Being a freelancer in an employer-driven world is difficult. There’s a dated stereotype out there that “freelance” is just a clever euphemism for “unemployment,” given that there are really no hard and fast rules for the art of freelancing.
Whether you’re transitioning from part-time to full-time freelancer, or from not freelancing at all to doing a little on the side, here are some tips to get yourself started:
- Automate as much as possible. In fact, there are many cost effective services out there to help you spend more time doing what you’re good at. So, set up the infrastructure to ensure you’re spending as much time as you can working on billable projects or selling new ones.
- Set standards for your time. Ask yourself periodically, “What is my time really worth?” Although this standard needs to be tempered with what the current market pricing is for the service you provide, having a standard that you stick to could save you from getting caught in the vicious cycle of the “bro-deal” — or, as Urban Dictionary defines it, “A preferential price on buying something based on friendship with the seller.”
- Never, ever, ever, ever, ever do a minute’s worth of real work without a contract in place. It doesn’t need to be a Dostoevsky novel; there’s plenty of good one-pagers out there that will suffice, for sure. Just make sure you find one that works (that means clearly outlined steps, terms of payment, etc.); hand-shake deals are for “freelancers” that are really transitioning from one full-time job to another.
- Become a remora, not a parasite. (Quick lesson from the dictionary: “Remora” are fish that attach themselves to sharks, and clean them.)
- Identify other freelancers or companies that provide services that don’t compete, but are very complimentary, to what you do–and partner up with them. Ideally, these partners should be sharks (and you, the remora), in that they should be bigger, stronger and older than you. Send these partners business at every opportunity. Building a good network of professionals is a great way to help build your clientele.
- Unless you fancy doing a bunch of work for free, always require a deposit. It’s an odds thing. The longer you’re in business for yourself, the more you will encounter those bad eggs that have you do a bunch of work and then back out. It may even be a reasonable sounding excuse like, “Someone just stole my identity and cleaned out our business accounts!” (More likely, the dog or family ocelot will have eaten their checkbook.) Regardless, do yourself a favor, and collect a reasonable deposit before spending any time working on a project. It’s an industry standard practice for a reason.
- Mentorship. Find it. As FreshBooks CEO, Mike, always says “I collect mentors”.
- Fish where the fish are. If your service is consulting on enterprise software installations and configurations, try not to spend too much time “networking” in small start-up business mixers… ‘Cause it turns out that really cool 19 year old kid wearing skinny jeans that just launched <insert lame .ly domain name here> probably isn’t going to pay you for Oracle or SAP consulting services when he thinks they are bands (if you happen to be in IT…of course, substitute with examples from your particular industry.)