Are you ready to freelance? Here are my top 10 tips:
1. Save your pennies
I highly recommend starting your freelance career with a savings cushion. If you can launch your business with enough saved up to cover six months of expenses or more, you’ll have a lot more peace of mind going in.
2. Know thy customer
Know who your target market is going to be and get to know them well before you start. Learn what they need and what challenges you are best suited to solve for them. Beware the temptation to market yourself as someone who can do any type of design work for anyone. Even if that’s a business reality for you at first, your self-promotion will be far more effective if you nail down some specifics about what it is you do.
3. Crank up the marketing machine
Freelance work can be sporadic, especially when you’re getting started. Regular self-promotion will be critical to your survival. Many new freelancers fear and loathe this task, but here’s a message from the other side: there is no better way to protect yourself from the dreaded “feast or famine” cycle. Conquer your fear by mastering the skill.
Two final points about self-promotion:
- The most important time to do self-promotion is when you have plenty of business coming in. Think of your marketing machine as the tool that generates the work you’ll do six months to a year from now.
- You don’t have to do it alone. One of the best deals I’ve ever made was a recent trade with a graphic designer—I ended up with an awesome redesign of my website, and he’ll soon be launching an awesome newsletter campaign. Which leads us to…
4. Build a partner network
Make connections with other freelancers whose skills complement your own. Freelancer networks offer multiple benefits: you can team up on jobs, refer one another to clients, hold each another accountable for business tasks, trade ideas, and more.
5. Consider a specialization
Specialization not only makes it easier for prospects to understand what you do, it enables you to justify higher rates in your specialty field. You can define a specialization “vertically” (i.e. by industry, such as healthcare, finance, nonprofits, etc.) or “horizontally” (categories of work every business needs…ex: annual reports, websites, packaging, and so on).
You can start with the type of work you have deep experience with, choose the type of work you get the most satisfaction from, or declare a specialization in a niche where you’re already well-connected with potential clients. I became a specialist in financial copy practically by accident because I happened to land a lot of that type of work early in my career.
Specializations don’t have to limit the type of work you accept, especially if you need cash flow to pay the rent early on. And remember that specialization doesn’t mean forever. You can add additional specializations or let them lapse as your business grows and changes.
6. Pay yourself a living wage…or better
If you think you’ll lose business if you don’t charge rock-bottom prices, you’re right. You won’t get business from cheapskates who want to take advantage of the lowest bidder. The clients you want to work for understand that they get what they pay for, and there are plenty of them out there. Do yourself and the rest of the freelance community a big favor by charging what you’re worth.
Above all, do your best-quality work for everyone, and know that what you do has a value that many businesses and organizations are desperately looking for. You’ll need that for the days you feel like a fraud for having one of the best jobs in the world.