According to the Freelancer’s Union, as of Fall 2015, almost 54 million Americans considered themselves freelancers, and nearly two-thirds of those people “made the jump by choice.”
But interestingly, the results of a 2015 survey conducted by Contently show that only about one-third of freelancers would decline “a full-time job in [their] field, with identical pay plus benefits…” Part of that may stem from the fact that, along with the perks respondents identified—like making their own hours and choosing what they work on—there are also concrete challenges. One-third of those surveyed listed “securing enough work” as their greatest struggle, and another 14% indicated they had trouble making enough money.
If you are (or would like to be) a full-time freelancer, you’ll need to prepare for and address the real issues that might come your way so you can be as successful as possible. Luckily, there are a ton of resources out there to support you in your endeavor—and we’ve gathered them all in one place:
You have a talent or skill that’s in demand. Colleagues and friends alike ask you if you’ll proofread their work, if you’ll design a logo for their latest ventures, if you’ll share your marketing expertise, if you’ll photograph their events, or if you’ll explain the latest social media trends. You know you could be charging for that thing you’re particularly good at, and you find the idea of freelancing pretty enticing.
Before you jump in with both feet, remember that working for yourself means more than wearing whatever you please and not having to share the team fridge. You’ll want to think through where you’ll work (Do you have a designated area at home, complete with a desk? Does it make sense to invest in a co-working space?), what hours you’ll keep (so you don’t get pulled into errands and lunches you really don’t have time for), and other seemingly small but super important things like having a phone plan that accommodates lengthy client calls and dependable Wi-Fi.
I’d recommend reading this article by Kate Kendall, the founder of the “talent marketplace” CloudPeeps. Kendall lays out a feasible plan for analyzing what separates you from the pack, finding your first clients, and getting real about just how paltry your income may be (at least initially).
Per Kendall’s suggestion, it’s a good idea to drum up some work as soon as possible—even before making the move from part-time to full-time freelancing. (And even if you’ve already been at it for a while, it’s never too late to revisit how you can gain traction and find additional work.) Check out these resources on finding clients and promoting your services.
1. On Job Boards
Sites like UpWork, CloudPeeps, and Mediabistro post freelancing jobs in a variety of fields often related to editorial, marketing, and social media. Business News Daily compiled an awesome list of the best freelancing sites to look for work including FlexJobs and Guru. And of course, The Muse features flexible and remote postings as well.
If you’re a full-time freelance writer, the site freelance writing jobs posts a roundup of opportunities each weekday and conducted a survey that’s a good reminder you can also find freelancing projects on more generalized sites like Craigslist and Indeed. The Mix from Hearst pays writers for personal essays they choose to publish, and getting a byline on a site like Cosmopolitan, Elle, or Seventeen is great for credibility.
2. Through Your Website and Social Media Profiles
Along with looking for opportunities, you also want to make sure that clients can find you—and that when they do, they’re impressed by what they see.
Your first stop is a killer personal website, and The Muse has many helpful articles on using Squarespace. (I know: I poured over them when I decided I was ready to migrate from a Blogger site.) Here are some of my personal favorites:
- Your Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Personal Website in a Week is the perfect jumping off point if you don’t have a website yet.
- Our 24 Favorite One Page Personal Websites Will Inspire You to Create Your Own is a great example of how you can impress clients with just one page.
- The Fun Activity You Can Do Now to Supercharge Your Career Next Year is a must-read for professionals who are looking for new ways to optimize their site and visually show clients how much they’ve accomplished.
Along with reviewing your website, prospective clients are likely to check out your social media profiles as well. To get yours up to speed, read up on optimizing your Instagram presence, revising your LinkedIn profile in 30 minutes, and following basic Twitter rules.
Updating these won’t just increase your credibility, they’ll provide potential clients multiple ways to get in touch with you. Even if you have a top-notch LinkedIn profile or thousands of Twitter followers—if you only have one or the other, you’re isolating a client who doesn’t use the platform you’re active on. So, while you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin, you do want to come up with a strategy for how you’ll manage your brand on a daily, monthly, and weekly basis.
That said, it remains up to you what you make public. Maybe you want Instagram or Facebook to be a place where you share photos with just family and friends—and that’s totally OK. Review your privacy settings to confirm who you’re sharing updates with (and even if they’re rock solid, I’d still advise against posting inflammatory content). If a business contact tries to friend you on one of these sites, send him or her a LinkedIn invite instead, and indicate that’s a much better way to stay in touch.
3. Via Your Network
Some people, especially when they’re starting out, want to keep their work under wraps. They don’t want their family and friends to think they expect them to spend money on their new venture—which is valid, and probably much appreciated.
