Freelancing is a great option for a communication-minded individual, whether you’re a college student looking to expand your portfolio or a working professional seeking some side cash. While I dabbled with some freelance work during college, it’s become more of a priority for me since I’ve graduated. Although I work full-time, I enjoy the freelance life and the variation of projects I can take on in my spare time. Plus, it’s important for me to continue having updated portfolio samples. Since I work full-time as a Creative Digital Marketing Specialist for a corporate company, a lot of my work pieces legally can’t be featured in my personal portfolio without permission. By completing freelance work, I can continually add to my portfolio, build my networking connections and stay busy. Futuristically speaking, my freelance work also allows for secondary income stream in case I ever catch myself between jobs, in the midst of starting my own company or even just full-time working as a stay-at-home mom. So, without further ado, here’s 10 beginner’s tips to consider if you’re thinking of joining the freelance life:
1. KNOW WHAT FREELANCE SERVICES YOU PLAN ON OFFERING
Well, duh. What are people hiring you for? This can be tricky because you might feel like you’re the supreme queen of everything, but ultimately that’s not realistic and having a huge services list will confuse potential clients. I would start by looking up portfolios for folks in a similar field to your own, and also checking out job postings for freelancers to see what type of jobs you would want to complete. Use this research to help write out your services. What terms came up repeatedly? What type of services seemed to be frequently paired together? What services seem to be more in need than others?
For instance, although I like to write, design layouts and visuals, and even strategize campaigns, listing all of that on my services would just be too much. After doing some research, I decided to focus my services on content creation for online platforms, such as websites and social media. This is also an area that I frequently get asked about, so it makes sense to offer the supply when the demand is high! This area of focus allows me to vary my pricing since I can choose to charge per project or on an hourly basis, and it still opens to me up to a variety of projects. Plus, this is also an area I can easily share via social media, update my clients on without meeting face-to-face and it keeps my creativity flowing since every project is different.
2. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN UPDATED PORTFOLIO SITE AND A LINKEDIN PROFILE
This is rather self-explanatory, so I’ll just add the importance of sharing portfolio pieces that are relevant to the services you’re offering. If you have endorsements from LinkedIn, it may help to share those on your portfolio or see if a client is willing to share a testimonial for you to use on your site. I recently updated my portfolio site, although I’ve yet to add my official services page yet for freelancing work. This hasn’t proven to be a huge issue yet since I’ve had a steady stream of clients, but this is definitely something I’d like to add now that I’ve officially graduated! I also keep my LinkedIn profile very updated and include links to previous work samples along with my blog and portfolio.
3. HAVE PRE-DETERMINED PRICING, BUT BE FLEXIBLE
Personally, this is one of the trickiest areas of freelancing for me and it’s still not something I’ve entirely figured out. When I first started out, I definitely undersold myself and I wish I had put more faith in my work. As a younger person that was still in college, however, I was a bit worried about charging a higher rate despite my experience and portfolio pieces. Since most of my gigs were scored via word-of-mouth from prior internships and coworkers, I was also a bit scared to charge a higher rate in case it upset one of my contacts, made me seem greedy or lost me the job altogether. I’m still working to overcome this, but one of the number one ways I navigated these waters was by asking people I considered to be mentors, doing my research and knowing when to be flexible.
- Ask a Mentor
It can seem really intimidating to talk about money since it’s considered a taboo subject sometimes in the workplace, but it is possible to do if you keep it classy. If you have a teacher that has worked in freelance before that you’re close with, or actually have them for one of your major classes, ask them if they’d be willing to review your work and give you some ballpark pricing recommendations. They can also be honest in sharing if your work just isn’t up to par – take this constructive criticism and use it to improve! This is also a good idea if you have a close family friend or relative in the same industry you’re looking to work within. Asking a prior internship supervisor or coworker, or even a college career counselor may even be a good starting point as well. While asking someone directly what they make isn’t appropriate, you’ll likely be fine asking their advice on what a ballpark starting range might look like for someone with your experience and portfolio work.
- Do Your Research
It can also help to look up job postings for freelance work and see what the rates are (if they’re listed). Some job boards include an option for clients to list a range of hourly rates for a job, and this can help you pinpoint a ballpark range. I would take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt, though – payment can vary based on client size, location, a freelancer’s previous experience or education, a common connection, etc. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you, so be sure to check out multiple sources instead of relying on one random blogger’s rate.
- Know When to Be Flexible
If you’re just starting out, or still in college, it definitely pays to be flexible! Know your limitations with offering discounts, first-time client specials, or even special perks for clients that recommend you to others. For instance, you may want to offer a free, half-hour consultation meeting for a potential new client so they can get to know you better and see what you can do for their project. This helps build trust on both ends and enables them to see how you interact in a professional setting. It may also be a good idea to offer a discounted rate for a client’s next project if they recommend you to others and you gain a new client from it, or even lower your rate for a project that will really help you gain exposure within your industry. For instance, suppose a nonprofit organization is on a tight budget but offers to share your work with your name on their social media sites and link to your portfolio, or even have you present the work in a large business meeting – this type of exposure may potentially be worth you lowering your rate a tad bit. Be smart about these type of “trades” though so that your end result is still worthwhile and you’re not simply selling yourself short.
