers
- It’s lonely being a freelancer. You may not have any coworkers to go to for advice or support, and you probably don’t have a boss walking around handing out tasks. The best way to get around this is by networking with other freelancers.
- Other freelancers can help you improve your work by sharing advice, resources, and lessons they’ve learned along the way. They can also provide you with valuable business leads or even become clients themselves!
- Don’t forget to ask for help if you need it when working with a fellow freelancer-and don’t hesitate to offer help in return!
Stay on Top of the Latest Trends and News in your Industry or Field
To stay on top of the latest trends and news in your industry or field, you’ll need to do some research. This can include subscribing to some industry-related journals, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and social media accounts.
Spend Some Time Each Day Doing A Little Marketing
You should spend some time each day doing a little marketing. Even if you can only do 5 minutes, it will help you over time. Maybe set a schedule to devote an hour each week to marketing.
In addition, signing up for HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a great idea because it allows freelancers to pitch themselves to journalists looking for sources on different stories.
Another good way to find jobs is by signing up for freelance work websites like Upwork, Toptal, Fiverr, WeWork, etc. Many of these sites have tools that allow you to create and post your own portfolio, so search for ones that provide that option if you don’t already have one created.
Another option is job boards such as Freelance Writing Gigs, LinkedIn, Monster, and Media Bistro; they are specific to writing and publishing opportunities. There are also resources available online, so do your research!
Create a website and social media accounts for your business
A website is important for credibility. I can’t stress this enough. If you want to be taken seriously as a freelancer, you need a website. It provides an authoritative presence that adds credibility to your business and makes it easier for potential clients to find and contact you.
- Make sure the site is easy to navigate. Think about how your target audience will use your site-what information they’ll be looking for, and where they’ll look first. Organization of content is important because if visitors get frustrated trying to find what they need, they won’t hang around long enough to take in the rest of what you have to offer them (which means less time seeing calls-to-action or even your contact info).
- Showcase your work. For potential clients to hire you, they need a sense of what kind of work you do and whether it aligns with their needs. If you can provide links or previews of past projects on your site, do it.! Give them a sense of how well organized you are as well as how creative and talented you are at whatever skillsets you sell yourself on offering as a self-employed professional.
- Make sure content is updated regularly. When you have a website, you can give your visitors something new every time they visit; unlike printed media, which becomes dated after the first reading, a website offers your visitors new information each time they visit.
Value Your Work (and yourself)
Before you can start valuing your work, you have to value yourself.
Just as corporations don’t take on every single project that comes their way, you shouldn’t feel the need to do everything they’re asked. It’s not possible to do everything for everyone, and it’s worth noting that you don’t have to say yes to everything in order to be successful.
More often than not, turning down a job offer is likely the better decision for your business-it may mean more work trying to find another client or job, but it will allow you time and energy for something more profitable or simply more suited for your skillset.
If there aren’t enough hours in the day, you’re understaffed or don’t have the right expertise-say so. You’ll gain clients’ trust because they’ll know they are dealing with a professional who won’t overpromise just because he thinks it’s what he has to do.
Even if your specialty is in marketing and a client wants social media help with his business but doesn’t want traditional PR services, tell him how much time managing his Instagram account will take away from other things you could be doing for him instead of taking on something new just because he asked for help with it.
Be Willing To Say No
Along with knowing your limits, setting boundaries and sticking to them is also key to being self-employed. You might be used to having a boss who tells you when to stop working, but now you’re on your own. While it may be tempting to work yourself into exhaustion, it’s important to remember the importance of regular breaks and downtime.
Think of the timer on your oven-you let it buzz before you check how things are going so you don’t burn yourself or the meal. The same principle applies here: If you give yourself a break every few hours, not only will you stay healthy, but also be able to get back into work mode as soon as possible.
Being willing to say no is also essential. Let’s face it-we’ve all wanted something so badly that we’ve put up with behavior from others we wouldn’t normally tolerate just for one sale or one gig. Being self-employed means not needing to do this anymore (at least not often).
So if someone asks for discounts (on top of discounts), promises “exposure instead of payment,” or anything like that-say no!
If someone asks about your availability and offers a project that isn’t quite in line with what you want or need at the moment simply say no! With practice, saying no and setting boundaries becomes easier; both help establishes professional respect from clients while keeping us healthy and productive over time!
Be Patient, As It Can Take Time To Build Your Client’s Base
After you’ve done the legwork to get started, it’s time to start building your client base. It can take months, even years, to build up a steady flow of work. In the meantime, you’ll need to make ends meet with whatever new clients you add along the way.
However, once you do build a client base, it can be easier to find more work because those clients will often refer new clients and projects your way. If you’re struggling with getting enough work from day one, don’t worry! Just keep working hard and marketing yourself (see #1), and work on building that client base as best you can.
Organize your money, so you know where it’s going
As a freelancer, you’ll be responsible for collecting and paying your own taxes. It’s tempting to spend every penny of your earnings-after all, it was hard-earned!-but you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches (and money) if you set aside some amount as soon as possible.
Speaking of separating different streams of funds, keeping track of personal and business expenses is important too. Do yourself a favor and open up a separate bank account specifically for your freelance work.
That way, you can easily see at a glance how much money is in that account, what the money flow looks like (is it coming in faster than it’s going out?), and where it’s coming from and going to. That will help make tax season painless too!
We laugh at this because it’s so clearly ridiculous. Yet, how often do we find ourselves hesitating when it comes to making a request or asking for something? In your freelancing business as well as your personal life, you must avoid giving in to this kind of hesitation and fear and instead embrace opportunities to go after what you want.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help From Your Network
Networking is how you will find new clients, learn about new opportunities, connect with a mentor and possibly even find your next job. It’s also one of the best ways to get referrals. When someone in your network recommends you to someone else, they are putting their reputation on the line so they will only recommend people they know and trust.
This makes the leads that come from your network much more qualified than any other type of lead. But networking can feel awkward and forced if you don’t put some thought into it first.
Here are some tips for building and maintaining your network:
- Understand the importance of networking
- Think strategically about whom to reach out to
- Be proactive
- Be intentional about what you want from the interaction
As a freelancer, you have considerable freedom and autonomy. However, having the right attitude is key to success. Think about what you want out of your freelance career and how you can do that professionally.
If you’re going to be working alone, as most freelancers are, you’re going to have to be able to deal with frustration, paydays that seem too good to be true, and getting pigeon-holed into certain roles based on your portfolio or who you know. But if all the ingredients are in place and they’re done well, a freelancer’s work can represent an incredible value.
Interested in more tips, let me know in the comments.