But at the same time, remember that your contacts will come across people and projects that could benefit from a freelancer. And who better than you—someone who’s talented and who they already know and trust? This email template is a great place to start. It lets others know exactly what you’re up to you (and offers to return the favor).
And don’t forget: It could be that your connection was tasked with finding someone, and by alerting him to your new gig, you’re actually making his life easier.
Running Your Business
Whatever your clients pay you for is only one part of your job description. As a full-time freelancer, you’re also your own head of HR, a client relations specialist, a marketing manager, and an admin assistant, who occasionally pulls shifts as an accountant and a CTO.
There are two key things to remember here: The first is that you can’t just pretend you don’t have to do any of these responsibilities: You will need to meet deadlines, write persuasive emails, sign contracts, and pay taxes. But, thankfully, the second is that you don’t have to do it all alone.
Along with consulting the helpful resources below, consider what you can tasks you can delegate, outsource, or barter for. Don’t be afraid to learn a skill related to the business-side of your work, but if you feel in over your head, remember that part of running your own business sometimes means hiring an expert to keep you on track.
1. Financial Advice
Even if you think you’re squared away, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the basics covered. Mint.com wrote an overview of financial considerations for freelancers. 99designs also has a helpful primer, which includes the five accounts all freelancers need.
As someone’s who’s self-employed, you’re going to want to the low-down on taxes. (Here is the official IRS info as well.) LearnVest advises finding an expert to prepare your taxes. Personally, I do my own taxes on TurboTax (the home and business version), but I always email a brilliant friend who’s an accountant if I have a tricky question. Be honest with yourself about what you do (and don’t) have the bandwidth and ability to take on.
Another monetary consideration is keeping competitive rates. Contently prepared this infographic for writers, and there are similar resources for people interested in setting rates for design (look here and here), as well as formulas for working back from your desired salary. For more on pricing, consult this article from Freelancers Union.
2. Useful Apps
You can also rely on apps to help with the business aspects of your, well, business. Fast Company pulled together a list that includes apps ranging from those to minimize distractions to ones that assist with signing contracts.
Forbes contributor Steve Olenski narrowed it down to just three he couldn’t live without (Spoiler: He picks PocketSuite, Evernote, and GoToMeeting.) If you’re a more-is-more type person, check out this roundup of 44 apps that’ll make you more productive.
And of course, don’t forget about options to help you manage your schedule! It doesn’t matter how strong your creative work is if you blow through deadlines and miss check-in calls. Muse writer Kayla Matthews explains what kind of schedule (and scheduling app) you should be using based on your projects.
Articles and apps are great, but they’re not your only option. Watching tutorials—especially when you’re ramping up your client base and have time—can help you feel more confident and prepared. If you search on Udemy, you can find a class for just about anything, ranging from negotiation to accounting intros to HTML 101—all those pesky things freelancers have to do for themselves. Muse writer Laurie Pickard shared her picks for online classes that cover similar topics as you’d see in an MBA course.
And you can also go offline. By signing up for a local class or conference, you’ll be learning new skills and meeting new people who you can tell about your budding business—which is a double win.
Finding Inspiration for the Long Haul
Many freelancers love that they get to pursue their career in a way that speaks to them. But over time, no matter how engaged you are with your work, that excitement may dull. You might find yourself in a creative rut, unsure how to stay relevant and keep your ideas from feeling stale.
One way to keep your perspective sharp is to stay immersed yourself in what you do. Stay apprised of developments in your field and in the freelancing community in general. Here are some people and sites to follow:
1. Influencers on Social Media
Social media provides unpecedented access to leaders in your industry and allows you stay up-to-date on general trends in freelancing. To cover your bases, Muse Twitter expert Lily Herman curated a list of 75 Twitter accounts of experts who dole out career, financial, and productivity advice and tips. Contently pulled together a group specifically for freelancers.
Finally, if you’re more of a newsletter person, check out this list from CloudPeeps.
2. TED Talks
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity is less than 20 minutes, and it’s my personal favorite when I’m feeling uninspired. Here are five more to help you on a day when your ideas are feeling kind of stale.
Another way to get your fix is the TED Radio Hour podcast. If you’re feeling too close to your work, listening to experts speak on an unrelated subject can be just the break you need to return with a fresh perspective.
3. Other Freelancers
One of the biggest challenges over time is the reality of working for and by yourself. You don’t have co-workers who you can chat—and commiserate—with or a boss you can turn to for guidance.
But while you may not be surrounded by people working for the same company; there’s a huge community of people working through the same issues. They’ve also struggled with when to break up with a client (and how to do it), with raising rates, and wondering if you should go back to a traditional job.
When you’re a freelancer, the boss you answer to is yourself, and your work is self-directed. But self-directed doesn’t have to mean isolated. Hopefully this article helps you access a lot of helpful advice, and if I missed any of your favorites, please tweet me and let me know!