As a side note, be sure to have an outline of both an hourly rate and a project rate, and what your different services include. While I don’t plan on listing my rates on my portfolio primarily so I can be flexible, that’s definitely a personal choice and there are pros and cons either way.
4. USE EVERY GIG AS A NETWORKING OPPORTUNITY
I can’t stress this enough – you never stop networking! Every job opportunity is also an opportunity to meet new people, earn new clients and gain exposure for your personal brand. Every single freelance project I’ve ever worked on has stemmed directly from word-of-mouth recommendations. People like to work with people that have solid references, and if you did a good job for their buddy, they’ll be more likely to trust you for their work too.
5. CREATE BUSINESS CARDS
As simple as this is to do, this is one of the number one things that I frequently forget about. Although the internet is taking over the world, business cards are still important. There have been more than a few times I’ve been working on a project and unexpectedly met someone looking for freelance work, or when I’ve been out and about and randomly run into someone who needs some help. These are situations where a business card is golden. While you can share your cell number, provide an email address, or jot down your portfolio site, a business card combines all of this information into a little item perfect for handing out on these happenstance occurrences. Personally, I’m a big fan of Vistaprint for making business cards. Their prices and shipping rates are very reasonable and they have a wide assortment of templates too.
6. MAKE A SCHEDULE AND STICK TO IT
As someone who works full-time, having a schedule is a necessity. I need to have set blocks of time each week that I know I’ll be able to work on projects and meet with clients. Right now, I try to keep my weekends open for working on projects, and I typically hold evening meetings with clients if their schedule allows for it. I also aim for video chat or phone call meetings whenever possible so that I can cut out commute time.
Once I’ve set up a freelance project, I try and also lay out a timeline for the individual work. While every project is bound to veer in different directions at times, or run into unforeseen circumstances, I always like to have an outline to refer to in order to stay organized. Plus, sharing this with a client will help them stay in the loop and ensure them that you’re sticking to a schedule and getting the work done efficiently. If you’re working on a long-term project, I would also aim to share weekly or bi-weekly updates so the client knows you’re on track – never ghost your client.
7. PROMOTE YOURSELF AS AGGRESSIVELY AS YOU’D PROMOTE ONE OF YOUR CLIENTS
Always be sure to ask a client if they’ll be comfortable with you sharing your work for them on your personal portfolio site. This may be an issue for larger, corporate clients, but a smaller, local client may be excited about the extra exposure. If you’ve got the green light (in writing, of course) be sure to share your work on your portfolio, LinkedIn and via your social media platforms. If your client is willing, consider grabbing a quote from them about your work as well – but only if they liked you, obviously!
As a side note, never be afraid to promote other people. If a client needs additional work that’s outside of your realm of expertise and you know a solid contact that you’d feel safe putting your name behind – let the client know! They’ll be thankful to have a starting point with a good reference, and building someone else up won’t dim your own star. You likely got to where you are based on connections, so share the love and give another pal a helping hand.
8. FREELANCING IS A FORM OF SELF-EMPLOYMENT, SO MAKE SURE YOU’RE LIVING THE LEGAL LIFE
State laws vary, but there are a handful of legal requirements and guidelines that freelancers need to abide by, especially in regards to taxes. Take the time to research these online, consult with a fellow freelancer or check in with a legal representative to figure out what tax rules to stick with, contract guidelines to follow and so on. Checking out A Freelancer’s Guide to Taxes would be a great starting point to familiarize yourself with this process. Yes, it’s an awful lot of paperwork, but it’s better to be safe than sorry – plus you may be eligible for some write-offs, and that’s pretty rad.
Unsure of how to organize your payments for different projects? I’d recommend following in the footsteps of those who have been there, done that. In Freelance Tips: 7 Lessons I Learned During My First Year as a Freelancer, Sarah Whitman explains her organization system using Excel files by stating, “On my projects/invoices spreadsheet, I track the following for each project, arranged by month due: Client, Agreed Upon Rate, Due Date, Date Invoice Was Submitted, Payment Terms, Invoice Number, Date I Was Paid, Check Number, Type of Work and Project Description.”
9. IT’S ACTUALLY OKAY TO SAY NO SOMETIMES
Simply put, sometimes you will get offered a project that’s outside your area of expertise, possibly asked for things that you morally don’t agree with (copying a competitor’s website layout, for example), or you may just not get a good vibe from a client. You always have the right to say no to a project, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, stay professional. For instance, even if you think a client is rude or asking for something ethically wrong, you don’t always have to point it out (because chances are, they know, and they just don’t care). You might simply let them know that you don’t think you have enough time to dedicate to their project, that it’s not really in your realm of expertise, or just that you don’t think it would be a good match. Plus, refrain from trash talking them – everyone is separated by six degrees and it will get back to them, or taint you to others in the industry.
10. ALWAYS FOLLOW-UP WITH CLIENTS EVEN AFTER YOUR WORK IS DONE
Even though your work for a client may be finished, your conversation with them doesn’t have to end too. Check back in with them in about 4-6 weeks to see how they’re holding up, how your work has impacted them and if they are in need of anything else. It’s easy to fall into that out of sight, out of mind category, so be sure to stay in touch with your clients and connect with them on social media and professional networking sites like LinkedIn.